Natural sounds

An introduction to acoustic ecology

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in Physics Today is a wonderful introduction to acoustic ecology, “a field that examines how animals, including humans, use information obtained from the environment in different aspects of their lives.”

Animals, including humans, evolved in a naturally quiet environment, and noise is harmful to them. The author of the article, Megan McKenna, an acoustic biologist at the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service in Colorado, writes “[a] common definition of noise is unwanted sounds that interfere with a signal of interest.”

That’s a good definition, but noise is actually harmful to animals, with that harm best studied in people. Like secondhand smoke, noise is both a nuisance and a health hazard, and there are nine evidence-based noise levels that affect human health and function.

I prefer the new definition of noise presented at the American Public Health Association meeting in November 2019 and at the Acoustical Society of America meeting in December 2019: noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound.

But whichever definition you use, we can all agree that preserving the natural acoustic environment is critical for animals and humans.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Michigan scientists studying the natural soundscape

Photo credit: Kaique Rocha from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from the Michigan Science Center describes how scientists and artists are studying the natural soundscapes there.

Nature is quiet without human noise.  Natural sounds includes birds chirping, squirrels chattering, waves splashing on the shore, and wind in the trees.

The soundscape can also be studied as an indicator of environmental health, because natural quiet is good for animals, good for people, and good for the environment.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Preserving the rainforest’s soundtrack

Photo credit: David Riaño Cortés from Pexels

MIchael J. Coren, Quartz, writes about bioacoustics, a burgeoning field that uses “microphones to capture the aural signature of an ecosystem’s inhabitants from its tiniest creatures to its resident humans.” The goal of bioacoustics is to “monitor biodiversity, on a budget, over vast areas of remote rainforest.” Coren writes about a recent paper in the journal Science, where the authors suggest that bioacoustics “could fill a critical gap for conservation projects” by monitoring the forest’s health after it’s been saved.

Click the link to listen to the recordings that accompany the piece.  Two of them are soundscapes of healthy forests, while the third is clear-cut jungle now worked as a palm oil plantation.  The difference in the range and loudness of sound is apparent.