Tag Archive: acoustic ecology

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.

Looking for a quiet space? Here are some worth visiting

Photo credit: Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

If you’ve been looking for a truly quiet space to visit, consider Green Bank, West Virginia, where there’s no WiFi, no cellphone service, no microwave ovens or any other device that generates electromagnetic signals. Known as a National Radio Quiet Zone, it consists of 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain set aside to protect the Green Bank Observatory, a cluster of radio telescopes.

Have you heard about International Dark Sky Places? The first one in the U.S. is a 1400-square-mile spot in Central Idaho where there’s no artificial light. According to this author, “[t]here are currently 37 official dark sky parks in the United States, 53 in the world. There are only 11 dark sky reserves – which have a larger size requirement than parks – and none of them are in the U.S.”

You might also want to put the Hoh Rain Forest on your travel schedule. It’s known as one of “the quietest places on earth” thanks to Gordon Hempton’s work there.

In fact, “acoustic ecology” is an emerging field, so if you’re interested in “eco-tourism” you’re among a growing group of people who seek out quiet places around the world.

But as the author of the New York Times piece on Green Bank notes, “[t]o experience the deepest solitude, you need to enter the land where the internet ends.”

A few years ago, I worked with others to help turn George Prochnik’s 2011 book “In Pursuit of Silence” into a feature-length documentary film of the same name. What we learned in the process is how scarce truly “quiet zones” have become, despite the National Park Service’s efforts to preserve them.

So hurry up! Plan a few trips before these “Quiet Zones” disappear!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.