Tag Archive: humans

Human noise pollution wreaks havoc on U.S. wildlife

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

Rachel Buxton, a postdoctoral research fellow at Colorado State University, writes about the impact expanding transportation networks are having on remote places. Buxton notes that “noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places,” and cautions that “[h]uman-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people.” Buxton and her team conducted a study using “millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas,” focusing on “human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources.” The study found that “noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.”

What are the consequences of these findings? Buxton writes that “[h]uman-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities,” adding that “noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer.” In addition, although plants can’t hear, they too are affected by noise because “noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers.”

The news isn’t all bad, however, as Buxton was “encouraged to find that wilderness areas – places that are preserved in their natural state, without roads or other development – were the quietest protected areas, with near-natural sound levels.”  Unfortunately, the team also found that 12% of “wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy.”

But all is not lost, as thoughtful management of our protected areas can help to reduce the impact of human-caused noise. Buxton concludes her piece by identifying the strategies that can be implemented to do this, including “establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads.”

Once you teach a computer to see,

Shhhh.  It can hear you.

Shhhh. It can hear you.

it can teach itself to hear.  MIT’s computer science department, “using software image-recognition to automate sound recognition,” found that “once software can use video analysis to decide what’s going on in a clip, it can then use that understanding to label the sounds in the clip, and thus accumulate a model for understanding sound, without a human having to label videos first for training purposes.”  And humans are rendered even more useless than before.

Link via @BoingBoing.

Paris is celebrating World Car-Free Day today

by banning traffic from half the city, as are a host of other cities, including Brussels, Bogotá, Philadelphia, and Detroit, but not London to The Guardian’s dismay.   Various cities around the world have pledged to close off some streets to car traffic on or around World Car-Free Day, which is September 22nd of each year.  According to The Guardian, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo “promoted the first Journée Sans Voiture a year ago, in response to a rise in air pollution that briefly made the French capital the most polluted city in the world.”  While the mayor was focused on the effect of a car-free environment on air pollution, sound measurements were also taken and show a significant drop in noise pollution:

Airparif, an independent air pollution monitor, said that on Paris’s first car-free day – which covered around a third of the city – nitrogen dioxide levels dropped by up to 40% in some parts. Bruitparif, which measures noise, said sound levels fell by half in the centre.

Imagine being in a city that is half as loud as it would typically be.  Sounds like bliss, no?  Sadly, cities have been butchered to accommodate the car, a mostly unnecessary tool if there is appropriate public transportation and cab service available–not to mention Uber et al.  One hopes that World Car-Free Day takes off and soon becomes World Car-Free Week, followed, one hopes, by the embrace of urban design that puts humans before cars.

Animals are responding to human noise:

Bats are adapting their hunting strategies to the noise of our cities.  The good news is that a study published in Science shows that bats appear to be successfully adapting to human noise.  But as a researcher not involved in that study notes, “[s]ome animals probably can’t [adapt].”  So what happens to them?  And what about humans?  As the world gets noisier, how will we cope?  Or not?  It’s certainly something that should be addressed sooner rather than later, because, as the article reports:

“This is way beyond bats now. This is about thinking about any animals,” says Paul Faure, the director of the Bat Lab at McMaster University, who was not involved in the study. “We are domesticating our planet, we’re creating noise pollution, we’re creating light pollution. We’re fundamentally altering the world that we live in.”

Noise and its effect on all animals, including humans, has been ignored for too long.  It’s more than just a nuisance.  Among other things, noise can damage hearing with one exposure.  It’s time that the federal, state, and local governments step up and regulate noise much as they regulate air or water pollution, treating noise as the public health hazard that it is.  It also is time for adults to assume some responsibility for their hearing and their children’s hearing by protecting themselves and others through the use of ear plugs and ear muff protectors, or by the simply lowering the volume when they can, and leaving a loud space when they cannot.  It’s time that we take noise-induced hearing loss and other noise-induced hearing injuries seriously.  Because until we do, people will continue to suffer permanent hearing injuries for which there is no cure, a particularly galling situation when one considers that noise-induced hearing injuries are 100% preventable.

The destructive power of noise:

ING Bank’s main data center was shut down by a loud noise.  So what exactly happened, you ask?  This:

[ING Bank] was testing an electronics-safe fire suppression system in the main data center, but a pressure discrepancy caused the system to emit a loud noise while expelling inert gas.  According to the bank, the sound was measured a over 130dB — apparently loud enough to knock the HDD’s physical components out of alignment.

130 dB (probably A-weighted or dBA) is not to be sniffed at.  It’s recommended that humans limit exposure at 130 dBA to “under one second.”  If noise measuring 130 dBA is loud enough to knock out a few dozen hard drives, what will it do to you?  It’s time you learned about noise-induced “hidden hearing loss.”