Tag Archive: National Park Service

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.

The Greatest Threat to Our National Parks?

It Might Be Noise Pollution.  Max Ufberg, writing for Outside, introduces us to Davyd Betchkal, the National Park Service’s soundscape specialist in Alaska, who studies the parks’ natural acoustic environment to determine “the ecological impacts of human-made noise.”  In doocumenting all 54 million acres of Alaska’s parks, Betchkal stated that two things are clear:

[S]ound is crucial to the health of plants and wildlife and everything from airplanes cruising overhead to the roaring of snowmobiles on the ground or the muffled ring of an iPhone in a jacket pocket affects—and often disrupts—the ambiance of our most precious natural areas.

Ufberg adds:

To be clear, in the context of natural places, birdsong isn’t noise; the buzz of an airplane is. Sound, by contrast, is a protected resource under the Park Service’s foundational Organic Act of 1916 as part of the profile of a natural environment. According to an estimate by Park Service senior scientist Kurt Fristrup, a national park goer hears human-created noise, much of it aviation-related, during about 25 percent of his or her visit.

“Noise is just as ubiquitous and broad in its impacts on the continent as air pollution,” Fristrup says.

Ufberg points outs that noise is linked to cardiovascular disease and elevated blood pressure, among other ills, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency classified noise as a pollutant since 1970.  “While [noise] poses a greater risk in cities,” writes Ufberg, “it’s increasingly become an issue in nature, too.”

Click the link to learn about how noise harms wildlife and how the Park Service is working to protect them and us from noise pollution in our national parks.