Tag Archive: quiet

What we did on our summer vacation

We visited the highlands and islands of Scotland for spectacular views and blissful quiet.

Here:

Photo by G.M. Briggs

 

and here:

Photo by G.M. Briggs

And then we recorded the sound of a small brook that bordered the vast beach above and felt every cell in our bodies relax:

Hope you enjoyed a summer break.

 

Let’s not forget that we share this planet

 

Nancy Lawson, writing for The Humane Society of America, says “let’s go make some quiet” and help out wildlife. Lawson introduces us to Christine Hass, an ecologist at a wildlife sanctuary, who was recovering from painful eye surgery. Closing her eyes suddenly made her aware of the birdsong she had mostly ignored and she became drawn to soundscape ecology, “a growing area of scientific inquiry that examines interactions of wild voices and other sounds throughout ecosystems.”

These ecosystems are under attack, sadly, as Lawson, citing Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, notes that “[a]bout every 30 years, our collective cacophony doubles, outpacing population growth.” Lawson says “[m]itigating noise is critical to conservation efforts, yet it often takes a back seat to other issues, largely because we’ve forgotten how to listen.”

And, perhaps, because it’s harder for us to measure the effect of human noise on wildlife because we can not visualize it. Says Les Blomberg, founder of the nonprofit Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, “[i]f we could see noise, it would be McDonald’s wrappers thrown out of the car all the way down the highway.”

Lawson ends her piece with suggestions that we can follow to be kinder to the living things that share our space, like replacing gas-powered lawn equipment with electric models, contacting groups like quietcommunities.org for advice on how to talk about noise in your community, and, importantly, by tuning in to your personal soundscape.

Color us surprised!

Turns out that people like to have private phone conversations in private spaces. Go figure! The New York Times looks at this phenomenon in a piece titled: Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back.

Naturally the phone booths highlighted in the article aren’t on the street. Rather, they are expensive ($3995 and higher) add-ons companies have had to squeeze into their open plan office spaces for those times that co-workers want less “collaboration” and more privacy. Something that used to be accommodated with these things called offices.

If phone booths are back, might offices be around the corner? [Not holding our breath.]

Thanks to Jeanine Botta for the link.

 

Quiet’s hard to come by

Russell Wangersky, The Telegram, writes about being somewhere so quiet that he could hear two birds flying 20 feet above him.  He describes the sound their feathers made as they moved through the air–“It is a sound that almost defies description: both a swoosh and a rustle, and a hint of the sweep of a soft brush–a sound he notes he will likely never hear again. And that experience prompts his essay on sound and modern living, as he considers “how much sound there is all around us, and how that complication of noises gets ever-larger.”

Click the link to read this thoughtful essay.

 

 

The battle between wind power v. wind noise

Vermont is cracking down on noisy wind turbines. But at what cost? Boston.com writes about how the effort by Vermont utility regulators to settle the “long-standing, contentious issue of how much noise neighbors of industrial wind projects should be subject to ended up upsetting both proponents of wind power and those who say the noise poses a health risk to people who live near turbines.”

We love the idea of fossil fuel-free energy, and on seeing a group of large wind turbines from a distance, we thought they looked majestic. But some industrial wind farms have been built very close to existing communities, and opponents of these farms claim the noise levels are too high and “even at a level that is among the lowest in the country would create an unreasonable burden for people who live near the turbines.”

What is that level? For new projects the daytime limit is 42 decibels “near a home,” and 39 decibels at night.  That may seem really low, but the World Health Organization in its report, “Night Noise Guidelines for Europe,” recommends that 40 decibels “should be the target of the night noise guideline (NNG) to protect the public.”

Proponents of the new limits say Vermont won’t meet its goal of “getting 90 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2050” without wind turbines, and Boston.com adds that “scientific studies have shown no link between wind turbine noise and human health.” But there have been complaints throughout New England, perhaps because the people affected “were accustomed to living in quiet areas.”

In the end, the battle will go on as the need for clean energy runs up against the rights of people living in formerly quiet communities.  Let’s hope a happy compromise can be found.

 

How quiet should it be?

Lake Verynwy, Wales, Oct. 2017 | Photo credit: Dr. Daniel Fink

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I recently wrote about measuring sound on an alpine hike, noting that the reading of the ambient noise level, which was in the low 40 decibels, was much quieter than we hear in our urbanized settings. I also noted that noise exposure, as part of the total daily noise dose, is what causes noise-induced hearing loss.

Another important adverse effect of noise–especially nighttime noise–is disruption of human activities, including sleep disruption. A measure of the noise impact on sleep is called the LDN, How quiet is it in a non-urban setting?

I hadn’t thought about this until last night. My wife and I are traveling in a remote part of Wales, staying at a hotel overlooking Lake Vyrnwy, a manmade reservoir supplying water to Liverpool 75 miles away. It took more than an hour of driving on one-lane country roads to get here. (It wasn’t that far, but at 25 mph, it took a while.) I woke up at night and realized how quiet it was: no sirens, no cars, no airplanes, no helicopters, no horn-based alerts when the neighbor’s son comes home from partying at 2 a.m. Curious, I fired up my Faber Sound Meter 4 app on my phone and measured the ambient noise at 33.7 C-weighted decibels. It was so quiet that the sound meter said there wasn’t enough data to report an A-weighted measurement. (I don’t understand the technical details of why this wouldn’t work.) Unweighted decibels measured 35.4.

Why is this important? Sleep disruption causes a stress response, a neuroendocrine response with increases in stress hormones and a parasympathetic nervous system response, with increased blood pressure and pulse. These involuntary physiological responses are what cause the increased morbidity and mortality reported from transportation noise exposure (and are discussed by Hammer, et al., and Basner, et al.). Yes, the experts think the evidence is strong enough to support a statement of causality, not just a statistical association or correlation. Even sounds as low as 32-35 decibels can disrupt sleep, causing microarousals as measured by EEG monitoring.

And now I know the answer to my question.  How quiet should it be? At night the natural sound level should be under 40 decibels, probably under 35 decibels, and not urban nighttime noise levels of 55 to 65 decibels.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Technology may improve your sleep (but quiet is natural and better)

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A good night’s sleep is important for health and normal daily function.

Humans can’t close our ears, and sound as quiet as 32 to 35 decibels–there is some individual variation in how deeply one sleeps–can disturb sleep, measured by microarousals (brief mini arousals from sleep) on electroencephalography.

This piece from the UK discusses new gadgets that purport to help you sleep better. So if you are looking for sleep headphones, a bodyclock that simulates a natural and gradual sunrise, or a device that stimulates alpha waves while limiting “sleep-affecting delta waves,” click the first link and get out your credit cards.

But we think the best thing for a good night’s sleep is a comfortable bed and pillow, and quiet.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

What is a normal noise level for humans?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What is normal noise for humans? That probably depends on whether you are asking about modern life or about our pastoral past life. In the 1960s, researchers measured excellent hearing and very low ambient noise levels in the nomadic Mabaan population in the southern Sudan and the Kalahari Bushmen in South Africa. But modern life is much noisier.

On an alpine hike in the Austrian Tirol in September, I strolled through the meadow behind me in the photo. I pulled out my iPhone 6 and measured the sound with the Faber Sound Meter 4 app, which has been shown to be almost as accurate as a certified sound meter. The reading was in the low 40-decibel range. That noise came from the wind, distant road traffic noise, and an occasional distant airplane.

This is what humans, including those living in agrarian regions until agriculture was mechanized in the twentieth century, experienced. No motorcycle exhausts, no diesel engines, no helicopters. And restaurants didn’t have amplified music, either.

Humans didn’t evolve in noise. We evolved in quiet. We don’t have protective mechanisms against chronic loud noise exposure. And in an answer to the question at the top of this piece, the normal noise level for humans is quiet.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.