We are focusing on an array of projects that endeavor to advance our understanding about how animals perceive and use sound in order to assess the effects of ocean noise pollution on their survival. We use that understanding to inform the public, policymakers, and stakeholders on issues of ocean noise pollution so that we may all become better stewards of the sea.
While bioacousticians have been studying human and animal sound perception for decades, and in some cases hundreds of years, only been recently has that inquiry become much more urgent − as the advance of human noise increasingly interferes with marine life. For example: While it is incredibly informative (and useful) to know how dolphins use bio-sonar, understanding their vulnerability to sound exposure has become critical now that human technologies (informed by dolphin biosonar) are cluttering dolphins’ communication channels with our own sonars.
The same could be conferred to other perceptual and processing systems: signal masking, amplitude induced threshold shifts, pitch discrimination, time-domain resolution, voluntary-to-autonomic nervous system stimulus thresholds, and synergistic impacts – are all becoming more than just academic discussions as marine acoustic channels are being colonized by the noise of human enterprise.
Citizen Science Sailors: Mapping Ocean Noise
While there are many maps of ocean noise pollution available, much of the data on these maps are modeled from shipping lane maps and are not well supported by empirical data. This project takes advantage of long-distance recreational sailors equipped with a deployable hydrophone and instrumentation package to periodically measure the noise below their craft. These data will be gathered, analyzed and mapped, giving us real noise data heretofore unavailable due to the expense of sound-gathering missions. We are collaborating with recreational sailor communications and outreach organization “Hello Ocean” and Geographical Information Systems design firm Sliverleaf Geospaitial on this project and anticipate opening up a lot of ears to the real problem of ocean noise pollution.
Don’tBeABuckethead.org was developed as a joint education and outreach project with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) focusing on the acoustical impacts of fossil fuel exploration and production in the arctic. To share the pristine acoustic environment of the arctic, we processed five full days of audio recordings from Macaulay Library to provide visitors with an immersive acoustic experience in the arctic ocean and the visual experience of an ocean scientist. Learn More»
In order to have a clear understanding of any inquiry there needs to be a concise set of standard descriptors used. “Metrics” refers to the numerical/quantitative terms used to describe physical phenomena.
Existing noise exposure guidelines are based solely on how loud a noise is at the receiver (the exposed animal). This does not take into account the characteristics of a sound. Some sounds are dulcet, others are nasty. These qualities can be expressed using the statistical term “Kurtosis” – which can express how “screechy” or rough a sound is. There is a direct correlation between high kurtosis signals and aggravating characteristics. We have introduced the term “Kurtosis” into the international standards vocabulary (ISO 18405) and are working to further define this and implement it into US regulatory guidelines
Most threshold testing is done using convenient, easy to quantify signals. But signals found in actual settings are rarely so easy to describe. Kurtosis is a statistical descriptor for signal variability which can simplify the description of complex signals. Learn More: Paper » Learn More: Video »
The first task of crafting criteria is to understand perceptual thresholds; what amplitude, or frequency, or acceleration, or time disparity will stimulate a nervous system response in animals.
In human architectural settings we have devised a way of describing the desired acoustical criteria for the purpose of a given room, providing design and use guidelines. These guidelines are crafted around the perceptual priorities of one species – humans. Ocean Noise Criteria need to include the perceptual priorities of many species – a complicated task.
Historic Ocean Noise Levels
There has been an assumption that the ocean has always been quiet until the mechanization of human enterprise. But prior to industrialized fishing and whaling the ocean was saturated with biological noise that may have been much louder than today’s mechanized ocean.
New technologies in offshore petroleum extraction are moving processing equipment down to the seafloor. This is introducing new and yet to be quantified noise sources where they are unseen – and un-monitored by any regulatory frameworks.
It is likely that processing of this multi-phase material (solids, liquids, and gas) flowing under these extreme conditions generates noise. Equipment is controlled by way of acoustical communication networks, and the entire oilfield is served by floating, dynamically stabilized operating platforms. All of this equipment generates noise. We would like to know how much noise. We are working on two strategies to find out.
One strategy involves deploying an autonomous profiler to drift across sub-sea operations in the Gulf of Mexico to record and evaluate operational noises of deep-water hydrocarbon production. A second strategy involves engaging recreational sailors to deploy hydrophones throughout the ocean), and encouraging them to pay special attention to where these deep-water installations are operating.
Zuvuya is the Mayan word for the circuit by which everything returns to its source, connecting memory to the future as well as the past.
The mission of ZUVUYA is to offer a sensory, multi-media experience that blends science and art, to focus each of us on reconnecting to our ocean home and to inspire stewardship and healing for the oceans and ourselves.
The ocean acoustic environment is complex and detailed, and because sound transmits so much better in water than in air, the range of biological adaptations are likely much more vast than what we find in terrestrial environments.
The sounds of animals, geo-physical events, and human enterprises orchestrate vast soundscapes throughout the sea. Learn More»
While listening to a single sound or a single bio-acoustic habitat can be thrilling, expanding the listening field into a context can be truly informative. We are developing two short narrative compositions in the form of Acoustic Journeys which will transport listeners across imaginary space and time, allowing them to understand some of the acoustic interactions of the sea.
An acoustical narrative journey from the Antarctic to the Arctic traversing stunning bioacoustic habitats, mechanized industrial soundfields, grinding ice fields, and screaming military operations.
Arctic Soundscapes is an interactive outdoor kiosk exploration of the amazing sounds in the Arctic, from the cosmic sounding vocalizations of beluga whales, ring and bearded seals, and bowhead whales, to the eerie and wincing noises if shifting sheet ice, and the incessant explosions of seismic airgun surveys prospecting for fossil fuels.