Right to Quiet Society Noiseletter
Fall 2011 – page 4

< Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 Next >   Quiet Home Page

Documenting the sound of fallen trees (and planes)

By Amelia Templeton

Link to NPR site

Researchers at Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon have spent the past two years documenting the park's natural sound. Often, microphones will pick up the sound of falling trees, elks snacking and coyotes howling.

In even the most remote parts of the park, however, researchers are also hearing airplane noise 15 percent of the time. Setting up temporary recording stations in 20 different locations, technicians say that there's virtually no place left in America that's untouched by ambient human noise — and that this may be stressful to wildlife. The project is part of a campaign by the national park system to document the invasion of human-caused noise and to preserve a natural quiet in the parks.

On a recent day, researcher Scott McFarland is walking around the park to find a place to set up a microphone. He starts hiking away from the main attraction of the park, a deep blue lake in a volcano that blew its top 7,000 years ago. His feet crunch across a field of pumice and ash.

"Anything you could possibly think of hearing, we probably have a recording of it. Anything from badgers and porcupines grunting, to the wings of a butterfly," he says. The hardest sounds for McFarland to decipher are branches breaking, or when elk or deer are chewing on the wind-screens of the microphone.

McFarland decides to set up his recording station in a place where small trees have taken root, and we listen. While it seems quiet to a reporter, McFarland says he heard a propeller aircraft go by. The park is not as quiet as it first seems. Chris Wayne, a scientist who's helping McFarland, says he heard the aircraft, too. "This project kind of ruins your ability to hear silence," Wayne says. "Once you start paying attention, you can always hear the road, wherever you are. Always hear the planes."

It may not sound serious, but species like owls need quiet in order to find their prey. "Think about how quiet a mouse would be under the snow. Owls have the ability to hear that," McFarland says. "So just a small increase in noise can really limit the area that they can actually hunt." The problem, McFarland says, is that human noise, like climate change, is a problem the national parks can't just fence out.

Noise pollution hard on heart as well as ears

By Brent Baughman

Link to NPR site

According to a recent study, noise pollution could be costing lives. A World Health Organization report finds Western Europeans lose years to death or disability from excessive sound. Though European countries have taken steps to turn the volume down, the U.S. backed off the effort decades ago. Across an estimated population of 340 million people, at least 1 million years of healthy living are lost each year due to noise pollution in Western Europe, WHO researcher Rokho Kim says.

A dangerous response to noise

A few too many sleepless nights can add up to heart dis-ease, higher blood pressure and a host of stress-related health issues. But, Kim says, it's not the lost sleep so much as the human body's reaction to noise that's dangerous. "For example, when someone is sleeping and the sound level increases, even though the person is not aware, not conscious, the heart rate is increasing and the blood pressure is increasing," he says.

Kim speculates that these reactions are probably leftover from our prehistoric period, when humans always had to be prepared — even while asleep.

Those same reactions that may have kept us safe could be hurting us today. "If that's continued for life, clearly there is a burden on the cardiovascular system and central nervous system," Kim says.

Turning down the volume

Countries in Europe aggressively regulate noise, he points out. In the Netherlands, some roads are topped with low-noise pavement. Cars have low-noise tires, and airports compensate residents for sound-proofing their houses. The U.S., however, doesn't regulate noise on the federal level. There was a time when the EPA handled noise much like other pollutants, setting and enforcing regulations, recommending reductions and assessing the risks.

That changed in 1982, when Ronald Reagan closed the Office of Noise Abatement and Control. Reagan cited budget concerns, according to Garret Keizer, author of The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise, and decided noise was better regulated by state and local officials. “No president and Congress has seen fit to revive it," Keizer says.

Read the 126-page WHO report "Burden Of Disease From Environmental Noise here

Link to top

Entire contents © 2011 Right to Quiet Society. Cartoon © 1996 Right to Quiet Society

< Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 Next >

Right to Quiet Home Page