U.S. wildlife regions are getting louder and humans are to blame

Brittany A. Roston - May 4, 2017
U.S. wildlife regions are getting louder and humans are to blame

When you think of quiet, you probably think of somewhere far away from the city: a dense national park, a wildlife preserve, or somewhere similar. While it’s true that a weekend spent in a cabin in some remote place will likely be more peaceful than a night in a big city, it’s unlikely you’ll experience a true lack of human noise. This is becoming an increasingly concerning reality, and one that doesn’t show any signs of reversing. A newly published study has found that humans have doubled the background noise volume in 63-percent of the nation’s protected wildlife regions.

To determine how much human background noise exists in U.S. wildlife regions, a team of researchers scoured through audio recordings from the National Park Service. These recordings covered long periods of time from nearly 500 sites through the nation, keeping tabs on the decibel noise in any given region. The noise levels were also linked to landscape features such as whether the region had mountains or was a flat prairie.

Machine learning was tapped to fill in the gaps, using the existing data to make estimates about what kind of noise exist in other wildlife regions without audio monitoring systems. The noise levels found in places were also split between natural sounds and ones resulting from human activities like operating cars and similar. Unfortunately, the results are less than ideal.

The majority of wildlife regions have discernible human background noise, and in more than 20-percent of the studied regions, the human noise is ten times as loud as the estimated natural noises that would otherwise exist. Further refining the data, 12-percent of the wildlife regions have human noise loud enough to cut in half the distant in which bird noises can be perceived. There is a ray of hope though: protected areas that limit what humans are allowed to do were 35-percent less noisy than their non-protected peers.

SOURCE: Science News

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