The Sound of Silence: A Noise Map of the U.S.

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If you are looking for some peace and quiet, the National Park Service (NPS) has made it a little easier to find. A new map from the NPS displays the noisiest as well as the quietest places in the United States. What they found is not surprising. The east coast tends to be the loudest while the west, the region extending from the Rockies but east of the west coast, is the quietest with its large areas of wilderness and public lands.

Scientists and researchers under the National Park Service studied the audio environment of the country and ended up with more than a million hours of sound from 600 monitoring sites located all over the country. The NPS has the responsibility of preserving the peacefulness of the lands under its care which is becoming increasingly hard to do. Both noise and light pollution are causing unforeseen problems in wilderness areas.

Noise pollution in particular is causing concern for its harmful effects on not only humans but wildlife, especially animals that have sensitive ears like bats. High noise levels can produce changes in the behavior of entire communities of animals. A recent study published in Global Change Biology found that songbirds have been shown to change the timing of their songs in response to noise. The study also estimated that a third of bird species will disappear completely from areas that are extremely loud. Human noise can even interfere with ocean life including whales.

Noise pollution is still a problem for humans, many of whom want to escape to places where only natural sounds are present. Even in the remotest of areas, manmade sounds can still be heard. Visitors to places like Denali and Yellowstone have to contend with aircraft noise which can raise the noise level by five decibels. This has caused the National Park Service to offer more incentives for reducing noise like limits on snowmobiles and signs asking people to be quiet.


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Where is it the loudest in the United States? Noise map by the National Park Service.

Where is it the loudest in the United States? Noise map by the National Park Service.

The new noise map from the National Park Service was developed for their Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division. This organization is dedicated to preserving the quiet, dark places in national parks. Even if you cannot get out and enjoy the sounds of nature yourself, the National Park Service has made natural sounds available through their sound gallery. The sound gallery includes a wide variety of all kinds of noises including streams, animals, and even sand and falling rocks.

References:

“A Map of America’s Noise Levels.” http://www.popsci.com/map-quietest-places-america

“National Park Service Maps Noise Pollution While Studying Effects on Visitors, Wildlife.” http://www.ibtimes.com/national-park-service-maps-noise-pollution-while-studying-effects-visitors-wildlife-1818092

“New Map Knows Noise.” http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/new-map-knows-noise/


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