Frontiers: Sound ecology

Ecology of Sound

What is noise, and how does it affect the natural world? These are among the questions Mark Pedelty, IonE resident fellow and College of Liberal Arts associate professor, posed at his February 27 Frontiers in the Environment seminar, “Sound Ecology: The Environmental Effects of Mechanical Noise and Human Music.”

Pedelty is hoping to influence land development policy to take the effects of mechanical and human noise into account. For example, he noted that some songbirds sing louder and at a higher pitch in urban landscapes, and industrial noise has been shown to inhibit foraging and reproduction in certain frog species.

Pedelty explained that, because of the lack of noise regulation – such as prohibiting air traffic – in wilderness areas like the rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula, “you almost never hear silence.”

“It’s not just a matter of how sound affects us, but a matter of not being able to hear certain environments, which can affect how we preserve them,” he said.

Pedelty is planning a prospective study to get a sense of the relationships between human noise and animal noise. He will compare a relatively untouched area of Orcas Island, part of the San Juan archipelago in Washington state, to another, more highly developed area of the island. He hopes to learn how development choices in the latter can shape – or limit – development choices in the former.

Development policy looks at factors like scoping and environmental impact, but has left out sound as a consideration, said Pedelty.

Like to learn more? You can watch Pedelty’s Frontiers talk here. You are also invited to stop by the IonE Commons, Room 350 Learning & Environmental Sciences, to view an interactive exhibit of Pedelty’s work, Ecomusicology Listening Room.

And join us at noon CT March 6 in St. Paul or live online for the fourth Frontiers in the Environment talk of the season – Unleashing Minnesota’s Solar Power Potential by Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy.

Monique Dubos is a freelance writer and photographer. She currently works at the University of Minnesota.