Vroom, Gurgle, Whizz, Slurp! Human Noise Drives Wildlife Batty

Humans, their relatively small physiology notwithstanding, are one of the loudest species on the planet Earth. From trains planes, and automobiles, to submarines, drilling equipment and now global warming, the sounds of industrial globalization reverberate through the air, land, and sea.

quietdownDependent on the natural acoustics they evolved in, birds, whales, mice, insects, and even the trees, are sensitive to anthropogenic, human, noise.

In,Ecological Letters, two biologists noted that, “environmental noise can lead to DNA damage, alterations in gene expression and changes to a myriad of cellular processes related to appropriate neural, developmental, immunological and physiological functioning.”

In research in the Journal of Experimental Biology,anthropogenic noise was shown to be threatening to the bird population because it “masked their acoustic signals and lowered their signal to-noise ratio below a critical detection threshold.”

In the Proceeding of Royal Society: Biological Letters, researchers observed that noise produced by compressors at natural gas wells was, for the Colorado pinyon, repelling its seed dispersal agents, scrub jays, while attracting their primary seed predators, deer mice. The noise, the authors said, explained why pinyon seedlings were four times more abundant at the quiet control sites compared to the noisy sites.

Making matters worse, researchers, working with NOAA here at OSU,recently published work observing the sound profile of melting icebergs; the disintegration of the bergs released huge amounts of sound, even more than when the ice was pin wheeling along the seafloor.

“During one, hour-long period, we documented that the sound energy released by the iceberg disintegrating was equivalent to the sound that would be created by a few hundred supertankers over the same period,” said Robert Dziak, lead author on the study.

Because the scientific community has clearly demonstrated that the polar warming trend is here to stay, it can reasonably be inferred that more and more icebergs will be created from increased glacial calving. Human industry will yet again be contributing to increased noise pollution, and this kind can’t easily be remedied.

To maintain sanity and escape the symphonic cacophony of industry and traffic, humanity has built concrete complexes, noise canceling headphones, and retreated to astroturfed suburbs.

Non-human terrestrial life on this planet, lacking opposable thumbs and with ever dwindling habitats, has no way of escaping the incessant, ever louder, noise of human industry. Oceanic life fares no better, not with pollution induced warming, and thus more glacial calving, sure to continue. The aquatic environment of tomorrow won’t just be more acidic, it will be beset by the explosive sounds of man-made climate change.

By William Tatum