Sounding out the impacts of urbanization on lakes

Floating platform with microphones (above and below water) deployed on Pine Lake, Washington

Floating platform with microphones (above and below water) deployed on Pine Lake, Washington

If you are wondering why you seem stressed out lately, it could be the noise around you. A recent lab publication showed that environmental noise levels at freshwater lakes (the places we like to live, recreate, and relax) can be noisy – quite noisy, in fact – depending on the level of surrounding urbanization. Noise levels at urban lakes surpassed thresholds established by the Environmental Protection Agency for ‘outdoor annoyance and disturbance’ in over two-thirds of hourly measurements; noise levels decreased predictably with lower urbanization in the area surrounding the lake. Interestingly, lakes with public parks were actually noisier than lakes without, which may reflect the influence of the park, but also the fact that parks are placed more often in densely urban areas.

But our reporting on urban ‘soundscapes’ isn’t all pain to our ears. A sound check (no pun intended) on the places where people like to spend time and which are often intended as green spaces for wildlife is a first step toward monitoring and managing for the impacts of noise pollution on people and animals. Acoustic oases, anyone?

You can read more about this study published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE here. This study was also partially funded by a crowdfunding campaign, including a short video, in May of 2012 – we are very grateful to all the people who helped fuel this research on soundscapes where we live and play!