Noise Pollution Is Pouring Into Protected Natural Areas

Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images
Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

All right, folks. We’ve had our warnings, and now it really is time to keep it down. Experts say anthropogenic (human-made) noise is drowning out natural silence and sounds in the majority of protected areas in the United States. They published their research in the journal Science.

A babbling brook or a forest full of birdsong may soothe a stressed-out human, but for the plants and animals that live there, every single sound serves a function. Studies have shown that noise pollution can mess up animals’ migration paths, stop them from mating, and lead them to make fatally bad decisions.

Parks, wilderness, and other protected areas currently make up 14 percent of our country’s landmass. But as urbanization continues, spillover from human settlement draws nearer to every open space; 80 percent of the country is within .6 miles of a road and its accompanying traffic.

To find out how far our racket has reached, researchers captured audio recordings at 492 spots across the U.S.—some protected, some not—and used computer modeling to estimate natural sound levels at each location.

The results were not encouraging. The researchers say our noise pollution doubled noise levels in more than half of protected areas. In about one-fifth of those areas, noise was increased tenfold—an increase that shrinks the audible range of a bird’s call to 10 percent of its natural reach.


Median noise exceedance—the amount that anthropogenic noise increases sound levels above the natural level—in protected area units across the contiguous United States. 

R.T. Buxton et al., Science (2017)

“We were surprised we found such high levels of noise pollution in such high amounts of protected areas,” lead author Rachel Buxton of Colorado State University (CSU) told Science.

This is bad for people, too. Counterintuitive though it may sound, tourism plays an integral role in the success of national parks and other protected spaces. But an escape to nature loses some of its appeal if all you can hear are trucks and machinery.

Senior author George Wittemyer, also of CSU, said that while these findings are troubling, it’s important to remember that the worst is not inevitable.

“Numerous noise mitigation strategies have been successfully developed and implemented,” he said in a statement. “Our work provides information to facilitate such efforts in respect to protected areas where natural sounds are integral.”

"Next time you go for a walk in the woods, pay attention to the sounds you hear—the flow of a river, wind through the trees, singing birds, bugling elk,” Buxton added. “These acoustic resources are just as magnificent as visual ones, and deserve our protection.”

How to Build an Igloo, According to a Canadian Film From 1949

iStock.com/vovashevchuk
iStock.com/vovashevchuk

Centuries before you started building snow forts in your backyard, the Inuit had mastered using snow as construction material. This 1949 video, produced by the National Film Board of Canada (and with narration that uses some outdated terminology), illustrates how exactly people native to the Arctic can erect warm, temporary homes using nothing but a knife and the snow beneath their feet. The artifact was spotted by The Kid Should See This.

The igloo (or iglu in Inuktitut) in this footage takes around 90 minutes to erect, but a similar structure can be built by a skilled person in as little as 40 minutes. To put together the shelter, the two men carve up firm, packed snow into blocks that are about 2 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and 4 inches thick.

After the first row of blocks is placed in a circle on the ground, the builder slices a section of the blocks to create a slope. Each row that's placed on this foundation will spiral upward, creating a shape in which the blocks support their own weight. By the time the keystone block is fitted into the top, the igloo is strong enough to support the weight of a man.

The final steps are carving a doorway out of the bottom of the structure and plugging up the cracks with additional snow from outside. Even on a frigid Arctic night, the temperature of a well-insulated igloo can reach 40 degrees above the temperature outside. And the warmer the igloo gets over time, the stronger it becomes: The heat from the Sun and the bodies of the inhabitants melt the outer layers of the blocks, and that water eventually freezes to ice, giving the home more insulation and structural integrity.

If you aren't ready to build an igloo, here are some less intimidating snow projects to tackle this winter.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

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