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.”

Smoke From California Wildfires Has Reached the East Coast

A plume of spoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on November 8.
A plume of spoke from the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on November 8.
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Smoke from the deadly California wildfires has drifted 3000 miles across the U.S., causing hazy conditions in several East Coast cities, the PhillyVoice reports. Smoggier-than-average skies have been reported in Philadelphia, New York City, and other areas along the east coast.

New Jersey-based meteorologist Gary Szatkowski tweeted a map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which illustrates the path the California wildfires' smoke likely took. The agency uses satellite technology and a high-resolution atmospheric model to track wildfires and forecast the direction that smoke is expected to travel. To check it out for yourself in real time, visit NOAA’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh Smoke feature.

Although this news may be alarming to people in East Coast cities, the smoke is likely to disperse as it continues to travel east, if it hasn't already done so. It isn't expected to cause any health problems in the region, National Weather Service meteorologist Lamont Bain told Dallas News.

In California, however, the air quality is currently as bad as Beijing’s. Wildfire smoke produces isocyanic acid (a toxic substance found in cigarette smoke) among other potentially harmful compounds that are still being researched. Wildfire smoke is potentially responsible for 25,000 deaths per year.

“The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles,” the EPA states. “These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.”

People are advised to limit their time outdoors when the air quality is poor. This is especially true for at-risk groups, including children, the elderly, pregnant women, diabetics, and those with heart or lung disease.

[h/t PhillyVoice]

Designer Creates Artificial Flowers to Feed Hungry Bees in Big Cities

iStock.com/schnuddel
iStock.com/schnuddel

Rebuilding the world's shrinking bee population will be a multi-level effort. Legislators and citizens are already doing what they can to conserve the pollinators, by planting the right things and banning some pesticides, and now a designer from the Netherlands is stepping up with a product made to help city bees. As Fast Company reports, Matilde Boelhouwer's project, called Food for Buzz, uses artificial flowers to feed bees in concrete jungles.

Boelhouwer's flowers are made from polyester "petals" pinned to a 3D-printed hollow receptacle. The receptacle connects to a stem attached to base filled with sugar. When it rains, water drips down the stem and collects in the sugar base, creating a sugar-water solution which is then pumped back up to the receptacle where insects can drink it.

To attract the most prevalent pollinators—bees, bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies, and moths—Boelhouwer borrowed elements from real-life flowers. Her creations are colorful and symmetrical, which signal to insects that they're a good source of food. And while they may pass for the real thing with bees, Boelhouwer's flowers are all spins on flowers found in nature rather than exact copies of them.

Artificial bee snacks don't necessarily need to be beautiful to be effective. This Bee Saving Paper from Warsaw, for example, is covered in a biodegradable UV paint that's invisible to the human eye. But the flowers made for Food for Buzz can provide life-saving fuel to bees while beautifying urban spaces at the same time.

Boelhouwer tells Fast Company that her polyester flowers do succeed in attracting pollinators, but more research still needs to be done to determine how they compare to other artificial bee feeders.

[h/t Fast Company]

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