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Noise

You can find out more detail in our article Types of Noise, but for now, let's look at a summary.

Type of NoiseDescription
Aircraft NoiseOften disruptive near major airports, aircraft cause noise pollution in the form of engine noise and air turbulence.
Railway NoiseThose living near a railway may find themselves disturbed by rail noise, caused by wheels, braking, turbulence, and engine thrust.
Road Traffic NoiseSources of road traffic noise include engines, tyres, and turbulence.
Industrial NoiseIndustrial and manufacturing processes generate large amounts of noise through processes like drilling and blasting. Equipment is frequently noisy too, such as pile drivers, air compressors, and stamping machines.
Domestic NoiseDay-to-day appliances such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines create noise. Playing music at loud volumes can be classified as noise pollution.
Wind Power NoiseThe sound of rotating wind turbine blades can cause noise pollution for those living nearby.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the seas have become loud. Ships, sonar devices, oil drilling, and seismic tests have caused a large amount of noise pollution. This disrupts echolocation, impacting the behaviour of marine mammals.

Sonar is a significant problem. Naval sonar devices are like the human version of echolocation; sending pulses of sound into the ocean to bounce off an object and return an echo, indicating its position. Sonar pulses can be as loud as 235 decibels! They can travel for hundreds of miles, interfering with echolocation. Sonar has significantly influenced the behaviour of endangered blue whales, leading to altered feeding patterns and mass strandings.

Seismic surveys have similar effects to sonar. Ships use air guns to shoot pulses of sound down to the ocean floor to search for oil or gas deposits. The sound blasts cause damage to the ears of marine animals and can cause serious injuries.

Reducing the Effects of Noise Pollution on Aquatic Life

Scientists have called for the reduction of noise pollution in the oceans. Strategies include:

  • Collecting data to create sound maps, used to visualise areas of noise pollution and its influence on marine mammals

  • Establishing international noise pollution standards

  • Redesigning propellers

  • Installing quieting technologies, such as sound-absorbing tiles, vibration isolators, and air compressors

  • Place restrictions on sensitive areas

  • Further research to gain a deeper understanding of the effects of noise pollution on marine life


I hope that this article has explained noise pollution to you. Remember that noise pollution is defined as harmful or annoying levels of noise. Excessive noise may seem irritating but harmless; unfortunately that's not true. Exposure to noise pollution can affect health and behaviour, especially for marine mammals.

Noise - Key takeaways

  • Noise pollution is defined as harmful or annoying levels of noise. To be classified as noise pollution, sound must exceed 65 decibels.
  • Sound is measured using logarithmic decibels. The threshold of human hearing is approximately 0 decibels, and the frequency range of human hearing is between 20 and 20,000 Hertz. Noise pollution comes from a variety of sources: aircraft, railways, roads, industry, homes, and wind turbines.
  • High levels of noise pollution can cause acoustic fatigue and shock impacts.
  • In humans, noise pollution can result in hearing damage, health problems, and behavioural changes. In other animals, noise pollution can impact health, behaviour, reproduction, feeding, and echolocation.
  • Marine mammals are particularly at risk from noise pollution due to their heavy reliance on echolocation. Sonar pulses, which can reach 235 decibels, cause serious disturbances.

1. Center for Hearing and Communication, Common Noise Levels - How Loud is Too Loud?, 2022

2. Dale Purves, Neuroscience, 2001

3. Dave Cutten, The top 10 animals with the best hearing, Hidden Hearing, 2021

4. Iberdrola, Noise pollution: how to reduce the impact of an invisible threat?, Sustainability, 2022

5. J. Tate Mason, Anthropogenic noise impairs owl hunting behavior, Biological Conservation, 2016

6. National Geographic Society, Noise Pollution, 2022

Frequently Asked Questions about Noise

Harmful or annoying levels of noise can be classified as noise pollution.

The sound of rotating wind turbine blades can cause noise pollution for those living nearby.

We can protect our environment from noise pollution by installing quieting technologies on appliances, establishing international noise pollution standards, and increasing research into noise pollution.

Noise pollution causes structural damage to buildings, impacts animal behaviour, and causes health problems in humans.

Marine mammals rely heavily on echolocation. Noise pollution disrupts their ability to echolocate effectively, impacting their behaviour, navigation, and communication.

Final Noise Quiz

Question

Define noise.

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Answer

Noise is an unwanted sound considered loud and unpleasant.

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Question

What is noise pollution?

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Answer

Noise pollution is defined as harmful or annoying levels of noise.

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Question

What is the unit of measurement for sound?

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Answer

Hertz

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Question

Define the threshold of hearing.

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Answer

The threshold of hearing is the sound level below which a person's ear cannot detect any sound.

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What is the frequency range of human hearing?

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Answer

The frequency range of human hearing is 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

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Question

Define acoustic fatigue.

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Answer

Acoustic fatigue is damage to piping caused by stress due to high levels of noise.

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Question

What is tinnitus?

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Answer

Tinnitus is a condition where you perceive ringing or buzzing sounds in your ear, that don't come from an external source.

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Question

Name some psychological effects associated with noise pollution.

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Answer

Psychological effects associated with noise pollution include anxiety, mood problems, sleep disorders, increased aggression, and trouble focusing.

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Question

What are the effects of aircraft noise on cattle?

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Answer

Aircraft noise provokes aggressive behaviour, causes disorientation, and impacts foraging.

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How does noise pollution affect birds?

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Answer

Noise pollution affects reproduction, increases vigilance, and reduces feeding behaviours.

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Question

Define echolocation.

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Answer

Echolocation is a technique to determine the location of objects by using reflected sound.

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Which mammals have the ability to echolocate?

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Answer

Bats

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Why are marine mammals affected by noise pollution?

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Answer

Marine mammals rely heavily on echolocation, which is disrupted by noise pollution.

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Question

How loud can a sonar pulse be?

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Answer

A sonar pulse can reach 235 decibels.

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Question

Define sound frequency.

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Answer

Sound frequency is the number of waves produced in one second.

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