Did You Hear That? – World Listening Day in the National Parks

Impossible to see and even more difficult to regulate.

It’s noise.  And it’s coming to a National Park near you.

On July 18 people around the globe join together to celebrate World Listening Day. Sponsored by the World Listening Project and Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology (MSAE), World Listening Day is all about opening your ears to the natural sounds around you.

It celebrates acoustic environments and raises awareness for efforts to preserve the natural beauty of sound.  For National Park enthusiasts, World Listening Day also acknowledges that noise pollution is one of the many issues facing the parks this year.


Bull Elk near Madison Campground

The Problem of Noise

When more than 300 million people traveled to a national park last year, “noisy” is not what they had in mind.  Noise pollution can be harmful to wildlife and disrupt the pursuit of solitude.  It can change the landscape permanently, especially in places where the sounds of ecosystem are just as beautiful as the scenery.

Trust us. There is nothing more annoying to hikers than a thundering commercial airplane overhead.  Or a pristine lakeshore interrupted by a cell phone ringing across the way. All of these noises take away from the natural sound scape of our national parks.


Studying Noise Pollution in the Parks

Thankfully, scientists and rangers are working hard to combat noise pollution in the parks.  It is a multi-faceted effort including measurement, management and education.  Sound monitoring equipment is in place in many of our national parks to document how noise pollution impacts an area.  Noise monitoring software can detect even the smallest changes in a natural setting and help park staff regulate wilderness impacted by noise pollution.

NPS researchers have mapped sound across the United States to determine how low and moderate levels of noise infiltrate our protected areas.  The results paint a visual message about the need for preserving soundscapes:

Sound Map of existing sounds conditions in the United States - provided by NPS.gov and available on http://www.nature.nps.gov/sound/soundmap.cfm
Sound Map of existing sounds conditions in the United States – provided by NPS.gov and available on http://www.nature.nps.gov/sound/soundmap.cfm

Celebrate World Listening Day

One of the best ways to celebrate World Listening Day is to take a few minutes to enjoy the sounds of nature.  Try a sound hike, paying special attention to what you hear around you.

Not close to a park?  

The National Park Service has recently begun to focus on the sounds of the parks in extraordinary ways.  Videos and social media campaigns like this “If Wilderness Could Speak” are some of the many efforts to ensure visitors pay attention to what they hear just as much as what they see:


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