Soundscape / Noise

water splashes on rocks at mountain lake shoreline
The sound of water lapping on St. Mary Lake's rocky shore is part of Glacier's natural soundscape.

NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Some may say we live in a world of over-stimulation. Televisions and phones, noise from all manner of transportation conveyances, and a multitude of other sources blare at us with growing frequency. For many people the antidote is the calming aspects of the sounds of the natural world. Natural soundscapes are made up of the aggregate of sounds from such sources as wind, water, insects, or birds. The soundscape can be very quiet like a cricket chirp, or quite loud, as alongside a waterfall or in a thunder storm.

The term soundscape refers to the entire acoustical environment of an area and includes both natural and human created sounds. The soundscape within each national park represents an important part of the park environment. The value of this resource has become increasingly important as it becomes threatened. Glacier National Park still retains much of its natural soundscape, but "noise" (defined as the unwanted intrusion of sound) is becoming ever more prevalent and is increasingly recognized as a management concern. The type and amount of development around the periphery of the park will largely dictate the future condition of the soundscape. Increases in traffic and construction within the park add to human created noise, and aircraft operations over and near the park are becoming a growing issue. Scenic helicopter rides that originate outside the park boundary intrude on the natural soundscape over a wide area, particularly affecting hikers and backpackers.

As visitation within national parks increases, the effects from noise have the potential to impact not only the well-being of humans, but the wildlife that inhabit the park as well. Research has found that wildlife can suffer adverse physiological and behavioral changes from noise in addition to other human activities.

Soundscape management is an important National Park Service management issue. Any significant degradation of the natural sound environment deprives park visitors of the chance to connect with and appreciate the natural scene. Noise measurement studies have established baseline ambient noise levels for Glacier National Park that can be used to establish a foundation from which potential noise impacts can be assessed.

Learn more about researching, managing, and measuring soundscapes throughout the National Park Service on the Natural Sounds site.

Last updated: June 10, 2016

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