What is a Soundscape?
A soundscape is the total acoustical environment of an area. The National Park Service treats the symphony of sounds heard within a park as a valuable resource that is afforded the same level of protection as other resources. The natural soundscape of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore delights visitors who come in search of serenity and solitude and expect to hear sounds of nature. Waves striking on rocks, wind in the trees, the chatter of chipmunks, a waterfall crackling through ice… these are sounds that enhance a visit to the lakeshore. Even the deep stillness and absence of sound that often occurs in northern hardwood forests is an experience sought by many people.
Sounds associated with human activity, including road and boat traffic, aircraft, and snowmobiles often impact these natural sounds. While not extensively studied, increased noise may have a negative effect on wildlife behavior, particularly in mating and other complex communication activities. The sounds animals produce when attracting mates, detecting predators, finding prey, and defending territories could be disrupted by human-caused sounds, especially mechanized ones.
Understanding the role of sound and acoustics in a healthy ecosystem is critical to effective management and protection. Also, visitor experience and satisfaction can be greatly impacted by the addition of human-caused sounds. Seventy-two percent of visitors to national parks say that one of the most important reasons to preserve national parks is to provide opportunities to experience natural quiet and the sounds of nature.
A brief soundscape monitoring study at Pictured Rocks was conducted in summer 2012 in order to assess current conditions of the park's acoustical environment and to collect baseline data for future noise modeling. Data were collected via human listeners and automatic sound level meters in both high and low use areas of the park. While more study needs to be done, this initial research showed that wind, wave, and bird sounds were the most common natural sounds at the study sites. For human-caused sounds, noise from watercraft was most common, followed by vehicles and then human voices.
Go to NPS Natural Sounds for more information on soundscapes in national parks.