International Project Will See How the Quiet of Covid-19 Affected the Oceans

International Project Will See How the Quiet of Covid-19 Affected the Oceans

Saeid US

By Saeid US


Between offshore oil and gas drilling, shipping, wind turbines, and even jet skis, the ocean is a pretty loud place.

A new initiative, the International Quiet Ocean Experiment Science Plan, aims to make sure they can make the most of their research.

The plan, conceived by a team of five researchers, will bring together data from hundreds of scientists around the world measuring ocean soundscapes over the past year.

They’re hoping to bring even more data into the fold by getting scientists who are doing field research in the oceans now but didn’t plan to measure sound to consider using listening devices in their experiments.

Our oceans are home to vast, complex communication channels, but intruding noises from industry and other human activities can screw all that up.

Because much of the noise comes from industries that our world depends on to run, like energy and shipping, it’s difficult to get them to shut up to conduct research.“A lot of acoustic research has proceeded by, let’s say, ringing a bell underwater and then seeing what happened,” Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University and a leader of the new project, said.

In 2011, Ausubel and four other scientists decided it would be a good idea to try to measure the effects of noise subtraction, too.

They devised a plan to connect with researchers around the world who were using hydrophones—basically underwater microphones—in their experiments, and ask them to collect data.

They planned to pay close attention to how ecosystems responded to particularly quiet times, like the period after a hurricane when fewer ships or rigs are working. The researchers also planned to ask noisemakers to quiet down as much as possible on designated “quiet ocean days” for the sake of science.

But then in 2020, they got their year of the quiet ocean without even having to do all that because of covid-19 restrictions.

But they figured that at any given time, there are scientists measuring underwater sound with hydrophones for their research.

They were right: Through their networks and outreach, they were able to connect with 231 research teams who were using non-military hydrophones for their marine experiments between March 2020 and February 2021. Each of these teams agreed to share their sound data.

Ausubel and his team plan to use all those contributors’ data to create a repository of sound information, using a variety of methods and tools to measure and document ocean soundscapes, and examine their effects on animal populations.

The team expects there are hundreds of more hydrophones out in the oceans right now for various reasons and even more that have been out there in the past year.

“What we’d really like to encourage is capacity development in Southern Hemisphere countries now that this technology is relatively cheap and easy to field, to be able to make sure that graduate students, for example, understand that this is really a quite a usable technology that they may not have thought of using,” Peter Tyack, a professor at the Scottish Oceans Institute’s school of biology and another co-founder of the International Quiet Ocean Experiment Science Plan, said. It could be win-win giving researchers in the Global South more tools to study the ocean and collecting more data from everywhere.


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