Environmental acoustic levels give indication of pollution

If you were blindfolded and asked to step into a location unknown to you, you’d probably get small indications of what kind of environment it is, even without looking around you.

The acoustic levels of landscapes hint at the type of environment it is- whether it be a busy urban area with traffic buzzing around it, the peaceful English countryside, or the rainforest where the hum of exotic species echoes through the air. Even without using our eyes we can usually sense how much animal life occupies an area by using our ears to recognise the sounds of wildlife that inhabit the landscape.

Due to an ongoing demand for cheaper devices to monitor wildlife, new developments have been constructed that monitor landscape acoustic levels. This knowledge is a useful resource for architects and designers as the future for wildlife in the built environment depends on ongoing environmental strategy and improved technologies. Consequently, the use of ecological information creates an increasingly positive union between humans and animals.

As would be expected when a forest fire occurs, the resulting carbon-emission fumes have a detrimental effect on the landscape, native fauna and overall ecosystem of the space. This is not only illustrated in the visual devastation of the land (the resting smog, charred landscape and sudden visible decline of wildlife) but in the decrease in animals’ acoustic activity.

This phenomenon is best exhibited in Tropical Asia – a part of the world which experiences some of the most devastating fires and smog, creating significant human health problems, economic issues and environmental damage across the area.

According to research led by Benjamin Lee at the University of Kent, and National Parks Board in Singapore, the Southeast Asian El Nino forest fires in 2015 resulted in a huge disruption to the biodiversity of the landscape due to the smoke-induced haze the fire created. Lee’s research shows that the aftermath of the fire – the large-scale pollution, had a greater impact on biodiversity than the forest fire itself.

To complete his Ph.D. at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), Lee monitored wildlife acoustic activity in Singapore before, during and after the forest fires that hit the area in 2015. As to be expected, Lee’s research indicated that there was a dramatic drop in animals’ acoustic activity by as much as 37.5% during the haze. The findings suggest that since the fire, it look the landscape another 16 weeks after the fog had dissipated before the acoustic levels showed signs of a partial recovery.

As anticipated, the damage to the wildlife closer to the fire was greater than the locations close to the flames (where air pollution levels were 15-times higher than those in Singapore). Lee’s research additionally indicates that elevated levels of transboundary air pollution is also not restricted to drought years, but occur annually.

Overall, Lee’s research shows the need for effective use of acoustic monitoring techniques, as cheap alternatives to usual wildlife monitoring technologies. Specifically, the capacity of acoustic technology to yield information on identifying particular species is of huge benefit when evaluating the effect of a fire on a landscape, and indeed tracking animal activity in the built environment.

The lesson for designers is that the use of technologies to monitor acoustic levels is an advantage as it not only provides information about an area’s pollution level and provides new insight into animal species. These developing technologies will enable architects to design buildings that promote and enhance wildlife, reducing human-induced animal extinction.

Images courtesy of Pixabay 

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