A Global Sustainable Soundscape Network

Sounds are a perpetual and dynamic property of all landscapes. The sounds of vocalizing and stridulating animals and the non-biological sounds of running water and rustling wind emanate from natural landscapes. In contrast, urban landscapes are dominated by human-produced sounds radiating from a variety of sources, such as machines, sirens, and friction generated by tires rotating over pavement. Since Rachel Carson's seminal book, Silent Spring, nature's sounds have been inextricably linked to environmental quality. Because sound is a fundamental property of nature and can be drastically affected by a variety of human activities, sound provides a valuable perspective for examining the dynamics of coupled natural and human systems. In recent years, ecologists, cognitive psychologists, and scholars in the humanities have begun to study soundscapes from their own natural, social, and creative disciplinary perspective. Work in the U.S., Canada, and Europe is moving forward in these three camps with little to no coordination. Even within the ecological community, no formal group has been formed that allows research to be integrated and compared. To facilitate interaction among these communities of scholars and to invite scholars from other fields to examine sounds as measures of and perspectives into human and natural system interactions, this award will establish a research coordination network (RCN), the Global Sustainable Soundscape Network. This RCN will bring together ecologists (landscape ecologists and conservation biologists), acoustic ecologists (from the creative arts) and acousticians and psychoacousticians (scientists that study sound and how people perceive sound) to coordinate studies of diverse soundscapes around the world. The network will help to foster open communication among different disciplines about the composition of soundscapes and the underlying mechanisms that control dynamics and the ways that humans experience sounds in the environment through the support of workshops, sharing of tools, social networking, and activities of coordinated "theme teams" that will address standards, interdisciplinary capacity building, sustainability, and conservation and engagement among other issues. The RCN will coordinate activities across four or five soundscape monitoring sites where long-term acoustic data have been and will be collected. The RCN will look to develop a common vocabulary, long-term monitoring standards, and metadata standards for acoustic data for use by researchers. It will increase awareness of this new field among ecologists and social scientists through a variety of activities, and it will increase public awareness of the importance of people's acoustic connection to nature. This RCN project also will impact education. Four doctoral students will be supported as fellows to participate in workshops, and two workshops will conducted in coordination with conservation groups and natural resource management agencies. Four undergraduate students will conduct soundscape research at host universities.

This research coordination network will stimulate new research on the role of sound as a measure of and perspective on the dynamic interactions among natural and human systems. It will facilitate greater contact among scholars in different disciplines who are examining soundscapes, and it will encourage other researchers to become involved. The RCN also will seek to broaden public awareness of soundscapes, and it will facilitate the involvement of researchers who are members of underrepresented minority groups by involving in leadership roles scholars from Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M University. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.


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