News Details

Grant lends global ear for Purdue professor's research

November 21, 2011

The follwoing story is from the Journal and Courier:

The establishment of the network is funded by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and falls under the discipline of soundscape ecology. The concept of soundscape ecology is recording sounds made by animals, insects and other organisms that live in a particular environment during an extended period of time.

By recording natural sounds, the research could help detect early changes in climate and weather patterns, the presence of pollution and other environmental impacts. "Human domination of natural habitats has resulted in the loss of biodiversity, robbing areas of their natural sounds," said Pijanowski. "The loss of species has been so significant that some are concluding that we are experiencing the sixth extinction

Researchers will coordinate four or five soundscape monitoring sites to collect acoustic data from the Kenai Wildlife Refuge on the Alaskan Kenai Peninsula; the Midwest Temperate Ecosystems centering in the Chicago Wilderness planning area; the Sonoran Desert Region in southern California through northern New Mexico and south to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico; the Borneo Equatorial Rainforest in Malaysia; and Mediterranean Landscapes in Tuscany, Italy.

The J&C talked to Pijanowski about the project and the future of soundscape ecology.

Question: How long have you been working in this area of study, and what attracted you to it?

Answer: I've been doing this for about five years. I was attracted to it because it is an interesting integration of science andhumanity that is rarely undertaken.

Q: How big is the team of researchers you will be working with?

A: (The team) is made up of over 50 researchers from around the world with different backgrounds. There are people from the United States, Canada, all over Europe, Central America, Australia and part of Asia. What we're going to do is we're going to visit ecological areas around the world and listen to them. The musicians will teach us how to listen because they are the best listeners. Ecologists will explain the underlying ecological messages. Psychologists will tell us how people process those messages and how they respond to them. And engineers will help us a lot with the analysis for the messages and responses.

Q: What is the first stop, and when do you plan on going?

A: Probably Borneo next year.

Q: How long will you be working on the project?

A: We propose to do this within five years and to develop standards for recording and doing analysis. We have a national soundscape recording  expert that will be a consultant. He records for very famous films and will teach us how to record using state-of-the-art technology.

Q: So far, what has been your favorite part of working in the field of soundscape ecology.

A: How diverse the soundscapes are around the world. For example, if you listened to a tropical rain forest, it's a very characteristic area. There are a  lot of distinct voices in that landscape by virtue that the biodiversity is very high. It may not be as diverse as what you would hear in the temperate  forests in Indiana, but you still have the same kind of animals interacting.

You will have insects frogs, birds and the occasional mammal. What we're interested in is an orchestration of all those sounds.

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