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An assessment of noise audibility and sound levels in U.S. National Parks


Throughout the United States, opportunities to experience noise-free intervals are disappearing. Rapidly increasing energy development, infrastructure expansion, and urbanization continue to fragment the acoustical landscape. Within this context, the National Park Service endeavors to protect acoustical resources because they are essential to park ecology and central to the visitor experience. The Park Service monitors acoustical resources in order to determine current conditions, and forecast the effects of potential management decisions. By community noise standards, background sound levels in parks are relatively low. By wilderness criteria, levels of noise audibility are remarkably high. A large percentage of the noise sources measured in national parks (such as highways or commercial jet traffic) originates outside park boundaries and beyond the management jurisdiction of NPS. Many parks have adopted noise mitigation plans, but the regional and national scales of most noise sources call for conservation and management efforts on similar scales.

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We thank acoustical technicians, Ric Hupalo, Skip Ambrose, Dave Schirokauer, Ericka Pilcher, Charlotte Formichella, Dave Stack, Katherine Warner, Daniel Mennitt, Jessica Briggs, and Cecilia Leumas for the many field and office hours they spent collecting and analyzing the data in this report. We also greatly appreciate the assistance provided by park personnel in data collection efforts. Thanks to Kirk Sherrill and David Hollema from the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science (NRSS) Inventory and Monitoring Program for GIS assistance. We also thank technicians at Wyle Laboratory for the role they played in data collection, and our partner agency, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, for data collection assistance, as well as monitoring and analysis protocol development.

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Correspondence to Emma Lynch.

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Lynch, E., Joyce, D. & Fristrup, K. An assessment of noise audibility and sound levels in U.S. National Parks. Landscape Ecol 26, 1297 (2011).

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  • National parks
  • Acoustical monitoring
  • Noise
  • Acoustical resources
  • Natural quiet