Report from Providence

I spent last week at an Acoustics Society conference in Rhode Island. The field of acoustics is pretty broad so some 1100 professionals from fields as diverse as biomedical imaging and speech and language processing all convened on the 5th floor of Providence’s concrete Convention Center to advance our ideas.

I was invited to present a paper to the Architectural Acoustics group on work I was doing 20 years ago on “soundscapes” – a field that is finally becoming part of our architectural and environmental lexicon. But I spent most of my time in the Animal Bioacoustics (AB) sessions.

Fifteen years ago when I began attending these conferences the AB sessions were mostly about birds, bats, fish, and terrestrial animals, with maybe a few papers on dolphin bio-sonar. But since the Bahamas stranding of March 2000 these AB sessions have been dominated by marine bioacoustics. The papers stimulated many side conversations and teased up some potential collaborations.

I was particularly excited by some data that came up inadvertently out of a presentation on using seafloor-mounted hydrophones to take stock of whales off the coast of Angola in areas slated for oil and gas development. The hydrophones were arrayed across tens of kilometers south to north near the Congo River trench. The ambient ocean noise field toward the southern end was fairly stable and reasonably quiet, but the northern-most hydrophone recorded quite a bit of higher noise variability likely being generated by oil operations from nearby pipelines, an operations platform, and probably some seafloor processing equipment.

Pazflor-Field-LayoutGiven the extremely high-pressure environment and the nature of this equipment I have always suspected that it is noisy. I’ve even heard folks in the industry say that they can be “real screamers.”  But until these data were made available I had no unequivocal proof of how noisy they could be.  This data gives us added confidence to seek support for our Seafloor Processing Noise project – drifting an acoustical profiler across a “subsea” production field.

I’ll be conversing with the authors next week to see if we can hear the recordings (true to Acoustical Society form the presentation only included visual “audiographs” of the noise.)  We’ll then seek funding to get a better idea about what noises these new oil and gas production technologies are introducing into the ocean.