Expressing the measure of things

locatie_delft_zuidpolder_240Over the last week I was participating in an International Standards Organization (ISO) meeting hosted by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) with an august assemblage of underwater noise stakeholders working on underwater acoustics standards.

While this activity may seem a far reach from “saving the whales,” in practice reconciling measurement, terminology, and metrics standards establishes a firm footing from which to do our work. It wasn’t that long ago that conservation biologists, physical oceanographers, and the US Navy all had disparate expressions for noise exposures; from “as loud as a Saturn Rocket” to “dB re: 1µPa2 s-1.” In one of OCR’s research efforts we found no less than nine different numerical ways that various researchers were using to express approximately the same thing.

Having a variety of “standards” may help substantiate certain perspectives to various target audiences, but they don’t provide a reasonable foundation for understanding noise impacts, tailoring ocean practices, or setting regulatory guidelines. And while defining terminology and reconciling numbers may not stimulate conservation passions, it does give us a more concise basis for grasping and expressing the effects of underwater noise on marine life.

The meeting was attended by delegates from Holland, the US, Germany, Norway, China, Great Brittan, Japan, France, and Russia. It is really encouraging to find so many nations concerned about ocean noise – ostensibly to “save the whales” and the other marine life upon which we all depend.