Industrialization of the Ocean

Later this week I’ll be heading to the Acoustics Society meeting Salt Lake City. The meeting runs through the entire week with presentations and sessions on all matters acoustic – from Architectural Acoustics to Ultrasound Imaging. Animal Bioacoustics is among the field particulars in which our work intersects.

On Thursday morning I will be chairing a session on the Industrialization of the Outer Continental Shelf and High Seas which will be webcast (should you be interested the link will take you to register). I suspect it will be a lively session as I am honored to have some really august presenters giving us a glimpse into some startling research.

Nautronics Subsea Communications

Society of Underwater Technology Subsea Field Layout courtesy of Nautronix

We’ve been sounding the alarm on this issue for years and have not yet been successful in conveying the urgency to regulators. My greatest concern is about offshore oil and gas operations; huge pieces of equipment operating in hostile environments, processing fluids, gases, and solids at extremely high pressures, being controlled by way of noisy acoustical modems.

I know about this because I’ve kicking tires at the annual Offshore Technologies Conference in Houston, Texas to get familiar with the field. One of the problems in getting this rapidly growing acoustical threat recognized by regulators and the public has been a paucity of empirical data. Taking a boat out into the deep sea with sound recording instruments is costly for a small shop like ours. And anyone out there recording sound data are usually working for the equipment operators – who are not necessarily interested in biological impacts of their noise.

These operations are also way offshore and in really deep waters so they operate under the informal cloak of “out of sight, out of mind.” Hopefully this session will raise one of the eyelids of the regulators. A presenter from NOAA Office of Protected Resources will be with us and perhaps our panel discussion will tease out how we can get regulatory attention focused on the issue.

I’m particularly looking forward to a presentation by Bas Binnerts on “Underwater sound radiation from subsea factories.” While I have seen some anecdotal accounts of noise from these factories, Bas has been collecting sound and modeling them in detail.

I’ll be giving an overview of the topic with a particular focus on underwater acoustical communication systems. These systems are being deployed at a rapid clip, introducing dense soundfields in the ocean that are completely unregulated. I worry that once we will find out about the impacts it will be through noticing the damage in the ocean – after it has been done.

Most of this industrialization is associated with fossil fuel extraction and production. This is another place where one of the best things we can do to curb it is to ride a bike, take public transit, and buy local.



Bay area residents!

Come see Sonic Sea in Berkeley where I’ll be fielding the Q&A



Saturday, June 4 at 6pm-8pm


Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU)

1606 Bonita Ave.

Berkeley, CA 94709


It is an informative movie produced by NRDC on ocean noise pollution.