Last week I attended the Acoustics Society Conference in Salt Lake City where I hosted a session on the Industrialization of the Ocean. There were a number of quality papers presented and some good ideas and comments presented on the discussion segment of the session.
One of the themes that emerged was that the noise propagated from the various noise sources was more complex than what is represented in the standard models. These included the propagation models for airgun surveys, shipping noise, underwater extraction processing equipment, and high frequency navigation and communications equipment (my paper).
Another theme that emerged was that with the proliferation of all manner and types of equipment generating noise for a given industrial operation, that evaluating each piece of equipment for regulatory guidelines is no longer suitable. The entire noise field needs to be considered. Of course this is thwarted – at least for the moment – by the inadequacy of the propagation models.
What this is bringing up is the need to look at noise pollutants in terms of marine “soundscapes.” US regulations have yet to incorporate this term, but in our work with the International Standards Organization we have included the term and definition. Defining terms is the first step to regulatory consideration.
Our larger concern is that the industrialization of the ocean is happening faster than national and international regulatory agencies can accommodate or countries can regulate. The word “alarming” comes to mind. What is needed now (aside from pulling back the reins on all the development) is a broader public conversation about the issue.
An informed and concerned public is the best driver to regulatory constraints. NRDC’s movie “Sonic Sea” is amping up the discussion. Presented on Discovery Channel on May 19, it is also playing in a lot of local and regional venues.