Sounds of Silence

The U.S. National Park Service, using some interesting computer projections and simulations, has recently come out with a “noise map” of the entire continent.  And the winner is…

Well, I am not sure that it’s the “winner”, whatever that may be.  But the Eastern part of the United States in noisier than the Western part.

This is a great map  with the lighter colors depicting higher sound levels.  The recorded sound levels are those that are exceeded about half of the time- like an “average” noise level.  The map is almost identical to those maps we see in satellite images with light pollution being associated with high population densities.  It was presented on February 16, 2015, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, Calif.


Sound levels across the continental United States
Sound levels across the continental United States


While the highest levels are on the order of soft speech, if your goal is to get out into nature and away from urban life and relax, being subject to ambient sound levels approximating soft speech may not be very relaxing.  The map above shows the effects of both nature and human activity, which includes highway traffic, industrial and recreational “machinery”, and the occasional jet flying overhead.   I suspect that boom boxes at camp sites also add into the mix.

One option for fans of silence is to move west, at least far enough west to where the population density is less.  It still won’t be silent because leaves rustling, the sound of wind, and babbling brooks can be factors.   I presume that the lowest levels can be found on arid lands without rivers or streams and, of course, without wind.

The next map that made by the National Park Service shows the same predicted noise level calculations but without human involvement: no highways, and loud recreational play toys.  If it is the quiet place that wins, then it’s still the west, but overall it is much quieter than the first map where the effects of people are included.


No humans noisy America

And I suppose that living in Mexico (to the south) and Canada (to the north) both being a white color, means that Mexico and Canada are very noisy places to live.

About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.