Aural Mapping for a Quieter Future

by Crystal Zhao

Among the millions of pollutants swirling around the globe, many forget that their own voices are counted in mix. Noise pollution is often overlooked because it is less inherently menacing than a thick, dark cloud of smog, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hurt us. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some adverse health effects include a higher chance of developing mental illness, high blood pressure, sleep disruption, and hearing loss. Productivity may also be affected by constant noise. Unwanted sound is difficult to isolate, quantify, and combat, but the first step is always to identify the enemy. This is exactly what a team of researchers from NYU and OSU are attempting to do in Manhattan.

It currently takes an average of four days for an NYC noise inspector to address a complaint, and by then, whatever irritation that caused the call has probably died down, allowing it to go unaddressed indefinitely due to the lag in response. The researchers’ project, Sounds of New York City, or Sonyc, aims to map and identify common sounds in different parts of Manhattan to create a rough aural map that might help inspectors take action quicker in the future. Microphones mounted across the borough pick up snippets of sound for the researchers to tag back in the lab. If the project is successful, this might mean a healthier and more sustainable future for the nearly 72 million urban residents are affected by unwanted sound.

If you’ve ever set foot in a city, you know that urban din is unavoidable. When such a great quantity of life and activity is crammed together in a tight space, there is bound to be aural overlap. The troubling danger of this is that you can’t know if you’re being affected by it – there is no sulfuric odor to sting your eyes, no metallic tang to alert your tongue. Sound seems innocent, but if it goes unchecked, its potential for long-term health impact becomes larger and larger. Sonyc is a pioneer in the world of environmental research, and if it is successful, noise pollution might never reach the level of notoriety that air and water pollution have achieved. Until then, though, it’s probably prudent to stay informed on the consequences of sonic expansion.


Featured image (aural map of London):