Are you interested in sound? Want to get involved in acoustics but just don’t know how? Do you enjoy helping scientists do their work without actually being a scientist?
Then consider this your call to arms.
Ladies and gentlemen, from the mind of the great Bryan Pijanowski, soundscape ecologist extraordinaire, I present to you: Global Soundscapes.
But let’s talk about this whole citizen science thing for a second.
Citizen science has become an amazing tool for data collection across fields. The Zooniverse is probably the best example of this with their suite of astronomy-focused sites, some of which have mobile apps to go along with them (classify galaxies on the go!); multiple papers have been published with the data. There are even trips you can take now where as part of a vacation, you can go collect information with scientists (like if you want to go diving in tropical reefs for conservation).
Soundscape ecology and bioacoustics represent two fields that are ripe with opportunities for citizen scientists. Everyone has a smartphone these days with decent enough headphones, and there is never a shortage of data when it comes to sound; often we can’t get through it all in time to finish a project, or we can’t go through it as thoroughly as we’d like. This is where citizen science comes in. When a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs sit down, complete a quick training, and start their own data collection, they can cover a lot more ground than one trained scientist, and any errors in classification will be smoothed out the more people join in.
There are a few researchers in bioacoustics and soundscape ecology who have taken advantage of this (and I’m sure I’ve missed some). Pijanowski, as mentioned above, is having people on their smartphones make a short recording of the soundscape they’re in, and then answering some simple questions about what types of species they’re hearing, or if they hear wind or rain, and how the soundscape makes them feel. Here in the ORCAA Lab, we’re concerned with mostly biotic sound, but just think how this can be extended: what about that specific sound of sitting outside at a Parisian cafe, listening to the people walking by and the church bells throughout the city? What about the sound of New York City in the summer? These places have significance as cultural soundscapes, and Pijanowski is trying to study those as well.
In addition to this awesome app, you’ve got a project by Zooniverse called Whale.fm, matching killer whale and pilot whale calls with known individuals in a database. A researcher at University of Southampton created an app just for finding cicadas. And moving back to whales, there’s an array of hydrophones in the Salish Sea where people can sit and listen for killer whales.
From the perspective of the researchers, not only is this a great way to farm out some data collection and to make connections with technology outside our field, but it is one of the best ways I can think of to get people interested in sound as a function in an ecosystem. These projects become ambassadors of the field, and give greater exposure to what we’re doing. Protecting soundscapes is only going to become important to people if we talk about it, and show how excited we are about it.
So researchers: think about ways you can integrate this into your projects! And citizen scientists, here is your notice: we need you! Go out and listen!
As your humble frog lady, I’ll be blogging regularly every third Friday. I also tweet for our lab at @ORCAALab, so go follow us for micro-updates!
*Also by catching frogs I really mean catching the one frog that jumped in front of my car, and then finding that I’d been locked in the wildlife refuge I was in. Subsequent field excursions improved dramatically.