All Quiet on the Western Front

A new map of noise pollution shows where you can still hear the sound of silence.

February 24, 2015

With planes soaring overhead, trains rumbling below, and electricity and cars humming just about everywhere, silence—or the lack of the human din, at least—is hard to come by these days. And all that racket can harm wildlife (and people, too!) by inducing stress, altering behavior, and drowning out the natural communication networks of an ecosystem.

The Natural Sounds and Night Skies division of the National Park Service works to protect acoustical environments, but first it helps to know where the ruckus is worst. So the agency took 1.5 million hours of sound recordings from 600 sites to map noise levels across the country (check out its sound gallery for examples of natural and human-caused sounds). Unsurprisingly, cities—those starbursts of yellow—have the highest levels of background noise, upwards of 50 decibels. Looking for peace and quiet? Go West, young man, into the wild blue yonder of a national park, where it’s usually less than 20 decibels—no louder than rustling leaves. If you need me, I’ll be tiptoeing my way to Yellowstone. 

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.