Forget red and blue states: The U.S. has blue and yellow states. At the 2015 AAAS meeting, researchers at the National Parks Service showed off a new map that illustrates just how loud a good swath of the country is. Kurt Fristrup helped collect more than 1.5 million hours of acoustical monitoring, according to Science magazine, which the team then translated into a map showing the noise levels across the U.S.
The yellowest splotches and spots are mostly clustered around cities, where noise levels average in the 50- to 60-decible range. In contrast, the dark blue areas depict areas such as Yellowstone, with noise levels below 20 decibels. It’s no big surprise that the map looks pretty similar to light-pollution maps.
If you live in the glowing yellow center of New York City, you might not think the hustle and bustle is that bad. “We are conditioning ourselves to ignore the information coming into our ears,” Fristrup said at the meeting, the Guardian reports. It’s something called “learned deafness.” Fristrup says, “There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to.” That includes the nature that we find in those natural parks, and losing the ability to tune into such sounds could be detrimental.
William Wordsworth wrote, “Come, hear the woodland linnet / How sweet his music! on my life / There’s more of wisdom in it.” The idea that nature can act as a teacher or salve has clearly been around a while, but now there’s a bit of research to back it up. According to early research Pennsylvania State University social scientist Derrick Taff presented at the AAAS meeting, sounds recorded at national parks, such as waterfalls and birdsongs, helped people calm down after stressful events more quickly than noises such as traffic and conversation. It’s not clear why. One hypothesis is our ancient ancestors, who could actually hear the linnets, found the sounds soothing.
Seems like Homer Simpson was on to something.