Preserving The Quietest Places On Earth

Travel to most quiet places on earth! Do you love traveling? Do you visit quiet places on earth? Name one place that you have visited the most quiet in the time. Well but here is my one, going to share with you: 
The sun inched over the horizon of northern Colorado as Jacob and I twisted through a canyon en route to Rocky Mountain National Park.Over the rumble of his blue Ford F-150, he ticked off a list of rulesfor us to follow in the forest:
Move like a sloth: slowly and only when necessary.
If you need to turn, do so from your waist.
Don’t bend your wrists, ankles, fingers — they crack.
Calm your breath.
Stifle sneezes.

Preserving The Quietest Places On Earth

If you sit down, lean against a tree, unfurl your legs, and don’t fidget.
“You don’t realize how much you hear of yourself,” said Job, 33, adark-haired beanpole in a brownish T-shirt and olive cargo shorts. “Your breathing, your clothes moving, your joints popping, the sound of youswallowing.” Only by staying quiet — melt-into-the-forest quiet,hear-twigs-snap-and-insects-buzz quiet — could we find the distinctivetrill that had so far eluded him: Troglodytes pacificus, thePacific wren.

Job works for the National Park Service andColorado State University as part of a small team that experiencesnature not through granite peaks and stunning vistas, but throughsoundscapes. His back seat was hidden beneath a heap of fuzzymicrophones, one so large that a passer-by mistook it for a dog. He’dspent months hauling them deep into the park’s thicket of ponderosapines and Douglas firs to capture the geologic, animal, and man-mademixtape that can signal whether and how an ecosystem is changing.
Listen when we’re out there, he told me.

Nature’s melodies trigger something in us.No one is sure exactly how or why. One theory is that, outdoors,silence — total silence — signals danger. Whatever muzzled those animals can’t be good. By extension, natural sounds reassure us: It’s safehere. Park surveys repeatedly show most visitors are seeking enoughsolitude to hear birds chirp and leaves crackle. And research suggeststhose sounds could potentially aid in mood recovery — but only whenthere are no synthetic interruptions.

Researchers havestudied the overlay of noise and nature for some time, but in a verynarrow way — mainly, how specific species communicate. But in recentyears, scientists have widened their focus to entire ecosystems,essentially treating soundscapes as extensions of landscapes, and noiseas a potential contaminant. “Pollution isn’t limited to matter. It isn’t limited to particulates and chemicals and compounds,” said KurtFristrup, who oversees science and technology in the park service’sNatural Sounds and Night Skies Division. We were chatting at his officein Fort Collins, Colorado — a labyrinth of cubicles near a workroomwhere tables and shelves groaned with sound meters, batteries, and even a “sound thermometer” that, from the side of a road, warns cars whenthey’re making a racket.

The sounds program was created in 2000, the result of thelong-running battle over planes and helicopters that swoop tourists tothe Grand Canyon and other sights. A new law had tasked park andaviation officials with mapping out air-tour management plans. In 2005,when Fristrup arrived from Cornell University, recording was about asefficient as lugging a stereo system into the backcountry. 
Technologyeventually whittled down the heft and cost for his team and, morebroadly, helped give rise to a new field of scientific inquiry.
So named in scientific literature only in 2011, soundscape ecology asks arange of questions that, until recently, have been underexplored. How do soundscapes vary across vegetation, temperatures, elevations? Doeshuman noise alter animal behavior — and vice versa? “You can shut youreyes, but you don’t shut your ears,” Peter Newman, who runs theRecreation, Park, and Tourism Management department at Penn StateUniversity, told me. “Even when you’re asleep, you’re listening, andyou’re listening because as an animal you’re saying, ‘Am I about to beeaten? Is the love of my life around the corner?’”

Research suggests noise can rattle an ecosystem. Birds, for example, rely ontheir voices to woo mates, size up rivals, scrounge for dinner. Hornblasts and engine revs can scramble auditory cues. Birds try singinglouder, singing at a higher frequency, singing at night. Some abandontheir nests altogether. This can trigger an ecological cascade, one that extends even to vegetation; noise can scare away some birds that wouldnormally scatter seeds.
The Natural Sounds and NightSkies Division and the researchers it’s affiliated with help shape howpark units are run. Their work, for example, is the reason California’sMuir Woods christened a popular redwood grove a quiet zone; Newman,Fristrup, and others found doing so was, in terms of noise levels, theequivalent of cutting the number of visitors by 28 percent. When anenergy company wanted to drill outside Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes, apark likely as hushed as it was before European colonization, a federaljudge cited preserving its “significant ‘sense of place’ and quiet” as a reason to halt the project.

Fristrup’s team hasquantified how precious that kind of stillness is. At least 83 percentof land in the continental U.S. is within two-thirds of a mile of aroad, and domestic passenger flights have more than tripled since theearly ’80s. The park service recently released a color-coded map, basedon recordings from hundreds of sites, that shows estimated sound levelsin the lower 48. The East Coast is confettied with yellow — that’shigh-decibel noise. Though much of the West is as blue as a mountainlake — meaning it’s far quieter — on average, you’ll still hear thedrone of aircraft 15 minutes of every hour. In the Mojave Desert,flights to and from Las Vegas are to blame. In the Sonoran Desert, it’sborder patrol operations.

Before our trip, I met Job across town from the park service office, on the leafy campus of Colorado State. He runs alistening lab that the park service and university share: Room 015 ofthe JVK Wagar building, an almost windowless space with ahalf-dozen computer stations. Under photos of Lassen, Isle Royale, andother natural scenes — and a large green-and-white banner asking, DidYou Hear That? — students gaped at screens; their noise-cancelingheadphones had drowned out my arrival.

Job leaned over a deskwith two monitors and a handful of hard drives scattered about; eachheld the sounds of roughly one park. “Where do you want to travel to?”he joked. We headed to Alaska. Job clicked open a folder of photos: asound-monitoring station in Denali National Park. At Wolf Creek, astream burbled through trees in an area so remote that the recordingequipment had to be helicoptered in. If everything goes smoothly (a bear futzing with a station is not unheard of), a recorder hums along for 30 days. Then Colorado State students listen to snippets of audio andlabel noise they hear with a number: 2.3 is a bus, 3.3 a jet ski, 5.2 atrain whistle, 7.2 a leaf blower.

Job cued up a spectrogram, a visual representation of the time,frequency, and amplitude of sound; it resembled some modern-art splatter of yellow and blue paint. When he first played the underlyingrecording — a low hum on a summer day at Wolf Creek  — I felt like I’dwandered into a country whose language I didn’t speak. Sounds blobbedtogether, nearly indecipherable.
“There are lakes around us. What do lakes mean in the bush country in Alaska? What do they hold thepotential for?” Job asked me.

“Fishing?” I said.
“If there’s fishing, how do people get there?”
I’d heard, apparently, a prop plane (on the code sheet, 1.2). If you dothis long enough, it changes how you listen, inside and outside. Jobcan’t go hiking without noticing rumbling overhead and thinking, 1.1, 1.1 — the code for a jet.
Job became interested in birdsong as a kid in southern Michigan, memorizing the calls of birds that swooped through his yard. Eventually, hestarted taping them the same way he taped his favorite songs off theradio — by waiting patiently with a boombox, ready to press record. He’s since learned the sounds of several hundred birds, but he cherishes one the most: the common loon, whose haunting yodel whisks him back to theMidwest. 
It inspired his license plate (CMNLOON) and hisInstagram handle (@gavia_immer, the loon’s Latin name). His girlfriendis also a bird lover, and he recently crept up to her office window,raised his phone, and serenaded her — à la Say Anything — with a loon recording.

A while back, Job read a National Audubon Society report about the likely effects of climate change on North American birds. It was terrifying.“I was like, if that’s going to happen, we really need to document thebiodiversity we have in place now to track that change,” he recalled.“To have it as acoustic fossils if we do lose them.” He began cataloging the birds and the broader soundscapes at Rocky, as folks here call thepark — a sort of aural snapshot. Tracking down the Pacific wren was part of that quest. He’d tried, and failed, to find it earlier in thesummer, but birders had been tittering online that the wren hadresurfaced.

Two days later, we parked at Rocky’s Wild BasinTrailhead, the start of a 1.8-mile huff to Calypso Cascades. Rocky isthe nation’s only park where commercial air tours are banned, and a fewyears ago, aviation officials grouped flights over one section of thepark to lower noise levels elsewhere. But there will always be a certain amount of clamor: About 4 million people trekked through Rocky lastyear. Some residents of gateway town Estes Park refuse to hike after 7a.m.; by 8:30, their favorite paths are mobbed.
Job and I hadstarted a little after 6:30. 
He’d slipped on an orange backpack andblack headphones and carted a large microphone that bore a strikingresemblance to its nickname, Dead Badger. We had the pine-shaded trailto ourselves, though he bristled at the creek thrumming alongside us.That made it harder to pinpoint the wren, a speck of a bird that’susually found in the tangled underbrush of Washing­ton state and Oregon; its detour to Colorado has baffled park officials.

When wereached the trail’s end, Job slipped into quiet mode, and he reminded me of those street performers who mimic robots. His right arm was bent,elbow suctioned to his side, Dead Badger pointed straight ahead. When he scanned the foliage, he turned at his waist, just as he’d told me todo, raising his heel only when he needed to rotate further.

Before this, I’d been the kind of hiker who frustrated Job: hiking more withmy eyes than my ears, paying little mind to the outdoor soundscape. But I tried his way of listening, and almost instantly everything sharpened. I noticed light glinting off spider webs, leaves rustling, a branchneedling my right arm.
We wandered off the trail. The forestthinned, and the sun beat down, and the towering aspens and pinesresembled the back of an amphitheater. That’s when we heard it:high-pitched, melodic — the chipper aria of a wren. For one thrillingmoment, nothing else existed.

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