What do you hear when you think of the North Pole and Antarctica?
“Singing” ice, a seal that sounds like it’s in space, and a seismic air cannon that thunders like a bomb are some of the sounds released by two marine acoustic labs.
The project introduces the public to 50 rarely heard sounds recorded underwater in the polar regions.
It shows how noisy oceans are becoming due to increased human activity that is also disturbing marine life.
“These sounds are quite strange to most people,” explains artist and researcher Dr. Geraint Rhys Whittaker.
“We probably think we know what the poles sound like, but it’s often imagined,” adds Dr Whittaker, who works at the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity and the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.
The underwater microphones were attached to scientific instrument floats that had been left in the Arctic and Antarctica for about two years.
Among the sounds recorded were calls from the least explored Antarctic seal. Ross seals live in the open sea and on hard-to-reach pack ice. The scientists recorded five calls from the creature at different frequencies.
Crabeaters, minke whales, narwhals and humpback whales were also sighted.
It can be difficult to capture these sounds due to the harsh environment and the vast distances animals travel in the regions.
“The difficulty is knowing where the mammals are going to be, because they’re moving and you can’t rely on where they’re going to be,” explains Dr Whittaker.
Also recorded was the roaring collapse of ice shelves, a process that is being accelerated in parts of the polar regions by rising temperatures due to climate change.
The delicate sound of “singing” ice cream is included in the collection. It is caused by ice moving in water, or contracting as the temperature rises and falls, or when ice melts and refreezes.
Few people read scientific research published by universities, Dr. Whittaker suggests, and he hopes listening to the sounds will make people think about the Arctic seas. Oceans occupy 71% of our planet’s surface and are hugely important for sustaining life on Earth, but are severely affected by climate change.
Temperatures in the Arctic are rising four times faster than in other parts of the world.
The microphones also recorded human-made noise in the oceans, caused by shipping and oil and gas exploration.
Noise pollution from seismic explosions, used to explore the seabed, travels great distances and scientists have found it negatively impacts animal life.
The project shows how noisy the oceans are, suggests Dr Whittaker, who says he hopes it highlights the need for laws to reduce the noise from shipping and dredging that is harmful to marine life.
In collaboration with the sound art project Cities and Memory, the sounds have also been turned into over 100 compositions composed by musicians that highlight climate change.
“With the Earth’s poles warming faster than the global average, this collection of sounds aims to draw attention to a fascinating but rapidly changing environment and encourage us to think about ways to preserve it for future generations,” explains Stuart Fowkes, founder of Cities and Memory.
Dr. Ilse van Opzeeland, of the Ocean Acoustics Group of the Alfred Wegener Institute, hopes that the combination of art and science will raise awareness.
“A ‘translation’ through art breathes new life into our scientific data beyond a traditional publication or policy document by making it accessible to non-scientists,” she said.
“We must make every effort to protect, conserve and restore our planet’s threatened habitats. The interaction of art and science can help by raising awareness and raising awareness.”