If you’re in search of some peace and quiet on your next get-away destination, head over to the Basin and Range region, an triangular area comprised of a series of mountain ranges that stretch from Southeastern Oregon into Utah, Nevada and Idaho. According to Kurt Fristrup, a scientist in the US National Park Service’s Nature Sounds and Night Skies division, this locale is the quietest overall region in the entire United States.
The park service, which safeguards and protects more than 400 different places, recently released several maps detailing some of the loudest and quiets parts of the country. The research utilized sound data from 546 sites around the US over the past 10 summers. Based on this information, scientists then estimated the level of noise for remaining areas based on several key factors, including roadway sizes, population density and proximity to airports, among other things.
The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference on Feb. 16th. According to Fristrup, the greatest contributors to sounds in natural, unpopulated landscapes, is water – in the form of a rushing river, falling rain or fauna and flora that “facilitate” it. Water, for example, can carry into the “whooshing” sound wind makes as it travels through vegetation. However, in mountain basins and deserts, there are no leaves to rustle. For this reason, mountainous regions are by far the quietest – the highest decibel level only reaching to 40 without human interference.
On the other hand, the loudest areas – largely urban locations – reach up to 67 decibels. Research now suggests that high levels of noise can actually increase stress and even hinder creativity. Furthermore, our “modern-day obsession” with wearing earphones could create a ‘learned deafness’ and a ‘generational amnesia.’ As cities become noisier and noisier, for example, more people become reliant on headphones and essentially forget how to listen when they take them out. This causes users to not only miss out on nature’s beautiful sounds, but also their calming effects.
Fristrup further explains the phenomenon, stating: ‘I think this learned deafness is a real issue, where we condition ourselves to ignore the information coming through our ears.’
As an example of this exact effect, he offers the story of a hiking experience with friends. Despite the fact that dozens of aircrafts flew by overhead, his hiking companions were almost deaf to noise.
“When you move into noisier environments that soundscape contracts and gets quite small, much like [how] on a foggy day the landscape gets very small because you can’t see very far,” Fristrup says.
In the quietest areas, sound actually works very differently due to the expansiveness of the area. “You might hear one cricket chirping. And when you look around or listen, you realize it’s a football field away from you,” he states.