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The importance of measuring soundscapes in health research: Investigating appropriate audio recording devices for urban settings

Authors: Claudia Allou*, , Amber Pearson, Michigan State University, Rachel Buxton, Carleton University
Topics: Geography and Urban Health, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: natural sound, health, neighborhood, soundscape, greenspace
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Increasingly, health researchers are investigating the relationships between contact with nature and both physical and mental health. Emerging areas in this line of research relate to how natural sounds (e.g., birdsong, wind and insects) may improve mood, lower stress and pain, and aid in recovery from surgery. Almost all of this research has been conducted in laboratory or hospital settings. In order to investigate the relationships between exposure to natural sounds and health in field setting, robust quantification of the acoustic environment across a landscape is required. To date, most ecological acoustic measurements have been recorded in wilderness or remote areas, rather than in cities. In order to measure soundscapes to capture a variety urban settings, recording devices need to be small, reliable, and affordable. Yet, the industry-standard devices are currently expensive and relatively large. To determine viable alternatives, we conducted a comparative test of three commonly used recording devices: Song Meter, Swift and Audiomoth. In the experiment, we used each device to compare the signal-to-noise ratio of three different common north-eastern urban bird songs (Northern Cardinal, Canada Goose, and European Starling), at five increasing distances from the device, and in three different urban settings (all located within East Lansing, Michigan). We will report the comparability of our measures and recommend a protocol for quantifying bird song in urban soundscape measurements. Standardization methods of collection soundscape measurements among different devices will be essential as the importance of natural sounds gains recognition as an important public health issue.

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