The first studies into Navy noise pollution finds jet noise exceeds safe levels for humans and is audible underwater at depths that affect ocean life
Seattle, WA – New studies suggest marine animals including orcas as well as national park visitors may be negatively impacted by Navy training flights over Olympic National Park. The first studies of their kind found that the sound of Growler jets flying over the park can be as loud as a garbage disposal machine, and can be heard deeper underwater than previously estimated, and at levels that trigger behavioral changes among aquatic wildlife, including endangered orcas.
The studies also found the Navy jets are responsible for 88% of all aircraft noise over Olympic National Park, which is famous for its tranquility, and is home to an area that one sound expert called the ‘quietest place in the United States’. The US Navy currently conducts more than 2,300 training flights each year over Olympic, with jets taking off from the nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
The study found:
- Jet noise was heard at depths of 30m (approx. 100 feet) below the sea surface, at noise levels above thresholds known to trigger behavioral changes in fish, seabirds and marine mammals, including orca whales, which are known to inhabit the area
- The military is overwhelmingly responsible for audible air traffic in the park, with military planes accounting for 88% of all aircraft noise
- Overhead flights can be heard from 9am until 9pm every weekday within the park, with most flights towards the middle of the day
- In total, Growler jet noise is audible within the park for approximately one hour every day. This is even true within the Hoh Rain Forest – called the quietest place in the United States – which averages 57 minutes of Navy Growler jet noise each day
The studies are the first into the impacts of the Navy’s EA-18G Growler jets on the natural soundscape in the park and nearby waters and were published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering and Northwest Science academic journals. The sound of fighter jets was measured within the national park, and underwater near a runway using a hydrophone.
Most of the military aircraft recorded in the studies were EA-18G Growler jets that are used for electronic warfare. The Navy has also submitted plans to dramatically increase the number of flights from the naval base. These plans have been strongly opposed by environmental groups and residents, including the National Parks Conservation Association.
“Olympic National Park is world famous for its peacefulness and tranquility. The sound of fighter jets buzzing the park at sound levels as loud as garbage disposal machines simply does not belong,” said Rob Smith, northwest regional director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “A park’s natural quiet is every bit as important as its trees, rivers and wildlife and should be protected as such. The Navy must now find a more suitable location for these fighter jet flights, where the noise will not disturb millions of park visitors and the area’s wildlife.”
“I think there is a huge gap between what the Navy is telling people ¾ that its aircraft are not substantially louder and operations haven’t changed ¾ and what people are noticing on the ground,” said lead author Lauren Kuehne, who completed the work as a research scientist at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and is now an independent consultant. “Our project was designed to try and measure noise in the ways that reflect what people are actually experiencing.”
Previous research on the impact of noise has found that noise between 40-55dB can har human mental health, concentration memory and cognition, while sound levels above 55dB are associated with serious cardiovascular health effects, including hypertension, stroke and risk of heart disease. Research has also found that noise can cause wildlife to change their behavior, heighten stress, and even have fewer offspring.
Olympic National Park is a designated World Heritage Site that attracts more the 3m visitors each year and contributes more than $350m into the local economy. The Peninsula is also home to eight Native American tribes. Several species of wildlife are found only on the peninsula, and multiple species are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.