Shhh...Here's a Map of America's Quietest Places

Do you need some quiet time? In a world that is undergoing rapid urbanization, finding real quiet, away from the rattle of subways and hum of highways, is getting more difficult by the day.


But thanks to U.S. National Park Service scientists, who recorded and mapped 1.5 million hours of ambient sound from across the country, those quiet places have been located. The NPS explains the rationale behind the project:

National Park Service policy and legislative mandates require the agency to conserve acoustic and night sky environments unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. Director's Order #47 specifically addresses soundscape preservation and noise management. Park visitors and wildlife interact with each other and park resources through their senses, so conservation or restoration of these physical resources creates many benefits for the integrity of ecosystems and the quality of visitor experience.

To create the sound map, scientists made long-term sound measurements of urban and rural areas across the United States. They processed the resulting data using modelers that are programmed to predict current sound levels for the entire country.

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Sound map of the United States 48 (click to enlarge).

The geospatial model is able to process the measured sound levels through several variables, including time of day, day of the year and broad categories such as climate, topography and human activity. What's interesting is that the model can also estimate how these locations might sound, absent of human influence. Now we know what the country might have sounded like before we arrived—and possibly what it will sound like after we're gone.

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Imaginary map of natural conditions — without humans (click to enlarge).

They recorded sounds "from the depths of the Great Basin's deserts to the hurly-burley of the megalopolis that stretches from Boston, through New York City and on to Washington, D.C.," said David Biello, an associate editor at Scientific American, in a 60 Second Science video about the project. "They found that if you're craving quiet on the east coast head to the north woods of Maine or the Adirondacks in upstate New York. But for real quiet, defined as less than 20 decibels, the West is best."

When the researchers presented their findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February, they noted that the national parks, wilderness areas and even public lands in the region west of the Rockies and east of the western coast may have maintained a quietude that has lasted for centuries.

One Square Inch of Silence, an independent research project located in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park in western Washington state, claims it is "very possibly the quietest place in the United States." But with a bustling, ecodiverse population of native denizens that includes Pacific tree frogs, northern spotted owls, cougars, bobcats and raccoons, it's probably not.

According to NPS researchers, the quietest areas in the country are dry. "The trend is higher sound levels in wetter areas with more vegetation," according to the NPS. "This is due to the sounds of wind blowing through vegetation, flowing water, and more animals (especially birds and frogs) vocalizing in more fertile locations."

The NPS audio project dataset, which is still awaiting data from Hawaii and Alaska, will be publicly available through the NPS Data Store. A link will be posted here when it's ready.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell said that "a happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life." Now with this map, going to your "happy place" will be a lot easier.

[July 3, 2015. Editor's Note: The dataset is now publicly available for download through the NPS Data Store. Available products include georeferenced raster data for the contiguous United States, Alaska and Hawaii as well as explanatory data and related metadata.]

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