Thursday, 26 January 2017


Shhh! These are the quietest places on Earth
By Angela Nelson,
Mother Nature Network, 25 January 2017.

Imagine sitting alone in a room of your house. Your TV and other screens are off, your family is asleep, and the traffic outside is at a late-night low. You may think it's quiet. But in reality, it's probably not. Your electronics, when plugged in, emit a detectable hum. Your refrigerator, fan or ice maker may buzz. A pet might purr, leaves may blow in the wind or maybe your house just creaks.

The point is, if you're near civilization or transportation in any way, you're likely surrounded by noise - even if it's soft-sounding. That noise is measured in decibels, or dBA. Breathing is about 10 dBA. Having a conversation in an office or restaurant is about 60. A motorcycle or power lawn mower is about 100.

There's a man-made room in the United States where the noise level is a Guinness World Record-setting minus 20 dBA, and there are natural landscapes around the world where it hovers around 10 or 20. Give your ears a much-needed break and take a tour of 10 of the quietest places on Earth.

1. Anechoic Chamber, Minnesota

Photo: Orfield Labs

Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a former Guinness World Record holder for the quietest place in the world, receiving the recognition in 2005 and 2013. Lab founder Steven Orfield developed his anechoic chamber, which is 99.9 percent sound absorbent, about two decades ago for acoustic research. Ultra-sensitive tests gave a background noise level reading of minus 9.4 dBA (decibels A-weighted), according to the company.

The room is about one-16th as loud as a quiet bedroom, Orfield told CBS, and the quiet is due to the room's construction with layers of concrete and steel lined with crosshatched insulation surrounding it. It's a room within a room within a room, Orfield said. And the room itself is suspended - it's not even connected to the building - with a mesh floor. Sound-absorbing fiberglass wedges line all six sides of the room, CBS reports.

There is no background noise in the room, and there's no sound transmission, which makes for a space so quiet it creates a bit of pressure in your ears. You can almost feel the lack of sound. “If you’re in here for half an hour, you can hear blood flowing through veins. You can hear movement of your joints as you move arms and legs,” Orfield said.

2. Hoh Rainforest, Washington

Photo: Kgrr/Wikimedia Commons

About 11 years ago, Emmy-winning acoustic-ecologist Gordon Hempton created the One Square Inch of Silence project to preserve the quiet in Hoh Rainforest, 922,000 acres of land tucked in between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic Mountains about 160 miles from the nearest urban center. The "inch" is marked by a small red stone, and while it has been dubbed the quietest place in the U.S., it's meant to serve as a reminder to listen to your environment.

The Hoh Rainforest has the fewest roads in the continental United States, and as part of his project, Hempton persuaded three airlines - Alaska, Hawaiian and American - to reroute training and maintenance flights around that inch of silence. The lack of nearby transportation highlights the silence even more, visitors say, and even foot traffic is fairly low as the rain forest gets up to 14 feet of rain a year.

Hoh Rainforest is one of the Seven Wonders of Washington state and part of Olympic National Park, which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981. According to the National Park Service, the result of all that rain "is a lush, green canopy of both coniferous and deciduous species. Mosses and ferns that blanket the surfaces add another dimension to the enchantment of the rain forest." The moss is also very effective at absorbing sound.

3. Microsoft’s anechoic chamber

Photo: Microsoft/YouTube

The new Guinness World Record holder for quietest place on Earth is Microsoft's anechoic chamber at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The sound level in the room goes down to minus 20.3 decibels, which as the company explains is at the "limit of physics" because a random air particle in space makes a sound of minus 23 dBA. Basically, it can't get much quieter than air particles moving.

Like the anechoic chamber in Minnesota, the room has a mesh floor and is surrounded on six sides by sound-absorbing wedges. "These labs are about creating a rock-solid, acoustic-controlled environment," says Gopal Gopal, principal engineer at Microsoft's audio lab. The company uses the room to research and test technology where sound and audio is very important, like their Cortana personal assistant.

A Business Insider reporter who recently toured the room described it as "oppressively quiet," though he heard a weird humming "that came up just on the edge of my hearing. After 20 seconds, I thought my head was going to cave in just from the oppressive sense of isolation."

4. Haleakalā Crater, Maui

Photo: lamoix/Flickr

Haleakalā National Park on the Hawaiian island of Maui is home to the dormant Haleakalā volcano, which rises nearly two miles into the sky. The shield volcano's crater is a popular tourist spot, where people like to watch the sun rise, glimpse stunning panoramic landscapes, and check out flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world. And visitors can do all of that in complete silence.

The National Park Service says the noise level inside the crater is just 10 dBA, which is the same as the noise level you make when you breathe (though on windy days the decibel level rises). Gordon Hempton, an environmental sound and recording engineer and self-described “Soundtracker” who travels the world searching for silence, calls the crater "The Quietest Place on Earth" in this film from American Public Television. (Hempton also created the One Square Inch of Silence project mentioned on a previous slide.)

5. Canyonlands National Park

Photo: Chao Yen/Flickr

Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah may have whitewater rapids roaring through some of it, but the desert landscape with its rock spires, arches and mesas is just a tad louder than Haleakalā crater at 20 dBA, which is about as loud as a whisper.

With more than 330,000 acres, Canyonlands is divided into four districts that are divided by the Green and Colorado rivers, and the National Park Service says it can take between two and six hours to drive between districts. You can imagine how standing in the middle of all that wilderness might be stone silent.

As this writer describes for Gadling: "We...realized that the five of us may have represented the entire human population of the 527-square-mile park at that moment. If you want to commune with nature but hate visiting our national parks out west when the roads and hiking paths are clogged with visitors, go now, in the dead of winter, when you’ll feel like you have some of our greatest natural treasures all to yourself."

6. Kronotsky Nature Reserve, Russia

Photo: Martin Lopatka/Flickr

"Some places on this planet are so wondrous, and so frangible, that maybe we just shouldn’t go there," writes David Quammen for National Geographic. "That paradox applies to Kronotsky Zapovednik."

The Kronotsky Nature Reserve in the remote Russian Far East, on the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, has an expanse of more than 2.8 million acres of volcanoes, forests, tundras, geysers and rivers. Its volcanoes are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and the reserve has its own Death Valley, where high concentration of poisonous gases (mainly hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and carbon disulphide) can kill animals or humans that venture across. Doesn't it sound welcoming?

The vast landscape is largely inaccessible to visitors, though Russia recently started allowing scientists and 3,000 tourists a year to visit and study the area. With no roads (the only way in is by helicopter) and no human inhabitants for hundreds of miles around, you might say the Kronotsky Nature Reserve is a pretty quiet place, save for the sounds of erupting geysers, 800 prowling brown bears - the reserve is the continent's largest protected brown bear population - or rushing of streams filled with salmon.

7. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons

Located in northeastern Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge consists of 19 million acres of pristine, intact landscapes, with zero roads leading in and out of the refuge. Barely 1,500 people visit each year, though wildlife is plentiful with 37 species of land mammals, eight marine mammals, 42 fish species and more than 200 migratory bird species, according to the Defenders of Wildlife.

As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says, "you are days away from the bustle of human activity." But the animals are still all around. While the tundra may be one of the quietest places on Earth from fall to spring, in the summer, the birdsong is as constant as the sunlight.

8. Grand Canyon National Park

Photo: Frank Fräger/Wikimedia Commons

With more than 5 million visitors a year, the Grand Canyon has some noisier areas, particularly the South Rim, which is popular for its dramatic views of the Colorado River. But within the national park's nearly 2 million square miles, there are silent spots with noise levels as low as 18 to 23 dBA, according to the National Park Service.

One quiet nook is Havasu Canyon - it's 2,400 feet below the rim and home to the 600-member Havasupai tribe, who have lived on the canyon floor since 1882, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune. The nearest town is an eight-mile, four-hour hike up the canyon, followed by a two-hour drive. Only 20,000 people venture here each year, the Star Tribune reports.

9. Negev Desert, Israel

Zin Valley, Negev Desert. Photo: josefstuefer/Wikimedia Commons.

From Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, visitors drive through the Negev Desert to reach southern Israel. If you leave the road and hike further into the desert, "you can actually hear your ears ring from the silence," Yahoo! Travel reports. Others refer to it as "extreme quiet."

The desert accounts for over half of Israel’s land area and contains some small Bedouin cities and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. It's when you're "away from any artificial noises, like cars or appliances, the place is so tranquil it is unsettling for an untrained city dweller's ear," Nyet News says.

10. Kelso Dunes, California

Photo: Rick McCharles/Flickr

In the heart of California's Mojave National Preserve is the Kelso Dune Field, the largest field of eolian sand deposits in the Mojave Desert. The dunes cover 45 square miles and rise 650 feet above their surroundings.

"It was quiet when I was there because I was the only one. I could hear the nothing but the sound of the wind and it was the first time ever when I hear the wings of a bird," a travel writer says.

“Virtually no planes flew overhead, and only very occasionally did a distant car or freight train create noise. Much of the day there was a great deal of wind, but at twilight and early in the morning the winds calmed down and the quiet revealed itself,” Trevor Cox wrote in "The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World."

Top image: Sunrise at Haleakala Crater on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Credit: Terence/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images added.]

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