Pacific Ocean coastline along Olympic National Park.
Quiet Parks International
Pacific Ocean coastline along Olympic National Park.

An area in the Olympic Peninsula’s Hoh Rain Forest in Washington state for years held the distinction as one of the quietest places in the world. Deep within the diverse, lush, rainy landscape the sounds of human disturbance were noticeably absent.

But in recent years, the U.S. Navy switched to a more powerful aircraft and increased training flights from its nearby base on Whidbey Island, contributing to more noise pollution on the peninsula — and notably over what used to be the quietest place in the continental U.S. While local residents and visitors have noticed more aircraft noise, no comprehensive analysis has been done to measure the amount of noise disturbance, or the impact it has on people and wildlife.

Now, as the Navy is set to implement another increase in flight activities, a University of Washington study provides the first look at how much noise pollution is impacting the Olympic Peninsula. The paper found that aircraft were audible across a large swath of the peninsula at least 20% of weekday hours, or for about one hour during a six-hour period. About 88% of all audible aircraft in the pre-pandemic study were military planes.

“I think there is a huge gap between what the Navy is telling people — that its aircraft are not substantially louder and operations haven’t changed — and what people are noticing on the ground,” said lead author Lauren Kuehne, who completed the work as a research scientist at the UW 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.”

The study was published Nov. 25 in the journal Northwest Science.

“The Olympic Peninsula is a renowned hotspot for wildlife, home for people of many different cultures and a playground for outdoor enthusiasts,” said co-author Julian Olden, professor at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

The researchers chose three primary sites on the Olympic Peninsula to monitor the soundscape during four seasonal periods from June 2017 to May 2018. Two sites, at Third Beach and Hoh Watershed, were near the coast, while the third site was inland on the Hoh River Trail. They placed recorders at each site to capture sound continuously for 10 days at time, then recruited and trained volunteers to help process the nearly 3,000 hours of recorded audio.

Read more at UW News »