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Ocean listening stations go online; US Navy aims to filter out its activities

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, News, Ocean, Science, Sonar Add comments

A growing network of ocean observatories are adding hydrophones to their arrays of instruments, opening ears into the undersea world.  The data has been shared widely among scientists for the past few years, and a website, Listening to the Deep Ocean Environment, is now compiling the real-time acoustic streams from 15 of the observatories, allowing anyone to listen in; another 11 observatories will be added in the coming months.  This excites scientists and citizens alike. (Though truth to tell, most of the audio streams aren’t all that interesting to listen to most of the time!)

The US Navy isn’t quite so pleased, however. According to a recent BBC article, US Navy oceanographers have arranged to filter data from one of the largest ocean observatories, NEPTUNE, off the coast of British Columbia.  Citing concerns that the recordings will disclose areas of Navy operations, real-time recordings are cleansed of Navy ship (and presumably sonar) sounds, then returned to NEPTUNE operators for uploading to the web. 

Cornell University’s Chris Clark doubts that the Navy’s approach will catch on at other observatories around the world.  According to a piece on The World, from PRI and the BBC, (sounds above from there; roll over tiny screens to ID the sounds), Clark says the US Navy doesn’t own the ocean acoustic environment and has to accept that what was once military technology is now in the hands of civilians.  “The cat’s out of the bag, the horses are out of the barn, whatever the metaphor is, it’s happening,” he says.  The piece notes that this is similar to what happened with satellite imagery. For decades, it too was sensitive military data, but now anyone can go on Google Earth and look down from space.

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