Underwater Noise in the Arctic

Underwater Noise A State of Knowledge reportThe Arctic region is a unique environment when it comes to underwater noise and the potential impacts that increasing noise levels could have on animals in the Arctic. There are a number of factors which contribute to its uniqueness compared to non-Arctic waters, including the sources of ambient sound, and how ice cover can affect sound propagation properties.

The Arctic is also home to a number of endemic marine species, many for which the making, hearing, and processing of sounds serve critical biological functions, including communication, foraging, navigation, and predator-avoidance. Most importantly, the culture and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic depend on the continued health of marine mammals, to a greater degree than in other regions of the world.

The issue of underwater noise and its effect on marine biodiversity has received increasing attention, with recognition by international and regional agencies, commissions and organisations. These include the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Maritime organization (IMO), the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the European Parliament and European Union, the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic and the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (HELCOM).

Internationally, work is currently underway in numerous fora to better understand the impacts and identify ways to mitigate the effects of underwater noise, including at the IMO, IWC, and at the United Nations more generally. In the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) PAME first identified the issue of underwater noise as one which required further focus in the Arctic context, finding that “sound is of vital biological importance to most, if not all, marine vertebrates and anthropogenic noise produced through shipping can have various adverse effects on Arctic species.” PAME subsequently recommended that Arctic States engage with relevant international organisations to further assess the effects of ship noise on marine mammals, and to consider developing and implementing mitigation strategies.

Due to the recent activities on this topic, PAME decided to complete this State of Knowledge Review on Underwater Noise in the Arctic in order to get a baseline understanding of underwater noise in Arctic regions, including ambient sound levels, underwater noise created by anthropogenic activities, and impacts of underwater noise on marine life, including marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates.

This report is intended to be used as an overview of the current scientific knowledge on underwater noise in the Arctic. However, in the undertaking of this work, it has become clear that there are many gaps in this knowledge which, if addressed, could lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the effects of underwater noise on species of interest. That being said, this review will serve as a useful basis for which to consider where to focus future work and resources in both studying the issue of underwater noise in the Arctic context and in considering possible approaches in terms for mitigation strategies in reducing the effects or impacts of underwater noise on the Arctic marine environment and marine species.

Underwater Noise in the Arctic - A state of Knowledge Report