Underwater Noise in the Arctic

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Shipping is one of multiple underwater noise-producing activities in the Arctic, and along with mineral extraction and exploration (through seismic survey), as well as port construction, introduces noise into the water, changes the underwater soundscape, and has the potential to negatively affect marine ecosystems and Indigenous and local ways of life.

 

Following publicatiPAME underwater noise report low res Page 01on of the State of Knowledge report, in 2019, PAME embarked on new work to map, for the first time, underwater noise from shipping across the whole Arctic Ocean.

This was as complex task – there are many gaps in our knowledge about how sound travels in the Arctic’s cold, ice covered waters, and few locations in the Arctic where the underwater soundscape has been measured for long time periods.

Using information from PAME’s Arctic Ship Traffic Database (ASTD) and the expertise of bioacousticians, underwater noise from ships operating in the Arctic was modelled and mapped from 2013 to 2019.

During winter months when much of the Arctic Ocean is covered with sea ice, underwater noise from shipping was concentrated in areas with more open water: the Barents and Kara Seas, the southern Bering Sea, and along the Greenland coast of Baffin Bay. In summer months, noise levels were higher and spread out farther, into the Canadian Archipelago, the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and even the Central Arctic Ocean.

Underwater noise from shipping increased substantially from 2013 to 2019. During that six-year period, some parts of the Arctic experienced a doubling in the amount of underwater noise. These findings are consistent with those from PAME’s Arctic Shipping Status updates, that show the number of ships operating and the distance they travelled in Arctic waters, as defined by the Polar Code, grew over the same six-year period.

Like most of the world’s oceans, this work shows that shipping is altering the ambient underwater soundscape of the Arctic Ocean. As sea ice continues to diminish, shipping and underwater noise will grow. Underwater noise in some parts of the Arctic is already at levels that are likely interfering with the abilities of whales, seals, and walrus to communicate and use sound, and could be affecting other marine life. Given the importance of Arctic marine mammals and healthy marine ecosystems to Arctic coastal Indigenous peoples, this issue warrants further attention.

Phase II: Underwater Noise in the Arctic: Understanding Impacts and Defining Management Solutions

Phase two of the project is now underway to further characterise the Arctic ocean soundscape, investigate scenarios for noise level predictions to 2030, and model operational and technological scenarios to mitigate underwater noise impacts.

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"The 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."

Underwater State of Knowledge Report

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


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