British noise specialists will be taking sound checks of the United Kingdom in a two-year effort to map noise levels throughout the country. Host Steve Curwood talks with John Hinton, a noise specialist who put together the first ever noise map of an entire city.
CURWOOD: You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: Over the next two years, scientists in the United Kingdom will be roaming the country listening for noise. As part of a European Union directive, they will map noise levels from the cliffs of Dover to the Shetland Islands and everything in-between. Its all part of an effort to reduce noise pollution. John Hinton is one of the hundreds of noise specialists who will be gathering this data. He also led a project to create the first noise map of an entire city, his hometown of Birmingham, England. Mr. Hinton, welcome to Living on Earth.
HINTON: Hello, Steve.
CURWOOD: Tell me, how do you go about mapping noise? Are there people going to be out there with meters taking readings? How do you do it?
HINTON: Its not so much people actually going out there and measuring the noise. Its getting together all the data on traffic flows, traffic speeds, train movements, aircraft movements; perhaps some noise measurements around industrial sites. And then the software is used to calculate how that noise from the sources propagates throughout the city; tells you how bad the problems are in cities like Birmingham, and across the whole of the UK during this two year project.
CURWOOD: Well, how bad is the noise problem?
HINTON: Well, the European Commission have estimated that around 20 percent of the population of Europe are exposed to noise levels which are, they think, unacceptable. Thats noise that was above 65 decibels, and that equates to about 80 million people across Europe, which is a significant number of the population.
CURWOOD: If there had been a noise map made of the UK 40 years ago, how would it compare to todays map?
HINTON: Well I think it would show that the noise levels from transportation sources were much less, even along the major roads that existed in those days. And there is a lot of concern that areas, so-called quiet areas of tranquility away from major cities are now being reduced because of this spread of transportation noise.
CURWOOD: Im wondering what there is in the way of emerging technologies to deal with the problem of noise.
HINTON: Well, emerging technologies, there are things like low noise road surface. The UK government has an action plan to replace all the surfaces on truck roads — thats the major roads across the UK-- with low noise road surface where thats appropriate. Now its developing technology to produce low noise tars, as well, and pedestrianization of major cities is a good way of reducing traffic noise, providing you replace the private car with proper public transport.
CURWOOD: John Hinton is chair of the European Unions Working Group on the Assessment of the Exposure to Noise, and a noise specialist in Birmingham, England. Thanks for taking this time with me today.
HINTON: Thanks very much for interviewing me, Steve. Ive enjoyed it.
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