What does climate change sound like?
December 05, 2022
What can you hear when you take a moment to stop and listen? The Arctic has its own distinct rhythms. The sounds of natural forces, animals, and humans come together to create their own kind of music — soundscapes that murmur and boom, throb and hum, crack and cry, rustle and sing. Listening closely to the sounds and silences of the North opens up an intimate understanding of place and climate change in Alaska. And that’s one of the reasons why the Anchorage Museum recently opened an online sound library containing hours of environmental sounds from across Alaska, available for free on the museum’s website.
Anchorage Museum staff, led by director of education for climate and environment Erin Marbarger, worked with schools and communities around the state to collect sounds for use by teachers, artists, climate researchers or anyone curious about what Alaska sounds like. “Recording Alaska's soundscapes is a way to document a valuable natural resource while capturing information that can help engage people in conversations and experiences about our changing environment,” says Marbarger.
“Sound offers valuable ways to analyze otherwise invisible shifts in environment and provides an accessible, direct means of connecting learners to the overwhelmingly large concepts and impacts of climate change through the visceral connection to ecological data. The Sound Library creates resources and platforms for experience which can engage audiences locally and internationally.”
Soundscape research done in national parks suggests sounds give a sense of place, connect people to nature, and are important for human health and well-being. Soundscape ecology, the study of sounds perceived in the environment, helps us know how we’ve changed our planet over time and how we might address climate change. Mickey says sounds can be used with the teaching resources put together by Anchorage Museum staff for teachers and parents who homeschool. It is also open to artists and other creatives who may find use for the recordings in their original projects.
Teachers and homeschooling parents can use soundscapes to encourage critical thinking and creativity, teaching learners to be better observers and to spark curiosity. “Using the museum’s Sound Library, an educator might search for a sound to illustrate a concept in a multimodal sense, like a glacier calving, or assign students to examine changing sounds of a single site over time,” says Mickey. Lesson plans offered on the museum’s website guide educators through integrating sound at multiple grade levels and standards and for classroom and at-home, informal learning environments. Curriculum will guide educators in using library data to highlight concepts about climate and provide project ideas to inspire positive action to address climate change.
Artists can use sound design to shape how people experience art and can search the Sound Library to find open-source material – like sounds of wind or planes or drones - for compositions. Mickey says using data as raw material, artists may create compelling interpretations of the Northern environment that help listeners connect to an understanding of place. With 12 terabytes of data, the sound library is continuously expanding; with recording also taking place in Homer and Sitka. Researchers will use the data to build understanding of environmental change over time in Alaska, establishing a primary source accessible across the globe.
Adds Mickey, “Sound offers valuable ways to analyze otherwise invisible shifts in environment and provides an accessible, direct means of connecting learners to the overwhelmingly large concepts and impacts of climate change through the visceral connection to ecological data. The Sound Library creates resources and platforms for experience which can engage audiences locally and internationally.”
To use the sound library, visit anchoragemuseum.org/soundlibrary.
The Anchorage Museum Sound Library is made possible with support from Hearst Foundation, and Atwood Foundation.
More about soundscape ecology: