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Noise pollution mapped worldwide with “citizen science” NoiseCapture app

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French researchers are collecting user-contributed audio clips to build a detailed map of sound environments around the world. The resulting map could help inform local governments’ approach to tackling noise pollution.

It is part of “Noise Planet”, a project headed by geographers and acoustics specialists from The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, Spatial Planning, Development and Networks (IFSTTAR).

Noise Planet aims to help reduce noise pollution, while conserving valuable noise environments. According to the World Health Organisation, excessive noise “seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities […] It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and psychophysiological effects, reduce performance and provoke annoyance responses and changes in social behaviour”.

In order to help inform local authorities how best to approach the issue of noise pollution, the French researchers have created an app which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store, and used to collect and contribute noise samples from wherever you are.

The app uses signal processing algorithms to identify geolocated acoustic indicators as users wander around an area. These indicators are stored in a database, which is used to develop noise maps, densely packed with information. The app is accompanied by an information system that can store, analyse and search the huge amount of data.

The information collected, the researchers say, will enable them to create a permanent database on a global scale. The researchers aim for local governments to be able to use these detailed noise maps in order to implement plans to preserve or improve – for areas with heavy noise pollution – urban sound environments.

Beyond the benefit to local governments, the researchers were motivated to make their research on local environments completely inclusive to non-academics in this “open science” or “citizen science” project. The result of the international collaboration is an open source resource: the world noise map.

The interactive map is available online and is updated in real time with raw information from contributors. The map has reached one million points of measure so far. Most contributors are based in France, although there have also been significant contributions from the UK, Israel, Tunisia and other countries in and around Europe.

The NoiseCapture application will be presented to the public at the end of September during Digital Week in Saint-Nazaire, northwestern France.

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