Acoustic observatory will record a galaxy of sounds from our remote wildlife

  Last updated November 27, 2019 at 3:33 pm

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Sound recorders being rolled out across the country will build a ‘Google maps for sound’ of our most remote wildlife.





Why This Matters: Eavesdropping on animals to find out what they’re really up to will help conservation.




You won’t see stars at the Australian Acoustic Observatory but you will “see” a galaxy of sounds from across the country.


Hundreds of solar-powered sensors are being installed across remote parts of Australia to record a unique ‘soundscape’ of the wildlife as the environment changes.


The Australian Acoustic Observatory, which will record the wildlife across a five-years, is the world’s first ‘Google maps for sound’.


“The sensors will capture every frog croak, bird call, animal noise, and weather event to create a soundscape for each ecoregion,” says lead researcher Paul Roe from Queensland University of Technology.


The researchers hope that the sensors will be a valuable tool in recording, monitoring and mapping Australia’s biodiversity.


Sensors will record continuously for five years




Elsewhere: Using Drones for conservation




400 listening stations will be installed across 100 sites in seven different ecoregions across Australia. The recorders are expected to record two petabytes of data, or the equivalent of 2000 years of sound.


“The seven major ecoregions will cover desert, grasslands, shrublands and temperate, subtropical and tropical forests,” says Roe.



“Many areas of Australia are remote and visited by perhaps one ecological expedition for a few days each year. These expeditions are now deploying acoustic sensors and will collect and replace sensors’ memory cards each year.”


“This will allow us to hear what is happening in remote areas when, for example, rain makes the area inaccessible but interesting ecological events such as desert frogs emerging from the ground are occurring,” Roe explains.


He also says the acoustic observatory will reveal these events and reveal what is happening to the environment. The soundscapes will also lend insight into how the environment is changing in response to climate change, land use and the arrival of feral species.




Elsewhere: Rebecca Wellard – Eavesdropping on killer whales




“We can analyse recorded sound in three different ways:



  • for some animal calls we can build recognisers to scan and pick out distinctive calls from recordings like the bellowing of koalas;

  • in other cases, we can make sound available for citizen scientists to explore, listen to and identify calls;

  • and finally, we can use QUT-developed software to analyse whole soundscapes to fingerprint the environment – an acoustic DNA.”


acoustic observatory_biodiversity research_australian conservation


From artists to researchers – anyone can listen


The sound data will then be stored in the cloud, and made available to researchers, citizen scientists and the general public – for free.


Roe says users will be able to both play sound in the form of spectrograms which play sounds at a particular moment in time and place – the ‘Google street view’ of sound – as well as visualise sound in the form of soundscapes – novel colour images that give a ‘Google Earth’ view of the sounds in a location over time.


“Our sound map will allow users to zoom in on an area at a particular year, month or day and, in a few seconds, listen to the sounds of that particular moment in time.”


“We are expecting these soundscapes will be used and re-used in many creative ways.”


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