Read More: The Verge
In a few weeks, sensors in Indiana will go online that will record, in the words of Bryan Pijanowski, every sound the Earth makes. The array of microphones, geophones, and barometric gauges will run for a year, taping everything from the songs of birds arriving in the spring to the vibrations of the continent as ocean waves pound the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They will measure earthquakes on the other side of the world and the stomping of cattle nearby, the ultrasonic whistles of bats and the barometric drop of cold fronts. “I joke to my physicist friends that if I had a microphone small enough, I could record the Higgs boson,” Pijanowski says. Pijanowski is a soundscape ecologist, a term he coined three years ago to describe a new approach to studying sound. Rather than look at how, for example, a single species of frog calls for a mate, soundscape ecologists study how all the sounds in a space interact, from frog calls to car traffic to thunder. "There are what I call rhythms of nature, there are periodicities like the dawn chorus and certain crescendos during the seasons," Pijanowski says, referring to the way birds burst into song at sunrise. He believes listening to these patterns can tell us important things about the state of the natural world. Though still small, the field is growing, thanks in no small measure to Pijanowski’s tireless efforts (and those of his grad students). For the last several years he’s been circling the globe, depositing microphones in Costa Rica, Borneo, Tippecanoe, the Sonoran desert, Alabama, the wildfire-ravaged Chiricahuas, and urban parks in Chicago, often giving talks along the way. You get the sense he’s slightly reserved except when talking about sound, at which point he gestures expansively and uses words like "marvelous," "magnificent," and "glorious."