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Mapping ocean noise on a round-the-world sailing trip

June 30, 2015
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC)
20,000 Sounds under the Sea is a project that aims to study ocean sounds. The Swiss ship Fleur de Passion will go around the world in four years with the aim of measuring human impact on oceans and contributing to the debate surrounding the role of humankind at sea.

20,000 Sounds under the Sea is a project of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya's Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory (LAB) that aims to study ocean sounds. The study will be carried out on board the Swiss ship Fleur de Passion, which will go around the world in four years with the aim of measuring human impact on oceans and contributing to the debate surrounding the role of humankind at sea. The Ocean Mapping Expedition, which was presented on 12 March in Geneva (Switzerland), will be launched on 12 April. It is being organised in the framework of the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan's voyage exploring new sea routes in the Pacific.

"For the first time, a ship will be permanently equipped with the latest sensor technology, which will allow us to map ocean noise on a scale never seen before," says Michel André, director of the UPC's Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory. The hydrophone system of 20,000 Sounds under the Sea will detect and automatically classify all sounds of natural or human origin along the route the Fleur de Passion sailing ship takes around the world. The system will supply real-time sounds and images taken with onboard underwater cameras to researchers at the LAB, which is linked to the Vilanova i la Geltrú School of Engineering (EPSEVG) and is located on the Vilanova UPC campus. The images and sounds that are recorded will be uploaded directly to the website of the Expedition and will be publicly available.

20,000 Sounds under the Sea is an unprecedented scientific programme that will contribute to mapping noise pollution in the oceans. The marine environment is full of natural sounds but the steady growth of human noise has contributed to increasing sound levels in the oceans.

The degree to which these sounds affect marine life is an issue that is currently of great interest and concern to the scientific community and society in general. The scientific interest stems from the need to better understand the impact of the perception of these sounds on the behaviour, physiology and ecology of marine organisms.

"We will analyse the continuous stream of acoustic data to understand the challenges facing the oceans today and to help the scientific community and public authorities to promote more responsible practices," says Michel André.

On this trip around the world, UPC researchers will analyse the effects of noise pollution on the oceans and how sounds of human origin affect their balance. The project will examine in close detail the impact on cetaceans because these animals rely on sound to communicate, hunt in groups, relate to others and mark their territory. We know that "smog sound" makes communication difficult, but how exactly? In some cases, the auditory functions of these animals are seriously damaged by increasingly noisy seas. Cetaceans play an essential role in the balance of the oceans, so if this species is threatened by human activity, this may unbalance the entire food chain.

The Ocean Mapping Expedition

On 12 April, the sailing boat Fleur de Passion, which is 33 metres long, began a four-year trip around the world to observe, understand and map the state of the oceans. The expedition will bring together a multidisciplinary range of scientific, social, educational and cultural programmes to measure human impact on the oceans.

Five hundred years ago, the Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan was sent on an expedition on behalf of the Spanish monarch to find a sea route from the West to what were then called the Spice Islands, in modern-day Indonesia. This adventure would lead to the discovery of the strait that bears his name, to the south of the American continent, and of an ocean much larger and much less quiet than its name, the Pacific Ocean, suggests. Above all, the Magellan expedition would carry out the first ever trip around the world and would reveal a world much vaster than was believed at the time.

The Fleur de Passion -- a German Navy ship built in 1941 that is currently disarmed and is Switzerland's largest sailing ship -- will leave Seville for a four-year world tour. The Expedition has the support of the Fondation Pacifique, a non-profit organisation in Geneva that works on sustainable development projects.

The scientific programme Micromégas will also be developed on board the Ocean Mapping Expedition, along with 20,000 Sounds under the Sea. The programme will collect samples of seawater periodically to ascertain the plastic pollutant content. The samples will contribute to the research conducted by the Swiss association Oceaneye and will be analysed in collaboration with the Central Environmental Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). The result of this sampling and mapping of plastic contaminants will be sent to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Expedition aims to observe, understand, map and determine the state of the oceans. It seeks to contribute to a better understanding and greater awareness of the problems of human impact on this medium, which is vital to human beings, and to make us think about our relationship with the sea.

"It is an attempt to relive the spirit of the great expeditions and discoveries of the last centuries that continue to feed our imagination," said Pietro Godenzo, president and founding member of the Fondation Pacifique. "But without fantasising or idealising: it's not a case of wanting to replay past chapters in human history. Just as Magellan searched for the Spice Islands by heading westward, we ask ourselves what these islands are like today. What kinds of riches are we seeking? Material riches? Spiritual riches?"

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Materials provided by Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). "Mapping ocean noise on a round-the-world sailing trip." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 2015. <>.
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). (2015, June 30). Mapping ocean noise on a round-the-world sailing trip. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2024 from
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). "Mapping ocean noise on a round-the-world sailing trip." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 21, 2024).

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