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Making the Ocean Accessible Through Sound

Making the Ocean Accessible Through Sound

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I have written about sonification, representing data with audio. My earlier posts were about astronomers analyzing data recorded by telescopes in outer space. The Accessible Oceans project also uses sonification to analyze data, but their data was  recorded by underwater microphones.

“Scientists are finding that people can sometimes pick up more information from their ears than the eyes can see.  And ears can perceive patterns in the data that the eyes can’t see,” said Amy Bower, a Senior Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Principal Investigator for the Accessible Oceans project.

Making the Ocean Accessible Through Sound – Ocean Observatories Initiative

A team of scientists assigned sound to each number on a graph. The sound goes up and down.

A listener can hear changes in the data and a viewer can see the up and down shape of a line graph. If the lines on the graph were raised, someone could feel the same shape.

There are three possible sensory ways to present the same graph. Unfortunately, the sense of sight is favored in most presentations.

A community of researchers and educators is working to expand knowledge of sonification. You can read the article linked above and play the sonification clips that are linked below it.

The sonification clips are uploaded as .wav files so activating the link causes them to play automatically.

Short spoken text gives the listener information about the sounds that they will hear. The approach taken by the Accessible Oceans team is effective because it follows a logical order.

Here are the different elements for the first clip about carbon dioxide exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere. Gas bubbles out of the water and into the air.

  • Spoken text explains that the amount of gas released into the air is low in cold months and high in warm months.
  • Then the sound representing outgassing is played.
  • Next, the outgassing sound is played softly for a low number, and repeated loudly for a high number.

After the individual sounds are demonstrated, the complete sonification is played. Each month is spoken immediately before the sound that represents the amount of outgassing for that month.

Adding spoken text and identifying the sounds being played helps the listener understand the data represented by the sonification.

Accessible Oceans has been featured in the L.A. Times. Read What scientists can learn by turning their data into sounds BY Sumeet Kulkarni, February 3, 2023.

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