The UPC’s Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics studies ocean noise pollution in Antarctica

The UPC’s Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics (LAB) is leading a scientific expedition to Antarctica to deploy permanent acoustic sensors for monitoring the effects of climate change and human activities on polar ecosystems.

Jun 22, 2020

“Noise is increasing, there are increasingly more human activities at sea and therefore more ships. Over 50,000 cargo ships are sailing the sea every day, which combined with other activities increase noise and its effects too”, explains the researcher Michel André, the director of the LAB of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC), who embarked on an expedition to Antarctica to obtain the first measurements of the acoustic state of the ocean from this location and to test permanent acoustic sensors to monitor the effects of climate change on Antarctic biodiversity.

“I have the honour of looking at nature in its purest expression, where the silence of wildlife spreads endlessly under the ocean, protected by millennial Antarctic ice. It is definitely a very fragile balance. We are facing the challenge of preserving it for future generations.” Being there now allows researchers to obtain reference data on the state of conservation of this environment before it is invaded by human activities. “The data that we are collecting will reveal us the almost zero state—because we are far from the zero state of pollution—so that, when pollution gets here, we will already know the vital state of these organisms and we will be able to implement conservation measures.”

The technology used consists of hydrophones (microphones and sensors adapted to water that are capable of recording audible sounds but also infra- and ultrasounds from any biological or human-generated source) and computers using artificial intelligence techniques. After installing the equipment in Antarctica, the data collected will be processed and analysed at the LAB. Linked to the Vilanova i la Geltrú School of Engineering (EPSEVG), the Laboratory has sensors in almost all oceans and from now on Antarctica will be a new spot on the map for research. In 2018 the LAB also set up an observatory in the Amazon with researchers from Brazil and Australia.