High-resolution bathymetry of extinct asphalt volcanoes off the coast of California. The bathymetry was collected using the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry. (Image by Dana Yoerger, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Acoustics is the science of sound; ocean acoustics attempts to describe how sound behaves in the ocean. A strong understanding of how sound behaves in different conditions beneath the surface of the water or the seafloor helps scientists answer fundamental questions about the planet, the ocean, and marine life.
Sound travels much farther than light through water —in some cases, up to thousands of miles. The speed of sound in the ocean also varies, increasing with increases in temperature, salinity, and pressure (depth). These characteristics make sound an excellent tool to study questions about the physics, chemistry, and biology of the ocean that would be difficult or impossible to approach any other way.
Ocean acoustics can involve detecting and interpreting naturally occurring sounds such as those made by whales and fish or earthquakes, as well as man-made sounds such as those made by ships. Scientists also purposely generate sounds in order to measure ocean currents, track temperature changes over vast areas of the ocean, or measure water depth and map the seafloor. Because sound travels well through solids scientists also use it to probe the structure of sediments and rocks deep beneath the seafloor in order to study such things as the geophysical processes that generate earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis.
News & Insights
A recent New York Times article about sound in the deep ocean briefly mentions the work by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) acoustic scientist Ying-Tsong “YT” Lin and his work developing an “acoustic telescope.”
Mark Baumgartner is an expert ocean listener who’s research is providing the groundwork for a new system to reduce ship collisions with whales
WHOI and collaborators launched Whale Safe, a detection system that may help prevent large ship collisions with the ocean’s behemoths along the California coast.
Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and NOAA Fisheries combine forces to adapt technologies used to detect marine mammals for fisheries management.
Using a network of satellites and surface buoys, WHOI scientist Ying Tsong (YT) Lin and a team of engineers are creating the first 3D “acoustic telescope,” capable of listening to a range of discrete activities in the deep sea
WHOI in the News
From Oceanus Magazine
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and its Marine Mammal Rescue Team in Yarmouth, Mass. have responded to a record high of more than 464 marine mammals stranded on Cape Cod since January this year. Researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) believe patterns from animal sound data may be the key to curbing these numbers.
Scientists track hungry blue sharks as they ride swirling currents down to the ocean twilight zone—a layer of the ocean containing the largest fish biomass on Earth
Decades of research from many WHOI scientists and engineers have culminated in a multifaceted vehicle to explore deep-sea marine life.
WHOI scientists warp sound–the primary means of transmitting information in the ocean–to “see” what’s happening below the surface.
The twilight zone is a part of the ocean 660 to 3,300 feet below the surface, where little sunlight can reach. It is deep and dark and cold, and the pressures there are enormous. Despite these challenging conditions, the twilight zone teems with life that helps support the ocean’s food web and is intertwined with Earth’s climate. Some countries are gearing up to exploit twilight zone fisheries, with unknown impacts for marine ecosystems and global climate. Scientists and engineers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are poised to explore and investigate this hidden frontier.