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A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes a soundscape is worth 10,000 pictures.

The sound of a dying ecosystem

Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Sunday, November 9, 2014, 5:09 PM -

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes a soundscape is worth 10,000 pictures. 

When sound engineer Bernie Krause first visited the Lincoln Meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1988, the lush land vibrated with natural soundscapes -- a sign of a healthy, thriving ecosystem. 

SEE ALSO: Studies show water toxins poisoning birds, fish and coral

This is what it sounded like when Krause turned on his gear to capture the environment before selective logging began:

The orange squiggly lines you see are a spectrograph, which is a visual representation of the richness and diversity of the audio from the environment -- birdsong in higher frequencies and stream movement in lower frequencies. 

“When I began recording over four decades ago, I could record for ten hours and capture one hour of usable material good enough for an album, a film soundtrack or museum installation,” said Krause, on the TEDGlobal stage. “Now, because of global warming, resource extraction and human noise, among other factors, it can take up to 1,000 hours or more to capture the same thing.”

One year later, he returned to record once more from the same spot. This time, all birds had gone, with the exception of one lonesome woodpecker who appears halfway through the recording:

Krause has returned to Lincoln Meadow 15 times in the past 25 years. 

“The density and diversity of that biophony has not yet returned to anything like it was before [selective logging began],” he told the TED Talks audience. 

He then proceeded to show a photograph of the meadow, pointing out that it looks like there is no obvious change. 

“Hardly a stick or tree is out of place, which would confirm the logging company’s contention that there was no environmental impact. However, our ears tell us a very different story.” 

Krause has worked on films, earned a PhD in marine bioacoustics, recorded dozens of albums, and written several books, including The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places

“In any habitat that’s still wild,” he explained, “the animals are vocalizing in relation to one another like instruments in an orchestra—some of it cooperative, some of it competitive—but those relationships are always there." 

Watch Bernie Krause’s TED Talk below:

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