Hearing climate change: An Arizona researcher’s quest to understand climate through sound

Garth Paine listens to the sounds at the Desert Botanical Garden where the natural world meets the urban environment. “We have insects and birds chirping being absorbed by the plants, but we also have planes and cars from the freeway behind us reverberating off the buildings and cement.” (Photo by Chloe Jones/ Cronkite News)

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PHOENIX – Garth Paine has spent his life listening to Mother Nature.

An associate professor of digital sound and interactive media at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, Paine co-leads the Acoustic Ecology Lab, where he studies how sounds can help understand the environment and potentially help predict climate change.

Born in Sydney and raised in Tasmania, Paine is infatuated with sound. As a child, he said, he loved going into the wilderness by himself, whiling away the hours watching and listening to the world around him.

“Throughout my life wherever I’ve gone in the world, I’ve made time to do field recordings to just kind of sit down, be still for a few hours and listen to the world,” Paine said.

His passion for environmental sounds inspired him to study them as a scientist.

“As somebody who goes out and listens to the environment on a very regular basis, I’ve heard changes in the environment and I’ve felt the changes in the sound quality because you literally feel them with the body, and I’ve been conscious that the acoustic ecology is changing.”

He’s now pioneering multiple projects to help communities understand their own environments through sound, and working to understand how sound could be a tool in predicting changes in the climate.

In this episode of Arizona in Focus, Paine discusses his latest research and where he hopes to take it.

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