What kind of impact does the city noise have on tigers and other zoo occupants? Helsinki Zoo and Forum Virium Helsinki, the innovation unit of the City of Helsinki, are using smart technology to study the noise experienced by animals and its impacts in collaboration with Inria, the French national research institute on digital sciences and technologies and Ambiciti, a global environmental data service startup company.
In parts of the island, Korkeasaari Zoo is a quiet urban area, but on its western side, the sounds of urban Helsinki easily carry over the sea to the island. In addition to the sounds of traffic, construction in nearby areas is a source of noise. In recent years this has been particularly true with regard to the Kruunusillat construction site. Helsinki Zoo and the innovation unit of the City of Helsinki, Forum Virium Helsinki, have started to research how the growth of the city impacts the wellbeing of animals. To this aim, Forum Virium utitilizes its know-how in measuring noise levels and air quality in urban environment using smart technology. During the first stage, the average levels of noise carrying to Korkeasaari as well as sudden noise spikes will be measured. The impact of the noise on animals is studied through various behavioural and metabolic changes. The situation will be reviewed before the construction of Kruunusillat, during the construction work and after its completion.
“Animal protection regulations stipulate that the living environment in zoos must be sufficiently peaceful and quiet and that the animals cannot be continuously exposed to noise in their surroundings,” says Korkeasaari’s Research Coordinator Adjunct professor Kirsi Pynnönen-Oudman.
Based on the initial reviews, the noise level varies in different parts of the island. It seems that urban construction causes the most noise in the habitats of the tigers, bearded vultures and markhors.
Pioneering noise research
In order to ensure peaceful living environments for the animals, Helsinki Zoo and Forum Virium Helsinki will review the noise levels in the entire zoo area by utilising for example IoT technology, i.e. the Internet of Things. Additionally, an accurate noise measuring device (Class1 sensor Cesva) has been installed near the tiger and bearded vulture enclosures.
“Forum Virium Helsinki is already experienced in utilising IoT for measuring noise levels and air quality in an urban environment as a part of an extensive mySMARTLife project. Creating the noise map in Korkeasaari we apply the know-how, we have gained”, says Silja Peltonen, Portfolio Manager from Forum Virium Helsinki.
“The goal of Forum Virium Helsinki is to make Helsinki the smartest city in the world with e.g. utilizing smart technology to enhance people’s wellbeing”, she tells.
During their other duties, the employees will use the Ambiciti application on smart phones to measure noise in different parts of the island. Based on the collected observations further serve as input to the computation of noise maps of Helsinki Zoo over time, thanks to the supporting Ambiciti environmental data service that leverages Inria research results on mobile crowdsensing and data assimilation.
Ambiciti is a publicly available mobile application. It helps citizens be aware of the air quality and ambient noise they are exposed to in their day-to-day lives.
The impact of noise on wild animals has not been extensively researched before. The most common method of measuring the stress levels of animals is to measure the levels of cortisol hormone in the different parts of the animal or its secretions. IoT measurements are looked into as a more cost-efficient method for measuring the impacts of noise. The research that is being carried out in Helsinki is a forerunner in the field, and it is believed that the method can also be introduced to other zoos in the world.
Photo: Helsinki Zoo, Mari Lehmonen
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