20 May 2009

Dalhousie University bestows an honorary doctorate on Jesse, really an honor for everyone who has contributed to the work of the ‘Program for the Human Environment’ for the past 20 years.  We post Jesse’s Convocation address, titled “Son et lumiere“, discussing environmental dimensions of sound and light.

p.s. On 23 May 2009 Anne McIlroy of the Toronto Globe and Mail reported on Jesse’s address (p. F5)

Oceans speak volumes. Sound spreads widely in the world’s oceans, and the clamour of human activity reaches every cove, says Jesse Ausubel, director of the Human Environment program at Rockefeller University in Manhattan.

“Motors and propellers are noisy; so are jet skis and oil-and-gas exploration. In fact, we make the oceans three decibels noisier each decade”, he says. In a convocation address this week at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Dr. Ausubel proposed turning down the volume for four hours in an International Quiet Ocean Experiment. That would be enough time for thousands of researchers around the world to see how sea creatures respond to pre-industrial noise levels, he says. Would whales, for example, change the frequencies they use to communicate? If we can quiet things down, would they return to their normal, natural frequency rather than deepening their voices or raising their voices? he said an interview.

Dr. Ausubel has experience with ambitious, large-scale scientific projects. He played an important role in creating the Encyclopedia of Life, an online catalogue of the species on Earth, and was also involved in establishing the Census for Marine Life, an international program to chart life in the oceans by 2010.

Scientists from around the world who are interested in his Quiet Ocean Experiment will get together for their first meeting before the end of the year .

Dr. Ausubel acknowledges how difficult it will be to get four noise-free hours. Navies and the world’s maritime industries would have to be on board. “Maybe the time to do it would be Christmas Day,” he says. “We would like to inconvenience people as little as possible”.

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