A song of ice and vessels: Seasonal trends in the soundscape of the western arm of Lake Superior

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The soundscapes of marine systems have been studied for decades to determine spatial and temporal patterns of biological, geological, and anthropogenic activity. However, comparatively little is known about freshwater soundscapes. Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by surface area and home to a variety of aquatic animals. The Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior, located in the western arm of Lake Superior, are annually closed because of ice cover, providing a unique opportunity to explore sound levels in the absence of vessel traffic. Passive acoustic monitoring was conducted over 15 months between November 2018 and March 2020 to investigate seasonal patterns. Sound pressure levels were significantly lower (8 dB) at low frequencies (<100 Hz) during the winter and spring months (when ice cover increased). Quieter ambient sound pressure levels may provide an acoustic refuge to soniferous animals, especially those that vocalise during winter spawning. During the ice-free months, commercial shipping introduces a near continuous source of sound, increasing sound levels by up to 25 dB (at frequencies < 1,000 Hz). Climate change is expected to further reduce ice cover and thickness allowing the shipping season into the Twin Ports to be extended, thus warranting concern about the effect of noise from vessel activity on aquatic life. This study provides a baseline of the soundscape in the western arm of Lake Superior, against which scientists and environmental managers can assess future changes to this important habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-488
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank all the crew of the R/V Blue Heron for their help in deploying acoustic recorders. Funding was provided by a Mistletoe Research Fellowship awarded to RLP.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 International Association for Great Lakes Research


  • Ambient sound
  • Anthropogenic activity
  • Freshwater
  • Great lakes
  • Underwater sound


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