PS 75-135 - Applying soundscape ecology to a social-ecological system: Aircraft activity and traditional hunting in Nuiqsut, AK

Friday, August 11, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Taylor R Stinchcomb, Department of Biology & Wildlife, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK and Todd J. Brinkman, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK

Aircraft activity due to resource development, scientific research, and tourism is expanding across the North Slope of Alaska and changing Arctic social-ecological systems. Alaska Native hunters frequently report that aircraft flyovers impact their hunting success by startling caribou and altering their own movements. A paucity of data limits our knowledge on the volume of aircraft traffic flying over traditional hunting lands during peak hunting seasons. Here, we employ soundscape ecology methods to quantify aircraft disturbance for the community of Nuiqsut, AK. We provide baseline data on aircraft flight frequency and noise levels over principal hunting corridors to investigate where aircraft could pose the greatest impact to hunter access. We deployed 20 acoustical monitoring systems in Summer 2016 (June 03-Aug 28) along the Colville River and Fish Creek corridors at sites identified by Nuiqsut residents as important caribou hunting locations. Systems recorded continuous sound for 30-day intervals. We conducted audiovisual analysis to annotate aircraft sound signatures using software developed by the National Parks Service. We compiled datasets from audiovisual output to generate statistics that describe noise disturbance. We then integrated the combined dataset into ArcGIS to examine spatial and temporal distributions of aircraft disturbance.


A total of 7016 aircraft events were captured over 21-84 days (479-1961 hr) of recording. Activity was concentrated over developed environments proximal to the community, with an average of 7-15 aircraft events per day. Activity decreased to 1-2 events/day at sites 30 km upriver from Nuiqsut. Hunting areas to the west of Nuiqsut experienced moderate activity ranging from 3 to 6 events/day; however, these data represent only one month of sound recording so activity may be more intense in this region. Mean Sound Exposure Levels (SELs) remained between 55 and 70 dBA across the study area, but maximum SELs reached 90 to 100 dbA, even at sites 50 km from Nuiqsut. The average time between aircraft events, or the Noise Free Interval (NFI), at upriver sites reached close to one hour, significantly longer than NFIs in developed environments which fell below 30 mins. At NFIs this brief, management approaches should consider regulating the timing of aircraft flights. We are conducting geospatial analyses to predict where aircraft disturbance could impact Nuiqsut’s hunting success. Communication between aircraft users and the local community may be key to minimizing conflict and sustaining traditional hunting practices into the foreseeable future.