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Second Edition of Promoting Healthy and Supportive Acoustic Environments: Going beyond the Quietness

A special issue of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (ISSN 1660-4601). This special issue belongs to the section "Environmental Science and Engineering".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2023) | Viewed by 22566

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources, University College London, London WC1H 0NN, UK
Interests: environmental acoustics; soundscape; community noise; noise annoyance; urban planning; environmental design; environmental assessment; landscape design
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Guest Editor
Department of Civil Environmental and Mechanical Engineering, University of Trento, Via Mesiano 77, 38123 Trento, Italy
Interests: indoor soundscape; room acoustics; indoor environmental quality; healthy buildings
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

One of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic period is the importance of sound in our lives. Urban sounds (or the lack thereof) tell a story of an unprecedented change in our society, traffic reduction has brought the sounds of nature back into our urban centres, and the sounds of our unusually crowded homes made us to be comforted from our nearest and dearest's presence, while leading to challenges in carrying out new activities from home. Notwithstanding the potential impact in terms of conveying information, creating a sense of place, supporting activities, enhancing affective and mental states, “sound” has been traditionally considered as unwanted, and as such as “noise” to be avoided and reduced. Quietness, mainly intended as “lack of loudness”, has been the focus of major environmental agencies  and policy makers'  action. However, this approach has revealed not successful in improving the quality of life. We may want a quiet, but not monotonous or boring environment, we might want a vibrant, not chaotic environment. This is not just a function of decibel noise level; it is a function of human response to the acoustic environment in the context created by a range of acoustic and non-acoustic factors. While the scientific evidence gathered so far on the impact of sound stimuli on humans has focused on the risks arising from noise exposure, more research is needed towards new approaches for the characterization, management, and design of (indoor and outdoor) soundscapes that support restoration, health, and better quality of life, as well as basic research on (negative and positive) potential health-related, emotional, cognitive, and behavioural outcomes for people.

The Second Edition of this Special Issue aims to gather contributions related (but not limited) to inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches to the characterisation of the quality of the acoustic environments; experience of the sound environment during the COVID-19 lockdown; perception of acoustic environments in indoor and outdoor built environments, or soundscapes; impacts of acoustic and non-acoustic factors on human perception of the sound environment; relationship between acoustic environments and positive cognitive and health-related effects; new prediction and modelling methodologies for the acoustic environments and their qualities; mapping and monitoring of sound sources in the built environment; and the relationship between sound, space, and behaviour in the built environment. Contributions from a range of disciplines are welcome, including soundscape studies, noise control engineering, environmental design, social sciences, architecture and urban planning, spatial analysis, environmental psychology, epidemiology, and public health.

Dr. Francesco Aletta
Dr. Simone Torresin
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • environmental acoustics
  • indoor environmental quality
  • quiet areas
  • soundscape
  • COVID-19
  • noise mapping
  • urban sound planning
  • environmental health
  • Quality of Life (QoL)
  • Quality of Experience (QoE)

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Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

16 pages, 3324 KiB  
Article
The Role of Traffic Volume on Sound Pressure Level Reduction before and during COVID-19 Lockdown Measures—A Case Study in Bochum, Germany
by Falk Hemker, Timo Haselhoff, Susanne Brunner, Bryce T. Lawrence, Katja Ickstadt and Susanne Moebus
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(6), 5060; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20065060 - 13 Mar 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1329
Abstract
During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, sound pressure levels (SPL) decreased because of lockdown measures all over the world. This study aims to describe SPL changes over varying lockdown measure timeframes and estimate the role of traffic on SPL variations. To account for different COVID-19 [...] Read more.
During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, sound pressure levels (SPL) decreased because of lockdown measures all over the world. This study aims to describe SPL changes over varying lockdown measure timeframes and estimate the role of traffic on SPL variations. To account for different COVID-19 lockdown measures, the timeframe during the pandemic was segmented into four phases. To analyze the association between a-weighted decibels (dB(A)) and lockdown phases relative to the pre-lockdown timeframe, we calculated a linear mixed model, using 36,710 h of recording time. Regression coefficients depicting SPL changes were compared, while the model was subsequently adjusted for wind speed, rainfall, and traffic volume. The relative adjusted reduction of during pandemic phases to pre-pandemic levels ranged from −0.99 dB(A) (CI: −1.45; −0.53) to −0.25 dB(A) (CI: −0.96; 0.46). After controlling for traffic volume, we observed little to no reduction (−0.16 dB(A) (CI: −0.77; 0.45)) and even an increase of 0.75 dB(A) (CI: 0.18; 1.31) during the different lockdown phases. These results showcase the major role of traffic regarding the observed reduction. The findings can be useful in assessing measures to decrease noise pollution for necessary future population-based prevention. Full article
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23 pages, 825 KiB  
Article
Analysis and Acoustic Event Classification of Environmental Data Collected in a Citizen Science Project
by Daniel Bonet-Solà, Ester Vidaña-Vila and Rosa Ma Alsina-Pagès
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(4), 3683; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20043683 - 19 Feb 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1390
Abstract
Citizen science can serve as a tool to obtain information about changes in the soundscape. One of the challenges of citizen science projects is the processing of data gathered by the citizens, to obtain conclusions. As part of the project Sons al Balcó [...] Read more.
Citizen science can serve as a tool to obtain information about changes in the soundscape. One of the challenges of citizen science projects is the processing of data gathered by the citizens, to obtain conclusions. As part of the project Sons al Balcó, authors aim to study the soundscape in Catalonia during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards and design a tool to automatically detect sound events as a first step to assess the quality of the soundscape. This paper details and compares the acoustic samples of the two collecting campaigns of the Sons al Balcó project. While the 2020 campaign obtained 365 videos, the 2021 campaign obtained 237. Later, a convolutional neural network is trained to automatically detect and classify acoustic events even if they occur simultaneously. Event based macro F1-score tops 50% for both campaigns for the most prevalent noise sources. However, results suggest that not all the categories are equally detected: the percentage of prevalence of an event in the dataset and its foregound-to-background ratio play a decisive role. Full article
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15 pages, 2975 KiB  
Article
Does Stochastic and Modulated Wind Turbine Infrasound Affect Human Mental Performance Compared to Steady Signals without Modulation? Results of a Pilot Study
by Paweł Małecki, Małgorzata Pawlaczyk-Łuszczyńska, Tadeusz Wszołek, Anna Preis, Maciej Kłaczyński, Adam Dudarewicz, Paweł Pawlik, Bartłomiej Stępień and Dominik Mleczko
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(3), 2223; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20032223 - 26 Jan 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1597
Abstract
Wind turbines (WT) are a specific type of noise source, with unique characteristics, such as amplitude modulation (AM) and tonality, infrasonic and low frequency (LF) components. The present study investigates the influence of wind turbine infrasound and low frequency noise (LFN) on human [...] Read more.
Wind turbines (WT) are a specific type of noise source, with unique characteristics, such as amplitude modulation (AM) and tonality, infrasonic and low frequency (LF) components. The present study investigates the influence of wind turbine infrasound and low frequency noise (LFN) on human well-being. In the between-subjects study design, 129 students performed a cognitive test evaluating attention and filled out questionnaires in three various exposure conditions, including background noise, synthesized LFN (reference noise) and registered WT infrasound (stimulus). No significant differences in test results or in the number of reported post-exposure feelings and ailments in various exposure conditions were found when analyzing them in males and females, separately. However, a significant association between pre-exposure well-being and reported post-exposure complaints was noted and explained by in-depth statistical analysis. Full article
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18 pages, 4956 KiB  
Article
Investigating the Potential of Transparent Parallel-Arranged Micro-Perforated Panels (MPPs) as Sound Absorbers in Classrooms
by Ela Fasllija and Semiha Yilmazer
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(2), 1445; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20021445 - 13 Jan 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1890
Abstract
Acoustic deficiencies due to lack of absorption in indoor spaces may sometime render significant buildings unfit for their purpose, especially the ones used as speech auditoria. This study investigates the potential of designing wideband acoustic absorbers composed of parallel-arranged micro-perforated panels (MPPs), known [...] Read more.
Acoustic deficiencies due to lack of absorption in indoor spaces may sometime render significant buildings unfit for their purpose, especially the ones used as speech auditoria. This study investigates the potential of designing wideband acoustic absorbers composed of parallel-arranged micro-perforated panels (MPPs), known as efficient absorbers that do not need any other fibrous/porous material to have a high absorptive performance. It aims to integrate architectural trends such as transparency and the use of raw materials with acoustical constraints to ensure optimal indoor acoustic conditions. It proposes a structure composed of four parallel-arranged MPPs, which have been theoretically modelled using the electrical Equivalent Circuit Model (ECM) and implemented on an acrylic prototype using recent techniques such as CNC machining tools. The resulting samples are experimentally analysed for their absorption efficiency through the ISO-10534-2 method in an impedance tube. The results show that the prediction model and the experimental data are in good agreement. Afterward, the investigation focuses on applying the most absorptive MPP structure in a classroom without acoustic treatment through numerical simulations in ODEON 16 Acoustics Software. When the proposed material is installed as a wall panel, the results show an improvement toward optimum values in Reverberation Time (RT30) and Speech Transmission Index (STI). Full article
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27 pages, 11599 KiB  
Article
The Acoustic Environment and University Students’ Satisfaction with the Online Education Method during the COVID-19 Lockdown
by Virginia Puyana-Romero, Angela María Díaz-Márquez, Giuseppe Ciaburro and Ricardo Hernández-Molina
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20(1), 709; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20010709 - 30 Dec 2022
Viewed by 1851
Abstract
The acoustic environment has been pointed out as a possible distractor during student activities in the online academic modality; however, it has not been specifically studied, nor has it been studied in relation to parameters frequently used in academic-quality evaluations. The objective of [...] Read more.
The acoustic environment has been pointed out as a possible distractor during student activities in the online academic modality; however, it has not been specifically studied, nor has it been studied in relation to parameters frequently used in academic-quality evaluations. The objective of this study is to characterize the acoustic environment and relate it to students’ satisfaction with the online learning modality. For that, three artificial neural networks were calculated, using as target variables the students’ satisfaction and the noise interference with autonomous and synchronous activities, using acoustic variables as predictors. The data were obtained during the COVID-19 lockdown, through an online survey addressed to the students of the Universidad de Las Américas (Quito, Ecuador). Results show that the noise interference with comprehensive reading or with making exams and that the frequency of noises, which made the students lose track of the lesson, were relevant factors for students’ satisfaction. The perceived loudness also had a remarkable influence on engaging in autonomous and synchronous activities. The performance of the models on students’ satisfaction and on the noise interference with autonomous and synchronous activities was satisfactory given that it was built only with acoustic variables, with correlation coefficients of 0.567, 0.853, and 0.865, respectively. Full article
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23 pages, 5496 KiB  
Article
Acoustic Biotopes, Listeners and Sound-Induced Action: A Case Study of Operating Rooms
by Elif Özcan, Cornelis L. H. Broekmeulen, Zoe Alexandra Luck, Monique van Velzen, Pieter Jan Stappers and Judy Reed Edworthy
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(24), 16674; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192416674 - 12 Dec 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1899
Abstract
As socio-technological environments shape and direct listener behaviour, an ecological account is needed that encompasses listening in complexity (i.e., multiple listeners, multiple sounds and their sources, and multiple sound-induced actions that ensure the success of a mission). In this study, we explored sound-induced [...] Read more.
As socio-technological environments shape and direct listener behaviour, an ecological account is needed that encompasses listening in complexity (i.e., multiple listeners, multiple sounds and their sources, and multiple sound-induced actions that ensure the success of a mission). In this study, we explored sound-induced action under the framework of “acoustic biotopes” (a notion of ecological acoustics by Smolders, Aertsen, and Johanessma, 1979 and 1982) in a specific socio-technological environment, i.e., the context of an orthopaedic operating room. Our approach is based on literature research into the topics of environmental psychology and auditory perception and action and in situ observations in healthcare with field recordings, participatory observations, and interviews on the spot. The results suggest a human-centered definition of sound-induced action in acoustic biotopes: Acoustic biotope is an active and shared sound environment with entangled interactions and sound-induced actions taking place in a specific space that has a critical function. Listening in highly functional environments is an individual experience and is influenced by hearing function, physical position and role in an environment, and the task at hand. There is a range of active and passive sound listeners as a function of their attentive state and listeners as sound sources within the acoustic biotope. There are many different sound sources and sound locals in socio-technological environments and sounds have great potential to serve critical information to operators. Overall, our study provides a holistic, multi-layered and yet a listener-centric view on the organisation of complex spaces and the results can immediately be applicable for rethinking the acoustic environment for ORs for better listening and sound-induced action. Full article
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16 pages, 3659 KiB  
Article
Analysing Interlinked Frequency Dynamics of the Urban Acoustic Environment
by Timo Haselhoff, Tobias Braun, Jonas Hornberg, Bryce T. Lawrence, Salman Ahmed, Dietwald Gruehn and Susanne Moebus
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(22), 15014; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192215014 - 15 Nov 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1502
Abstract
As sustainable metropolitan regions require more densely built-up areas, a comprehensive understanding of the urban acoustic environment (AE) is needed. However, comprehensive datasets of the urban AE and well-established research methods for the AE are scarce. Datasets of audio recordings tend to be [...] Read more.
As sustainable metropolitan regions require more densely built-up areas, a comprehensive understanding of the urban acoustic environment (AE) is needed. However, comprehensive datasets of the urban AE and well-established research methods for the AE are scarce. Datasets of audio recordings tend to be large and require a lot of storage space as well as computationally expensive analyses. Thus, knowledge about the long-term urban AE is limited. In recent years, however, these limitations have been steadily overcome, allowing a more comprehensive analysis of the urban AE. In this respect, the objective of this work is to contribute to a better understanding of the time–frequency domain of the urban AE, analysing automatic audio recordings from nine urban settings over ten months. We compute median power spectra as well as normalised spectrograms for all settings. Additionally, we demonstrate the use of frequency correlation matrices (FCMs) as a novel approach to access large audio datasets. Our results show site-dependent patterns in frequency dynamics. Normalised spectrograms reveal that frequency bins with low power hold relevant information and that the AE changes considerably over a year. We demonstrate that this information can be captured by using FCMs, which also unravel communities of interlinked frequency dynamics for all settings. Full article
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13 pages, 1464 KiB  
Article
Exposure to Nature Sounds through a Mobile Application in Daily Life: Effects on Learning Performance among University Students
by Jiutong Luo, Minhong Wang, Boyin Chen and Meng Sun
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(21), 14583; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph192114583 - 07 Nov 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2144
Abstract
Previous studies have revealed the restorative effects of exposure to natural environments on psychological well-being and cognitive performance. Recent studies have reported the effects of exposure to nature sounds (e.g., the sounds of birds, rainfall, and waves) through a mobile application on reducing [...] Read more.
Previous studies have revealed the restorative effects of exposure to natural environments on psychological well-being and cognitive performance. Recent studies have reported the effects of exposure to nature sounds (e.g., the sounds of birds, rainfall, and waves) through a mobile application on reducing students’ mental fatigue and improving their cognitive performance. However, it remains unknown whether exposure to nature sounds through a mobile application may influence students’ learning performance. To address the gap, we conducted a study with 71 university students. During the four-week intervention, 36 students in the experimental group were exposed to nature sounds through a free mobile application for at least 30 consecutive minutes per day when working on academic-related tasks; 35 students in the control group did not have such exposure when working on similar tasks. The results show that students in the experimental group outperformed those in the control group in their engagement in deep learning, frequency of academic procrastination, and academic self-efficacy. The findings reveal the promising effects of exposure to nature sounds through a mobile application on improving students’ learning performance. The implications of the findings are discussed. Full article
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22 pages, 4814 KiB  
Article
The Sound of a Circular City: Towards a Circularity-Driven Quietness
by Aggelos Tsaligopoulos, Stella Sofia Kyvelou, Michalis Chiotinis, Aimilia Karapostoli, Eleftheria E. Klontza, Demetris F. Lekkas and Yiannis G. Matsinos
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(19), 12290; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph191912290 - 27 Sep 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2541
Abstract
The circular economy paradigm can be beneficial for urban sustainability by eliminating waste and pollution, by circulating products and materials and by regenerating nature. Furthermore, under an urban circular development scheme, environmental noise can be designed out. The current noise control policies and [...] Read more.
The circular economy paradigm can be beneficial for urban sustainability by eliminating waste and pollution, by circulating products and materials and by regenerating nature. Furthermore, under an urban circular development scheme, environmental noise can be designed out. The current noise control policies and actions, undertaken at a source–medium–receiver level, present a linearity with minimum sustainability co-benefits. A circular approach in noise control strategies and in soundscape design could offer numerous ecologically related co-benefits. The global literature documenting the advantages of the implementation of circular economy in cities has highlighted noise mitigation as a given benefit. Research involving circular economy actions such as urban green infrastructure, green walls, sustainable mobility systems and electro-mobility has acknowledged reduced noise levels as a major circularity outcome. In this research paper, we highlight the necessity of a circularity and bioeconomy approach in noise control. To this end, a preliminary experimental noise modeling study was conducted to showcase the acoustic benefits of green walls and electric vehicles in a medium-sized urban area of a Mediterranean island. The results indicate a noise level reduction at 4 dB(A) when simulating the introduction of urban circular development actions. Full article
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15 pages, 2670 KiB  
Article
Music Literacy and Soundscape Perception: A Study Based on the Soundwalk Method of Soundscapes
by Baoqing Song, Chenyu Gong, Yicheng Gao, Yue Ke, Zehua Wang, Ruichong Lin and Yunji Cai
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(14), 8471; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19148471 - 11 Jul 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2309
Abstract
To explore a method of promoting college aesthetic education through campus environments, the Aesthetic Education Center of the Beijing Institute of Technology Zhuhai (BITZH-AEC) used the soundwalk method of soundscapes to carry out an experiment on students’ soundscape perceptions on campus. Half of [...] Read more.
To explore a method of promoting college aesthetic education through campus environments, the Aesthetic Education Center of the Beijing Institute of Technology Zhuhai (BITZH-AEC) used the soundwalk method of soundscapes to carry out an experiment on students’ soundscape perceptions on campus. Half of the students who participated in the experiment (n = 42) had musical instrument learning experience and musical literacy. The research work used conventional statistical analysis methods and “Soundscapy”, newly developed by the British soundscape research team, to process the experimental data. It was found that the soundscape perception evaluation of students with musical literacy was different from that of ordinary students. This included a difference in the overall evaluation of the three experimental areas and a difference in the degree of dispersion of the soundscape evaluation of all six experimental areas. The study also found that there was no correlation between the acoustic noise level and the students’ evaluations of soundscape perception. BITZH-AEC proposes that aesthetic educators should pay attention to the idea of inspiring students to stimulate cultural imagination through soundscape perception. Full article
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26 pages, 4797 KiB  
Article
Assessing the Soundscape Appropriateness in the Vicinity of a Heliport in an Urban Park of Quito (Ecuador) Using Immersive Audio-Visual Scenarios
by Virginia Puyana-Romero, José Luis Cueto, Ismael Sebastián Caizapasto-Sánchez and Gabriel Eduardo Marcillo-Calispa
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2022, 19(10), 6116; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19106116 - 18 May 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2134
Abstract
Heliports are facilities that play a fundamental role in security and emergency operations. Since rotorcrafts do not need much space for take-off and landing, heliports are normally immersed in the urban fabric of our cities. However, they generate high noise levels, which can [...] Read more.
Heliports are facilities that play a fundamental role in security and emergency operations. Since rotorcrafts do not need much space for take-off and landing, heliports are normally immersed in the urban fabric of our cities. However, they generate high noise levels, which can cause a nuisance, especially in outdoor areas intended for the recreation of citizens. This paper studies how helicopter noise affects the perception of the soundscape appropriateness and landscape quality in the vicinity of a heliport located in an urban park, using semantic differential scales and appraisals on the noise sources. The study area was the “Parque del Bicentenario” in Quito, Ecuador. Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) laboratory tests using 360-degree videos and spatial audio were preferred to on-site questionnaires, given the difficulty of predicting when helicopter noise events would occur. For the statistical analysis, objective acoustic and psychoacoustic parameters have also been considered. Results show that the soundscape is perceived as more pleasant and less chaotic when there is no helicopter noise. Furthermore, with the same visual stimuli, the appraisals of the landscape are much better in the scenarios without the helicopter noise. Sharpness is the psychoacoustic parameter that best explains the variance of the subjective variables evaluated. Full article
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