SIU prof leads citizen-science project to listen to nature during eclipse
Shhh…just listen. Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will bend an ear toward nature this spring in conjunction with the total solar eclipse that will darken the area for a few minutes on April 8.
Brent Pease, assistant professor in the forestry program, is partnering with the Eclipse Soundscapes project. The citizen-science effort at SIU, part of a larger NASA grant to another agency, will use volunteers to strategically place 100 sound recording instruments around the area to listen in on nature before, during and after the total solar eclipse.
The project aims to help scientists understand how animals and insects react to the sudden loss of light, which might also expand their understanding of animal sensory systems, Pease said. The project will serve as a model for using multi-sensory scientific observation and data-collection techniques in which observers are asked to use all senses available to them.
“By using this approach, not only do we learn about new ways of data collection, but we expand the accessibility of science to groups who would otherwise be unable to participate with visual activities alone,” Pease said. “Eclipses provide a rare opportunity to advance ecological research by studying how wildlife communication and behavior respond to sudden, dramatic changes in natural stimuli.”
The eclipse begins at 12:43 p.m. April 8, reaching totality at 1:59 p.m. Carbondale once again is on the centerline of the path of totality, which will last 4 minutes and 9 seconds – nearly twice as long as the area’s previous total solar eclipse in 2017.
The sun will begin to reappear from behind the moon at 2:03:24 p.m. It will take about 90 minutes for the moon to fully clear the sun.
Pease also runs another nature listening project called Sounds of Nature, a citizen-science, community research project aimed at understanding changes in biodiversity over time by studying soundscapes.
“Listening to nature is a promising approach to learn about the health of an ecosystem across time and space, and with new technology, is something that all of us can do,” Pease said.
SIU part of larger effort
The overall Eclipse Soundscapes effort will involve 400 recording devices, with SIU deploying a quarter of those. The sound recorders run on three AA batteries and have an onboard computer that stores sound recordings on an SD card.
Pease said he expects to mail out SIU’s 100 sound-recording devices in March and that volunteers will deploy them in their backyards and natural areas in Southern Illinois and beyond. Researchers can program the recorders to switch on at specific times, and Pease said researchers plan to run the recorders to collect sound files 24 hours a day for five days straight, beginning two days before the eclipse.
“The first two days of recording will serve as a baseline, with the total eclipse being the action,” Pease said. “The following two days of recording will be used as a marker for return to normalcy.”
The geographic target area for the effort is anywhere within the path of totality in the Midwest, but volunteers will also place a few recording devices outside of the path to measure how the effects of eclipse darkness dissipate as one moves away from the centerline.
Much like finding the right channel, researchers will pay attention to certain channels – or frequencies – with the recorders.
“Vocalizing critters tend to separate themselves by the sound frequency at which they communicate,” Pease said. “We will focus on targeted frequency bands, tracking how activity in those bands changes as we enter into the total eclipse.”
One of the most ubiquitous sounds associated with the outdoors, of course, is noisy insects such as crickets and cicadas. Their penchant for waiting until dark to begin singing is something of particular interest to scientists in relation to the eclipse.
“Crickets, for example, become more active at twilight and into the night,” Pease said. “We’re wondering if they might begin chirping as if it were nighttime when we approach and enter totality.”
A NASA SCoPE grant is funding the overall effort, with SIU getting about $20,000 for its part in the project. The one-year project grant will pay for a project/volunteer manager to oversee the personnel involved and conduct the analysis.