Broadband spectra of seismic survey air-gun emissions, with reference to dolphin auditory thresholds

Pay-walled Journal Article 1998

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

Acoustic emissions from a 2120 cubic in. air-gun array were recorded through a towed hydrophone assembly during an oil industry 2-D seismic survey off the West Wales Coast of the British Isles. Recorded seismic pulses were sampled, calibrated, and analyzed post-survey to investigate power levels of the pulses in the band 200 Hz–22 kHz at 750-m, 1-km, 2.2-km, and 8-km range from source. At 750-m range from source, seismic pulse power at the 200-Hz end of the spectrum was 140 dB re: 1 μPa2/Hz, and at the 20-kHz end of the spectrum seismic pulse power was 90 dB re: 1 μPa2/Hz. Although the background noise levels of the seismic recordings were far in excess of ambient, due to the proximity of engine, propeller, and flow sources of the ship towing the hydrophone, seismic power dominated the entire recorded bandwidth of 200 Hz–22 kHz at ranges of up to 2 km from the air-gun source. Even at 8-km range seismic power was still clearly in excess of the high background noise levels up to 8 kHz. Acoustic observations of common dolphins during preceding seismic surveys suggest that these animals avoided the immediate vicinity of the air-gun array while firing was in progress, i.e., localized disturbance occurred during seismic surveying. Although a general pattern of localized disturbance is suggested, one specific observation revealed that common dolphins were able to tolerate the seismic pulses at 1-km range from the air-gun array. Given the high broadband seismic pulse power levels across the entire recorded bandwidth, and known auditory thresholds for several dolphin species, we consider such seismic emissions to be clearly audible to dolphins across a bandwidth of tens on kilohertz, and at least out to 8-km range.

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