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close this bookGuidelines for Community Noise (WHO, 1995, 95 p.)
close this folder2. Noise sources and their measurement
View the document2.1. Basic Aspects of Acoustical Measurements
View the document2.2. Sources of Noise
View the document2.3. The Complexity of Noise and Its Practical Implications
View the document2.4. Measurement Issues
View the document2.5. Source Characteristics and Sound Propagation
View the document2.6. Sound transmission Into and Within Buildings
View the document2.7. More Specialized Noise Measures
View the document2.8. Summary

2.5. Source Characteristics and Sound Propagation

To make a correct assessment of noise it is important to have some appreciation of the characteristics of environmental noise sources and of how sound propagates from them. One should consider the directionality of noise sources, the variability with time and the frequency content. If these are in some way unusual, the noise may be more disturbing than expected. The most common types of environmental noise sources are directional and include: road-traffic noise, aircraft noise, train noise, industrial noise and outdoor entertainment facilities (cf. section 2.2). All of these types of environmental noise are produced by multiple sources, which in many cases are moving. Thus, the characteristics of individual sources, as well as the characteristics of the combined sources, must be considered.

For example, we can consider the radiation of sound from individual vehicles, as well as from a line of vehicles on a particular road. Sound from an ideal point source (i.e. non-directional source) will spread out spherically and sound pressure levels would decrease 6 dB for each doubling of distance from the source. However, for a line of such sources, or for an integration over the complete pass-by of an individual moving source, the combined effect leads to sound that spreads cylindrically and to sound pressure levels that decrease at 3 dB per doubling of distance. Thus, there are distinct differences between the propagation of sound from an ideal point source and from moving sources. In practice one cannot adequately assess the noise from a fixed source with measurements at a single location; it is essential to measure in a number of directions from the source. If the single source is moving, it is necessary to measure over a complete pass-by, to account for sound variation with direction and time.

In most real situations this simple behaviour is considerably modified by reflections from the ground and from other nearby surfaces. One expects that when sound propagates over loose ground, such as grass, that some sound energy will be absorbed and sound pressure levels will actually decrease more rapidly with distance from the source. Although this is approximately true, the propagation of sound between sources and receivers close to the ground is much more complicated than this. The combination of direct and ground-reflected sound can combine in a complex manner which can lead to strong cancellations at some frequencies and not at others (Embleton & Piercy 1976). Even at quite short source-to-receiver distances, these complex interference effects can significantly modify the propagating sound. At larger distances (approximately 100 m or more), the propagation of sound will also be significantly affected by various atmospheric conditions. Temperature and wind gradients as well as atmospheric turbulence can have large effects on more distant sound pressure levels (Daigle et al. 1986). Temperature and wind gradients can cause propagating sound to curve either upwards or downwards, creating either areas of increased or decreased sound pressure levels at points quite distant from the source. Atmospheric turbulence can randomize sound so that the interference effects resulting from combinations of sound paths are reduced. Higher frequency sound is absorbed by air depending on the exact temperature and relative humidity of the air (Crocker & Price 1975; Ford 1987). Because there are many complex effects, it is not usually possible to accurately predict sound pressure levels at large distances from a source.

Using barriers or screens to block the direct path from the source to the receiver can reduce the propagation of sound. The attenuating effects of the screen are limited by sound energy that diffracts or bends around the screen. Screens are more effective at higher frequencies and when placed either close to the sound source or the receiver; they are less effective when placed far from the receiver. Although higher screens are better, in practice it is difficult to achieve more than about a 10 dB reduction. There should be no gaps in the screen and it must have an adequate mass per unit area. A long building can be an effective screen, but gaps between buildings will reduce the sound attenuation.

In some cases, it may be desirable to estimate environmental sound pressure levels using mathematical models implemented as computer programmes (House 1987). Such computer programmes must first model the characteristics of the source and then estimate the propagation of the sound from the source to some receiver point. Although such prediction schemes have several advantages, there will be some uncertainty as to the accuracy of the predicted sound pressure levels. Such models are particularly useful for road traffic noise and aircraft noise, because it is possible to create data bases of information describing particular sources. For more varied types of noise, such as industrial noise, it would be necessary to first characterize the noise sources. The models then sum up the effects of multiple sources and calculate how the sound will propagate to receiver points. Techniques for estimating sound propagation are improving and the accuracy of these models is also expected to improve. These models can be particularly useful for estimating the combined effect of a large number of sources over an extended period of time. For example, aircraft noise prediction models are typically used to predict average yearly noise exposures, based on the combination of aircraft events over a complete year. Such models can be applied to predict sound pressure level contours around airports for these average yearly conditions. This is of course much less expensive than measuring at many locations over a complete one year-period. However, such models can be quite complex, and require skilled users and accurate data bases. Because environmental noise prediction models are still developing, it is advisable to confirm predictions with measurements.