The Australian Acoustic Observatory (A2O) is a continental-scale acoustic sensor network, designed to collect data over five years from 90 sites across seven different Australian ecoregions. The A2O is futuristic and… well, kind of hard to explain.
“It’s not actually the traditional sort of scientific project where you say, ‘hey, we’ve got a question – let’s try and answer that question’,” says Professor David Watson, of Charles Sturt University, who’s one of the A2O’s five chief investigator managers.
“We call it an observatory … because it’s borrowing the astronomers’ use of the word and that is: ‘Hey, we’ve all got questions. So let’s all pool our money. Let’s get a big grant. Let’s buy some big kit. And let’s all address our questions with that kit.’”
Watson says that only now, three years in to the project, are the wider possibilities for research from the A2O starting to be revealed. He thinks that, just as GIS (geographical information systems) took many years to develop “as a whole way of doing spatial science”, that it’s going to take “decades, decades” for all manner of scientists to realise the possibilities of sound data. “That’s where we are now,” he says. “I get like three emails a day from people who say, ‘hey, I want to do this’.” To which he responds: “If you really want to do that, you’re going to need to work out how to do it because no one has.”
- Listen to the observatory data through the Acoustic Observatory portal here.
This research story is also featured as the cover story in Cosmos Magazine issue 92, which went on sale on Thursday 2 September 2021.
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Ian Connellan is editor-in-chief of the Royal Institution of Australia.
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