Standards for Underwater Noise Measurement

The measurement of underwater noise levels in the marine environment is a topic of increasing importance, driven by the concern that there are increasing numbers of anthropogenic noise sources in oceans and the effects of the radiated underwater noise on marine fauna. There is also a need to perform underwater noise measurements to conform to international, national, and local regulatory requirements.

There can be substantial variation in the methods used to measure underwater noise, and the metrics used for reporting the noise levels can vary depending on the application, which can result in ambiguity.

Recognising the need for standardization of underwater noise measurement, work is being carried out under the auspices of the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO), within ISO Technical Committee 43, Sub-committee 3 (ISO TC43 SC3) which has the title “Underwater Acoustics”. Within ISO TC3 SC3, there are currently two active working groups (WG), of direct relevance to underwater noise measurement, with the following remits:

WG1:     Measurement of underwater sound from ships;

WG3:     Measurement of radiated noise from marine pile driving.

A third working group, WG2: Underwater acoustical terminology, is developing definitions that include concepts and quantities in underwater noise.

As a parallel activity, but independent to that of ISO TC43 SC3, a Good Practice Guide for Underwater Noise Measurement has been produced by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), United Kingdom, describing best practice for in-situ measurement of underwater noise, data processing, and reporting of the measurements using appropriate metrics.

This Guide addresses the need for a common approach and the desire to promote best practice. It is designed for those making in-situ measurements of underwater noise, for example, consultants, offshore developers, oil and gas companies, and developers of marine renewable energy, as well as regulators wishing to base their findings on a firm scientific foundation.

A copy of this Good Practice Guide can be downloaded here:


The work to prepare this Good Practice Guide was funded by National Measurement Office (an executive agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Marine Scotland, and The Crown Estate.

Other guidance documents relating to the measurement and reporting of underwater noise are:

M. A. Ainslie, “Standard for measurement and monitoring of underwater noise, Part I: physical quantities and their units,” TNO Report TNO-DV 2011 C235 (2011).

C. A. F. de Jong, M. A. Ainslie, and G.  Blacquière, “Standard for measurement and monitoring of underwater noise, Part II: procedures for measuring underwater noise in connection with offshore wind farm licensing,” TNO Report TNO-DV 2011 C251 (2011).

A. Müller and C. Zerbs, “Offshore wind farms - Measuring instruction for underwater sound monitoring,” Application instructions for Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie, Germany, October 2011.

Published standards of relevance to underwater noise measurement also include:

ANSI/ASA S12.64-2009/Part 1, 2009, Quantities and Procedures for Description and Measurement of Underwater Sound from Ships - Part 1: General Requirements, American National Standard Institute, USA, 2009.

ANSI/ASA S1.20-2012, Procedures for Calibration of Underwater Electroacoustic Transducers, American National Standard Institute, USA, 2012.

IEC 61260:1995, Electroacoustics - Octave-band and fractional-octave-band filters, International Electrotechnical Commission, Geneva, Switzerland, 1996.

IEC 60565:2006, Underwater acoustics-Hydrophones - Calibration in the frequency range 0.01 Hz to 1 MHz, IEC 60565 - 2006 (EN 60565: 2007, BS60565:2007), International Electrotechnical Commission, Geneva, 2006.

IEC 60050:1994, International Electrotechnical Vocabulary, part 801: Acoustics and Electroacoustics, (section 801-32 covers terms for underwater acoustics), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Geneva, 1994.

ISO1996-1:2006, Acoustics – Description, measurement and assessment of environmental noise – Part 1: Basic quantities and assessment procedures. International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, 2006.

ISO 80000-8:2007, Quantities and units – part 8: Acoustics, International Organization for Standardisation, Geneva, 2007.

ISO/TR 25417:2007, Acoustics — Definitions of basic quantities and terms. International Organization for Standardisation (ISO), Geneva, 2007.

ISO/PAS 17208-1:2012, Acoustics — Quantities and procedures for description and measurement of underwater sound from ships. Part 1: General requirements for measurements in deep water, International Organization for Standardisation, Geneva, 2012.

JCGM 100:2008, Evaluation of measurement data – Guide to the Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement (GUM), joint publication by BIPM, IEC, IFCC, ILAC, ISO, IUPAC, IUPAP and OIML, 2008. Available from www.bipm.org.