The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has named Simone Baumann-Pickering, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, as a recipient of its Young Investigator Program (YIP) for this year. The YIP is one of the oldest and most selective scientific research advancement programs in the country.
Each awardee receives up to $170,000 annually over a three-year period to conduct his or her research.
Baumann-Pickering will use passive acoustic recorders to capture changes of the soundscape throughout all layers of the sea. Concurrent active acoustics will document the presence of animals in these layers. She aims to improve the understanding of how soundscapes can be a measure for species composition and density, how animal density may shape sound propagation, and how sound can be used to interpret species interactions.
“More work is needed to understand the details of how all these sounds are used and how they affect the relationship between predator and prey,” said Baumann-Pickering.
She hopes the results of her research will help the Navy with its ability to predict and quantify the impact of training exercises on marine mammals and to help it monitor animal presence and density. Understanding the relationship between the intensity of acoustic backscatter and ambient sound will be relevant to the U.S. Navy sonar community.
“These recipients demonstrate the type of visionary, multidisciplinary thought that helps the U.S. Navy anticipate and adapt to a dynamic battlespace,” said Larry Schuette, ONR’s director of research of the proposals that were selected this year. “Simone Baumann-Pickering has established herself as a rising star in the field. This YIP demonstrates her innovative approach to research by devising a unique combination of acoustic backscatter of prey species and ambient noise measurements to develop predictive models of cetacean presence.”
Baumann-Pickering was selected from among the 300 applicants to the YIP this year. Each awardee will receive funding for laboratory equipment, graduate student stipends and scholarships, and other expenses related to the research.
In the long term, Baumann-Pickering hopes more knowledge about the use of sound by marine organisms and the impact of noise on marine life will lead to policy changes related to marine conservation.
“All of our efforts will be futile if the end result doesn’t lead to mitigation and use of behavioral ecology in a broader conservation framework,” she explained.
Baumann-Pickering began her work in animal acoustics when she studied bat echolocation in undergraduate and post-graduate programs.
“Initially, I only wanted to continue studying echolocation in the marine environment. I have expanded my interest substantially since, using acoustic tools to observe behavioral interactions in the ocean and to understand the ecological context driving these behaviors,” she said.
The YIP began in 1985 and includes 656 recipients. These recipients have created breakthroughs in nanoscience, fiber-laser systems, ultrafast optoelectric devices—such as solar cells, and more.