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Undersea Hyperb Med. 2001 Spring;28(1):9-18.

Recreational scuba divers' aversion to low-frequency underwater sound.

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  • 1Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory, Groton, CT 06349-5900, USA.


Increasing use of active low-frequency sonar by submarines and ships raises the risk of accidental exposure of recreational divers to low-frequency underwater sound (LFS). This study aimed to characterize the subjective responses of recreational scuba divers to LFS to ascertain the extent to which LFS may impact their enjoyment, comfort, or time spent underwater. Seventeen male and nine female recreational scuba divers participated. Diving was conducted in an acoustically transparent tank located within a larger anechoic pool. Subjects wore scuba gear and were positioned I m below the surface in a prone position. The sound transducer was located 4 m directly below the diver's head. Sound exposures consisted of three signal types (pure tone, 30 Hz hyperbolic sweep up, and 30 Hz hyperbolic sweep down) each presented at six center frequencies from 100 to 500 Hz and six sound pressure levels(SPL) ranging from 130 to 157 dB re 1 microPa. The duration of each sound exposure was 7 s. Subjects responded via an underwater console to rate aversion to LFS on a category-ratio scale, and to indicate the presence or absence of vibration of any body part. Aversion to LFS and the percent incidence of vibration increased as the SPL increased. The percent incidence of vibration decreased linearly with increasing frequency. At the highest SPL the probability that an aversion rating would exceed Very Severe (7 on the category-ratio scale) was predicted to be 19%. There was no significant difference in aversion among signal types. The 100 Hz frequency was the most aversive frequency (P < 0.05). A plot of aversion vs. frequency showed a U-shaped function with minimum aversion at 250 Hz. In conclusion, diver aversion to LFS is dependent upon SPL and center frequency. The highest aversion rating was given for 100 Hz, this frequency corresponded with the greatest probability of detecting vibration. Factors other than vibration seem to account for aversion to the highest frequencies. Our data suggest that LFS exposures up to 145 dB re 1 microPa at frequencies between 100 and 500 Hz will have minimal impact on the recreational diver.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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