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Flinders University Wind Farm Noise Study

Especially regarding what I observed as an experimental subject during the sleep part of the study

My impression is that this study is flawed because it makes much of very unpleasant sounds that I have never heard in my long experience with wind farms. The unrealistic sounds were in the 'listening tests' that were conducted every evening. With one possible minor exception I didn't hear them during the periods set aside for sleep. I am concerned that hearing the unpleasant sounds associated with wind turbine sounds night after night would predispose the subjects to believe that wind turbines produce unpleasant sounds.

As I understand it the study is 'meant to' assess the impact of wind turbine noise on people's sleeping and therefor on their health. It is 'meant to' compare wind farm noise with more common noises, such as from traffic. I suppose that traffic noise is used as something common with which to compare the wind turbine noise.

The 'live-in' study that my wife and I took part in was only one of the later parts of a longer (five year?) study of wind farms, noise, sleep and health. The study got underway through then Prime Minister Tony Abbott's obsessive support of the coal industry and concomitant opposition to renewable energy.

This page was started 2020/03/14, last edited 2020/07/27
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©





The author of this page has no link to the wind power industry other than a belief that we must replace fossil fuel energy with renewable energy if we are to avoid great damage to our shared planet.

Background

Is the study justified?
Will Australians get value for money?
Are there better ways of spending millions of dollars on research?
Is the study credible or is it flawed?

This study is flawed

As discussed below this study is biased by its linking with wind turbines sounds that are very rarely, if ever, heard from wind turbines in the real world.

There are far greater sources of environmental noise that could be targeted

As discussed below there are far more harmful and widespread sources of environmental noise than wind turbines, yet the Flinders University study is not interested in them.

Political background

The Federal Liberal Parliamentary Party have been supportive of the fossil fuel industry to the point of obsession and consequently opposed to renewable energy for many years. Prime Minister Abbott was particularly corrupt (or ignorant), having gone on record as claiming that "climate change is crap" and "coal is good for humanity". He did as much as he could to slow the introduction of wind and solar power including abolishing the carbon tax, reducing the Renewable Energy Target and trying to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). His government provided finance for studies (such as the Flinders University one) that he hoped would show that wind turbines harmed people's health. The Morrison Government's Energy Minister Angus Taylor, with his demonstrated hatred of wind power, continued where PM Abbott left off.

The result of all this is that Australia, with huge untapped renewable energy resources, continues to be one of the worst per-capita producers of greenhouse gasses, and one of the slowest in the world to act on minimising climate change. Shamefully, Australia was ranked second last of 177 countries for 'climate action' by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in 2020.

Ethical implications

How ethical is it for a university to accept funding from a corrupt government to help them in their fight against the renewable energy that we must have if our children and grandchildren are to have a world to live in that is not greatly damaged by climate change? And or course there are ethical implications from any flawed study.

A far better use for the money

Professor Petrovsky, also of Flinders University, "was given funding by US National Institute of Health (NIH) in 2004 to develop a vaccine for the virus SARS, a close cousin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19." An article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Liam Mannix, 2020/04/11, stated that Professor Petrovsky needed only US$1.5 million to finish his vaccine project, but the money supply was stopped. (The article mentioned three potential vaccines that had their funding cut.)

Quoting the SMH article: '“If these vaccine trials had gone ahead – and they looked good – we would have felt in much better shape now,” said Professor Peter Doherty, an immunologist and Nobel laureate.'

Aus$5 million is being spent in an attempt to find a tenuous link between wind turbines and sleep problems in a very few people while a fraction of that money could have helped get a vaccine up months earlier for COVID-19 and quite possibly save hundreds of thousands of lives.

 
This section added 2020/08/19

Neglect of Flinders Vaccine research continues

The Morrison government is continuing to refuse adequate funding to the Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Professor Petrovsky at Flinders University. This is in spite of the vaccine looking promising and, at the time of writing, being well into stage one human trials. I've written in more detail on this subject in a piece in my page on the Morrison government.

A run-down on vaccines in development in Australia is given in an RMIT 'Vaccine progress report'.

 
A view of the Snowtown Wind Farm
Looking south
The Snowtown Wind Farm is one of many near my home in Mid-North South Australia and one of a great many that I have visited.
 
Turbines of Clements Gap Wind Farm
Drone photo
I visited this spot, where a public road comes within about 100m of a turbine on 2020/03/21 to remind myself of what real sounds come from wind turbines, following taking part in the Flinders University Wind Farm Sleep Study.
Clements Gap Wind Farm is the closest to Crystal Brook.


There have been a number of claims that wind farms adversely and directly impact people's health, but none of these have been substantiated. Wind turbines make sound, noise if you like, and sound can impact people's sleep.

Whether or not a particular sound will impact a particular person's sleep depends greatly on how that person is disposed to the source of the sound. People who are opposed to wind power and wind farms are more likely to find the sounds from wind turbines annoying and therefor more likely to adversely affect their sleep quality and quantity.

My background

I am convinced that climate change and ocean acidification are impending disasters. The World Health Organisation has estimated that air pollution, much of it from the burning of fossil fuels, causes seven million deaths each year. We need to urgently move towards greatly reducing the burning of fossil fuels and convert to emissions-free energy generation if the world our children inherit from us is not to be greatly damaged. Consequently I am strongly in favour of wind power.

As of 2020 I have visited, or at least got close to, every wind farm in South Australia, many of those in Victoria and a few in NSW and WA.

Wind farm sounds

The sounds that one hears from a wind farm are:
  • When close:
    • A 'swish, swish' as the turbine blades pass by;
    • There may be a quieter sound from the gearbox (if one is present);
    • The sound of cooling fans in the electrical equipment at the base of the turbine if there is a particularly low wind or no wind.
    • A quiet 'whirring' sound when machinery in the turbine nacelle turns the turbine head to face the changing direction of the wind.
  • From a greater distance:
    • A very quiet 'roar' or continual 'shwoosh' from the combined sounds of a number of turbines. This will probably only be audible at all in low to moderate winds; if there is a high wind the sound of the wind in nearby vegetation will most likely drown-out the turbines sounds. Noise from any road traffic closer than the turbines will also drown-out turbine sounds.

      At a distance of several times the spacing between turbines it becomes difficult or impossible to separate the sound of one turbine from all the others.
I recall hearing just one night a sound that I thought could be due to water in one or more of the hollow blades of a turbine 'sloshing' from one end to the other as the rotor turned. The sound was audible only when the rotor turned slowly, I ascribed its absence at higher speeds to centrifugal force keeping the water at the outer end of the blade. (See Sleeping under wind turbines; Starfish Hill Wind Farm.)

In what would be well over a hundred visits to various wind farms over a 16 year period I have not heard sounds anything like a particular sound that featured heavily in a part of the wind farm study (the nightly so-called 'listening tests' and its variant 'reading test').

I have written at some length about wind turbine noise on another page on this site.






The sleep study

My wife and I took part, as subjects in the university laboratories, in the Flinders University Wind Farm Sleep Study from 2020/03/10 to 2020/03/18.

The study involved we subjects listening to many 'recordings' of sounds from wind farms, from road traffic and elsewhere. Some of the recording were included in 'listening tests' and some were played at low levels while participants slept. The 'listening tests' involved us listening to a number of recorded sounds over a period of about 45 minutes and adjusting the volume of the sound to a level low enough to not disturb our sleep.

Many readings were taken of neurological and bodily functions during the many tests and through the whole of the night.

I need to say that the staff and students involved in 'wiring us up' and going about the regular testing evening, night and morning were very kind and helpful.



Disturbance to sleep durning the night

My wife and I were allowed to go to sleep at about the times we stated were our usual times, and we were allowed to finally wake in the morning when it suited us.

Some sounds were played at times through all but the first night. While I was at times aware of some of these sounds, I don't recall being actually fully awoken by any of these (it is possible that I was partly awoken, but not enough for me to be fully aware that a sound had disturbed my sleep). Nor do I recall finding it difficult to get back to sleep due to sounds on any of the occasions I awoke through the night.

The above is my recollection of my perceptions at the time. The record from my brain activity in relation to the sounds being played may well show a somewhat different picture.

My wife tells me that she doesn't recall being woken by a sound, but she thinks that sometimes there were sounds that made it somewhat difficult to get back to sleep.

I should add that I don't recall, with the possible exception of once in the second night of the test, hearing during sleep the 'drumming' sound that featured so strongly during the 'listening tests' and discussed below.




The flaws in the sleep study

Main flaw

 

Recording

In regard to sound recordings I've sometimes placed the word recording in parentheses, because I'm not convinced that the sounds were recorded rather than being fabricated.
 

What was the origin of the 'drumming' sound?

After the my involvement in the live-in part of the sleep study I twice asked Professor Peter Catcheside, one of the principle researchers, where I might be able to go to hear the 'drumming' sound that is so prominent in the study 'recordings'. He did not tell me.

Room mode

Acousticians (specialists in sound) sometimes speak of 'room modes', which are sounds that happen to match and be amplified by the natural resonant frequency of a particular room. (While I have slept in several rooms near wind turbines I have never heard them.) Is it possible that the 'drumming' sound so commonly played during the 'listening tests' is a recording of a rarely heard 'room mode' sound?
 

Sound files

While at the University I asked for a copy of a representative group of the sound files used in the 'listening tests'. I was given four files, but when I attempted to play them on my computer there was only silence.

Of course I would like to have a copy of the sound files because, without that, I only have my notes and recollection of the sounds that were played to me during the study. Am I being paranoid in thinking that the files might be changed now that I have complained about what seems to me to be misrepresentation of wind farm noise?

A high proportion of the 'recorded' wind farm sounds that were played during the 'listening tests' each evening included, with the typical and characteristic 'swishing' sound of wind turbines, a very unpleasant noise that I have never heard at a wind farm and that I find difficult to describe. I've called it a 'drumming' sound, although I'm not very happy with that name.

Other comparison sounds, such as traffic sounds, were played during the 'listening tests'. It was the frequent association of the unpleasant 'drumming' sound with wind farm sounds that, it seems to me, is likely to bias subjects' impressions, and the results, against wind farms.

The best description I can think of for the 'drumming' sound in the sleep study is what you would expect from a base drum that is made to vibrate by something hitting it somewhere around 30 times per second. Other similar sounds would be the 'thumping' sound from a helicopter or the engine brakes of a truck, although, of course, the pitch of the sound from engine brakes decreases as the truck slows and it goes on for only a few seconds. The 'drumming' sound in the 'recordings' had a pitch that didn't vary.

Our heads were wired-up with transducers for electroencephalographic recordings and our chests for cardiovascular recordings during the 'listening tests'. It would be very interesting to know the results of these recordings at the time of the playback of the highly unrealistic 'wind farm sounds'.

I seem to recall that, at least sometimes, the intensity of the 'drumming' sound rose and fell with the volume of the characteristic wind turbine 'swishing' sound.

I have visited dozens of wind farms on hundreds of occasions and I have never heard a sound remotely like the 'drumming' in the Flinders University study.

I kept a record of the types of sounds I heard during the later of the 'listening tests'; during the first (and second?) 'listening test' I was simply shocked at hearing such sounds supposedly associated with wind turbine sounds. As an indication of how commonly the 'drumming' sound was included in the sounds heard during the sleep study I've given here a summary of my notes taken on the evening of 2020/03/13. Of a total of ten sounds, each of which lasted three minutes:

  • Three included quite distinct and unpleasant drumming, one other included slight drumming;
  • One was the typical 'swishing' sound that anyone can hear when visiting a wind farm;
  • One might have been described as a low 'rumbling' (the sounds coming from many turbines, so lacking any dominance from one or two nearby turbines);
  • One was 'swishing' with the background sound made up by a number of, presumably, more distant turbines;
  • Two were of traffic noises;
  • One was of a very quiet, short, beep, beep, beep which continued for the whole three minutes of the sound bite (I can't imagine its relevance to the study).
An earlier 'listening test' included what sounded like a wind turbine with squeaking bearings. I've never heard this, but believe there was a problem with squeaking bearings in some of the Cape Bridgewater turbines about 2014.

Between the 'drumming' and the squeaking bearings one cannot help getting the impression that the person or people in charge of this investigation went to great lengths to find unpleasant noises from wind turbines, when I would have thought they should be looking for typical wind turbines sounds.

I have summarised other 'listening tests' in the appendix.




False impression

It should be a matter of great concern to any honest person that all the participants in the sleep study, by taking part in the 'listening tests', are getting the impression that unpleasant sounds from wind turbines are typical, when in fact, if they occur at all, they are very rare; I can honestly say that I do not recall ever hearing what I would call an unpleasant sound from a wind turbine.

When, while a participant in the study, I voiced my grave concerns about the validity of many of the sound bites in the 'listening tests' I was asked to not make public statements of my concerns because it might produce preconceptions in future participants that would then impact the results of the trial.

Surely the sound 'recordings' that participants are hearing, of sounds that are never heard in the field, are already corrupting the trial.



Minor flaw

During sleeping on the second night sound-bites were played periodically. Some of them were associated with wind farms, some not. I felt that it was not at all a realistic simulation of living near wind turbines because the sounds started suddenly out of complete silence and ran for a short while and then complete silence was back. Of course if a sound starts suddenly at night one is likely to be startled out of sleep. In the real world any perceived sound from wind turbines would be likely to vary only gradually in volume as the direction and strength of the wind changed.




Wind turbine noise in perspective

Wind turbine manufacturers go to great lengths to make turbines as quiet as possible.

On the other hand many people buy motorbikes that are much more noisy than they need to be, others get their motorbikes and cars modified to increase the amount of noise they make.

Many people damage their hearing by going to rock concerts and playing very loud 'music' in their cars, homes and through their earphones.

Other man-made noises in the modern environment that are far louder than wind turbines but get less attention are from airports, railway lines and road traffic. Even the sound in a car travelling on a highway is hundreds of times louder than the sounds from a wind turbine at the distance of the closest houses.

Wind turbine noise is usually barely audible at the distance of the nearest houses, often inaudible. It is true that wind turbine sounds might annoy a few people; traffic sounds annoy a great many people. Wind turbine sounds are minimised, traffic sounds are quite intentionally more noisy than they need to be and rock concerts are damaging the hearing of many of our younger people.

Yet our (fossil fuel obsessed) federal government is providing many millions of dollars to fund studies like this one. Surely the money and the researcher's time would be better spent if it was on studies of the harm that is quite definitely being done to people's hearing and the annoyance from vehicles that have been intentionally modified to increase the environmental noise that we all have to put up with.

We need renewable energy if we are to limit the disaster of climate change, we don't need noisy vehicles or levels of 'music' that damage people's hearing.






My recommendation

To the people who participated as subjects in the Flinders University study, those who might be considering taking part, and to the honest and kind people who helped in the day-to-day running of the study

Don't make up you mind about the sounds made by wind turbines by listening to the 'recorded' wind farm sounds of the Flinders University study.

I have described the sounds that one hears when visiting or sleeping at a wind farm above, but please don't take my word for it, as I have written elsewhere on these pages, visit a wind farm and listen for yourself.



Wind farm sound samples from the Internet

The following are a few samples of wind farm noise recorded on the Internet. I cannot attest to the accuracy or otherwise of the samples, but unlike many of the sounds I heard during the sleep study they sound realistic to me. The links below were from the first three listings (other than advertisements) that came up on an Internet search from Google Chrome for "what does a wind turbine sound like?".

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3

Interestingly, at the time of writing (2020/03/19), the second of these was used by the anti-wind-power organisation, Wind-Watch in an attempt to show 'how bad' wind turbine noise is.

None of these showed the very unpleasant 'drumming' sound that was so prominent in the Flinders University study. I'm sure Wind-Watch would love to pretend that any of the many unpleasant sound samples that my wife and I heard at Flinders University was a normal wind turbine sound.




Speculation

Speculation on motives

Why would the researchers bias a study toward finding an adverse result for wind farm health impacts? I can only speculate.

The researchers may have allowed themselves to become persuaded that there is some sort of health impact from wind turbines by listening to many anecdotal accounts from people who have deceived themselves into believing that they have been adversely impacted by turbines. (Perhaps some people have genuinely had some sleep disturbance from wind turbines, but much of the belief in illness caused by wind turbines seems to be a form of epidemic hysteria.) Having been convinced that it is real the researchers are determined to discover evidence in support of their conviction.

Notoriety in the science world from being early in publishing the 'link' would also be attractive.

Obtaining research funding is a continuing and very competitive battle for universities. The Abbott Government made these funds available for a university willing to try to find fault with wind turbines, Flinders grabbed the opportunity.



How things have changed!

 
First Dog On The Moon's self diagnosis Windfarm syndrome check list
Cartoon
Image credit: First Dog on the Moon
As was recorded in the First Dog on the Moon cartoon on the right (click on it to view it full size), back in around 2010 more than 150 symptoms or problems had been attributed to wind turbines.

By 2020 there was very little of this nonsense remaining. One remnant was this Flinders University study financed by the Abbott government (using poor long-suffering taxpayers' money of course) in a last desperate attempt to find some problems with wind turbines.

The Flinders University study was not trying to find any medical ailment in man, animal or plant, but was using five million dollars provided by the strongly pro-fossil-fuel Abbott government in an effort to find some loss of sleep quality in a few people who lived near wind farms, due to the sounds coming from the turbines.

There seems no limit to the lengths that wind power opponents will go to in an effort to slow the introduction of wind turbines and other forms of sustainable energy generation.

Opposing the development of all forms of renewable energy is, in effect, to support the fossil fuel industries and the enormous harm that they are doing to our shared planet. I have argued on another page that to dishonestly oppose the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy is a crime against, not only humanity, but against the whole biosphere.






Appendix

Appendix 1
Listening tests

The early listening tests shocked me because the sounds that I was hearing did not correspond at all with the sounds that I remembered from my many visits to wind farms. From the evening of 13th March I kept very short notes of the types of sounds that were played to me. As I was trying to honestly take part in the tests I kept the notes very short; it would have been good to have made more detailed notes. For one thing I was, at the time, in no doubt that the 'drumming' sounds were associated with wind turbine sounds, but in many cases I didn't write that in my notes.

As I recall, the drumming sound was associated with the 'swish, swish' sound typical of wind turbines at close range, with the 'thumps' of the drumming sound coming at the rate of perhaps 30 times per second within each of the 'swishes'.

During the 'listening tests' participants wore headphones and were requested to adjust the volume of the sounds to a level that they thought they would be able to sleep with and then, as I recall, rate how annoying they found each of the sounds. (I was unable to record the sounds from the headphones in my mobile phone.)


The listening test of 13th March is summarised in the 'Main flaw' section, above. It is given in full, as I recorded it at the time, below:

  1. Drumming sound
  2. Swishing
  3. Drumming
  4. Traffic
  5. Traffic
  6. Low rumble (many more distant swishing turbines)
  7. Drumming
  8. Minor drumming
  9. Beeping?!
  10. Swishing/rumbling


Listening test of the evening of 14th March

There were a total of 16, 3 minute sound bites. (In my detailing of the listening tests I have included the first, trial, sound with the others.)

Summary:

  • Four featured strong drumming;
  • One featured pulsating drumming;
  • Five others included some level of drumming;
  • Several seemed to be recordings of turbines from a distance, a low and continuous 'shwoosh', individual turbine sounds could not be made out;
As I recorded it at the time:
  1. Rumble, realistic
  2. Low level drumming, no swish, unrealistic
  3. Roar, realistic, many distant turbines
  4. Drumming, unrealistic
  5. Drumming
  6. Drumming
  7. Drumming, unlike any Windfarm/turbine I’ve ever heard
  8. Roar, distant turbines?, trace of drumming
  9. Low drumming, part roar
  10. Roar, realistic?
  11. Pulsating drumming, unrealistic
  12. Roar with drumming
  13. Roar, minor drumming
  14. Roar of many distant turbines, realistic
  15. Same as the last
  16. Similar again
I didn't note any 'swishing' sounds at all in this listening test. An unbiased listener will notice the swishing sound predominating on any up close visit to a wind turbine, but the sounds of individual turbines will blend together to produce a low and fairly continuous 'shwoosh' or possibly roaring sound at a distance.

Listening test of the evening of 15th March

48 short sounds at the computer. I could hear nothing at all in over half of them. Of the remainder, all were quiet or very quiet; a few traffic, a few the typical 'shwoosh' of a number of turbines together, a very few of the typical swish-swish turbine sound, one or two with possible minor drumming.

Listening test of the evening of 16th March

The notes I took on hearing the sound bites are given below:
  1. 'Shwoosh' (continuous), strong drumming
  2. 'Shwoosh', minor drumming
  3. 'Shwoosh', strong drumming
  4. 'Shwoosh', moderate drumming
  5. 'Shwoosh', moderate drumming
  6. 'Shwoosh', pulsating strong drumming dominating
  7. Traffic
  8. Traffic and pulsating drumming, little 'shwoosh'
  9. Strong drumming, 'shwoosh'
  10. Traffic and drumming
  11. Traffic
  12. 'Shwoosh', traffic, minor drumming
  13. 'Shwoosh', trace of drumming?
  14. Traffic





Appendix 2
Differences between individuals

This page is largely about my experience with the in-house part of the Flinders University Wind Farm Sleep Study, so my hearing is of some significance.

I have significant hearing loss in the low frequencies especially in my left ear. However, as attenuation removes most high frequency sounds at distances of more than a few hundred metres this seems to have little relevance to the wind farm noise of this study.

It also seems, from one of the tests during the study, that I am relatively insensitive to amplitude modulation and infrasound. Again, this is of little relevance to the subject of this page because the 'recorded' sounds that I am writing about were clearly audible to me and I would expect would be clearly audible to anyone.

H G Leventhall, in a paper 'Low frequency noise and annoyance' published 2004 stated that about 2.5% of people are much more sensitive to low frequency noise than most of the population.






Related pages

External sites...

I can recommend the book Wind Turbine Syndrome, A Communicated Disease by Professor Simon Chapman and Doctor Fiona Crichton to anyone wanting to learn the facts. It is available in full at no charge from the Internet.

National Wind Farm Commissioner 2018 report to the Parliament of Australia (the most recent available as of March 2020). There were more complaints about proposed wind farms (95) than operating wind farms (65) in 2018.

ABC article on the Flinders University sleep study, written by Sara Garcia and dated 2018/01/25.

A list of Internet links relating to wind turbine noise

Prevalence of wind farm amplitude modulation at long-range residential locations; Kirsty Hansen, Phuc Nguyen, Branko Zajamšek, Peter Catcheside, Colin H.Hansen (abstract, full text available online for Aus$91)
  The Australian Wind Alliance' response to this study: Wind study full of holes. (There was an error in the AWA response regarding complaints received by the Wind Farm Commissioner, this error has since been corrected.)
  I believe that this study concerned Waterloo Wind Farm. My own experience with sound from this wind farm is very much at odds with the Hansen et.al. study.

On this site...

Wind turbine noise

Wind farm noise, my own experience

My experience from a number of nights sleeping under wind turbines

Wind power in Australia and wind power generally

Wind power opposition; very often ill-informed or simply dishonest

Wind turbines and health

Wind power lies