Photo of a pile driving platform working on a bridge in Washington State.
Pile driving is a commonly used in coastal and offshore construction. Pile driving produces high sound pressure levels in both the surrounding air and underwater environment. Image credit: Stéphane Charette; Wikimedia.

Click either choice below to hear impact pile driving (using a drop hammer):
 
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Underwater sound recording of impact pile driving with a drop hammer (i.e., a gravity driven pile driver). Sounds were measured using a calibrated reference hydrophone at a distance of 10m from the pile.
Sound credit: JASCO Applied Sciences, www.jasco.com. Note: this sound has not been released under a creative commons license.
Click either choice below to hear vibratory pile driving:
 
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Underwater sound recording of vibratory pile driving. Sounds were measured using a calibrated reference hydrophone at a distance of 10m from the pile.
Sound credit: JASCO Applied Sciences, www.jasco.com. Note: this sound has not been released under a creative commons license.
Click either choice below to hear impact pile driving (using a diesel impact hammer):
 
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Underwater sound recording for impact pile driving of 36” diameter prestressed concrete pile with a diesel impact hammer. Sounds were recorded in 2006 at at the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal in Washington State. Sounds were recorded via hydrophone at a depth approximately 1m above the seabed. Recording distance was 50 m (horizontal range), the water depth at the pile was 7.5 m, and the water depth at the recorder recorder was approximately 20 m.
Sound credit: JASCO Applied Sciences, www.jasco.com. Note: this sound has not been released under a creative commons license.
Description
Pile driving is commonly used in the construction of foundations for docks, bridges, wind turbines, and offshore oil and gas platforms. The most common technique of pile driving is impact pile driving. With this method, a heavy weight is lifted and dropped against the top of a pile (a wood, steel, or reinforced concrete, pole), driving it into the substrate. The blows are delivered at approximately 1 s intervals. Depending on the size of the hammer, sediment properties, and the required penetration depth of the pile, it usually takes several hours to drive 1 pile into the substrate.

Vibratory pile driving is commonly used to install small piles and/or may be used to initially drive a larger pile. Here, vibratory hammers sit on top of the pile, and a series of oscillating weights continuously transfer vertical vibrations into the pile at a specific frequency. These vertical vibrations cause the sediment surrounding the pile to liquefy, allowing the pile to penetrate the substrate. Vibratory hammers are available with several different vibration rates, ranging from about 1200-2400 vibrations per minute. The vibration rate chosen is influenced by soil conditions at the site. Vibratory hammers operate continuously.

Pile driving produces high sound pressure levels in both the surrounding air and underwater environment. Sound levels vary substantially, and the size of the hammer, diameter of the pile, as well as properties of the seafloor, influence the source level and frequency of the signals generated. During impact pile driving, sound from the hammer striking the pile radiates into the air and a pulse propagates down the length of the pile and into the substrate as well as the surrounding waters. The majority of energy in pile impact pulses is at frequencies below 500 Hz. Near source (within 10m of the pile driving activities) peak sound pressure levels range up to 220 underwater dB[1], or perhaps even higher.

Vibratory pile driving produces a continuous sound with peak pressures lower than those observed in pulses generated by impact pile driving. Sound signals generated by vibratory pile driving usually consist of a low fundamental frequency, from 20-40 Hz. Average, near source, peak sound pressure levels range from 165-185 underwater dB. Sound or vibrations generated by pile driving may also be transferred via the substrate and emerge at some distance from the source.

Impact pile driving produces a loud, impulse sound that can propagate through the water and substrate. The underwater sound pressure levels caused by pile driving can be harmful to marine animals[2][3][4][5]. The probability of impact are situational and vary with pile type, impact energy, exposure type, duration, site characteristics, and species’ auditory characteristics.
 
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References

  1. Reyff, J. 2012, "Underwater Sounds From Unattenuated and Attenuated Marine Pile Driving." The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Volume 730, 2012, pp 439-444. 
  2. Halvorsen, M. B., Casper, B. M, Woodley, C. M., Carlson, T. J., and Popper, A. N. 2012, "Threshold for onset of injury in Chinook salmon from exposure to impulsive pile driving sounds." PLoS ONE, 7(6) e38968. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038968. (Link)
  3. Halvorsen, M. B., Casper, B. C., Matthews, F., Carlson, T. J., and Popper, A. N. 2012, "Effects of exposure to pile driving sounds on the lake sturgeon, Nile tilapia, and hogchoker." Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 279, 4705-4714 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.154. 
  4. Halvorsen, M.B., Casper, B.M., Woodley, C.M., Carlson, T.J., and Popper, A.N. 2011, "Predicting and mitigating hydroacoustic impacts on fish from pile installations." NCHRP Research Results Digest 363, Project 25-28, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. (Link)
  5. Casper, B. C., Popper, A. N., Matthews, F., Carlson, T. J., and Halvorsen, M. B. 2012, "Recovery of barotrauma injuries in Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha from exposure to pile driving sound." PLoS ONE, 7(6): e39593. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039593. 
  • Caltrans Report. 2009, "Final Technical Guidance for Assessment & Mitigation of the Hydroacoustic Effects of Pile Driving on Fish." Prepared by ICF Jones & Stokes and Illingworth & Rodkin, Inc. for: California Department of Transportation. 298p. 
  • Gedamke, J., and A. R. Scholik-Scholomer. 2011, "Overview and Summary of Recent Research into the Potential Effects of Pile Driving on Cetaceans." (Link)
  • Hawkins, A.D. and A.N. Popper. 2012, "Effects of Noise on Fish, Fisheries, and Invertebrates in the U.S. Atlantic and Arctic from Energy Industry Sound-Generating Activities." Published by U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. 
  • Matuschek, R.; Betke, K. 2009, "Measurements of Construction Noise During Pile Driving of Offshore Research Platforms and Wind Farms." (pp. 4), Institut fur Technische. 
  • Michael A. Ainslie, Christ A.F. de Jong, Stephen P. Robinson, and Paul A. Lepper. 2012, "What is the Source Level of Pile-Driving Noise in Water?" The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Volume 730, 2012, pp 445-448. 
  • P. T. Madsen, M. Wahlberg, J. Tougaard, K. Lucke, and P. Tyack. 2006, "Wind turbine underwater noise and marine mammals: implications of current knowledge and data needs." Marine Ecology Progress Series. 309: 279–295. 
  • Popper A.N., and Hastings, M.C. 2009, "The effects of anthropogenic sources of sounds on fishes." Journal of Fish Biology. 25, 455-489.