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The Deepest Silence: In Search of the World’s Quietest Places

Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park

Whether you live in a sleepy country town or a bustling metropolis, there’s a good chance that your modern life is saturated by an immense variety of sounds: the beeping of smartphones, the buzzing of electrical wires, the drone of air and highway traffic, the constant voices on television, radio, and social media. Sometimes it feels as if quiet is truly extinct in the 21st century.

Yet, that’s not exactly true. There are a few pockets of golden silence left to be found in this world of ours–many of them are natural enclaves of quiet. Others are human-made, designed to study both the physics of sound and the effects of pure silence on the human mind, body, and spirit.

This article takes a look at some of these hushed havens and examines what such caverns of quiet can teach us about our own living and working environment.

Naturally Noiseless

Hoh Rain Forest
Hoh Rain Forest

You don’t have to be an acoustic engineer toiling away in some state-of-the-art laboratory to find silence so deep it nearly takes your breath away. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most remote regions of the world are credited with having some of the quietest noise environments. This includes the continent of Antarctica, which has yet to be permanently inhabited by humans, though the increasing presence of researchers and adventure tourists does not render even this distant and unforgiving land immune to the sounds of human activity.

Researchers have found other pockets of intense natural quiet much closer to home, though they’re also in the least inhabited and most environmentally protected regions where such sanctuaries of silence are to be found. In North America, for example, there are the Canadian Grasslands National Park, the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington state, Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, California’s Kelso Dunes, and Hawaii’s Haleakala National Park, to name only a few.

Kelso Dunes
Kelso Dunes

What unites these diverse spaces is that they are shielded from ambient noise both through the natural features of the landscape and as a result of human initiative. Most of these quiet sites rest in national parks and other protected zones where air, road, and rail traffic are limited if not wholly prohibited. Many are surrounded by nature’s own unique acoustic barriers, from sand dunes to cliff fronts to lush forests, each of which serves in their own ways to absorb or scatter sound waves.

Natural sound environments like these embody what architects and acoustic engineers are putting into practice in built spaces as well, an architecture of sound in which the physical space muffles and filters unwanted noise while amplifying the sounds that are pleasant and soothing. In these spaces, you don’t hear the disquieting sounds of planes and automobiles. You don’t get the echo and reverberation of human voices.

Instead, you hear the sounds of nature: the gentle flow of water, the soft rustle of wind-swept trees, and the melody of bird song. Natural soundscapes offer more than just a quiet spot to hear yourself think. They are soundscapes that offer respite and restoration for the mind and body, a reality that humans have long intuited and that science is now increasingly able to demonstrate as fact.

Researchers have found, for instance, that exposure to the various sounds of nature in national parks decreases stress hormone levels and reduces the risk of anxiety and depression (1, 2, 3). Nature sounds don’t just enhance humans’ psychological well-being: they’re also associated with improved physical health, including boosting immune function, accelerating healing, decreasing pain, and reducing one’s risk of developing dementia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other serious conditions (4, 5, 6, 7).

The Sound of You

As important as exposure to nature sounds seems to be, there’s another, perhaps unexpected benefit, in wrapping yourself in the quiet of nature. In the stillness of the forest, the desert, or the seaside, you can, at last, hear your mind and body speaking. You will become more cognizant of both the flow and tenor of your thoughts and of the rhythms of your own body. You’re likely to begin to hear the beating of your own heart, the rush of blood through your veins, and the whoosh of air through your lungs.

That’s the kind of sensory awareness on which the healing science of biofeedback is based (8, 9). Biofeedback takes many forms, but fundamentally these variations are all based on the fact that learning to recognize and interpret bodily signs leads to an enhanced ability to control physiological and psychological functioning. Many of us walk around in a chronic state of hyperarousal, never really noticing the pounding of our hearts, the speed and shallowness of our breath, and the relentless churning of our anxious thoughts.

In the quiet of nature, you can’t help but confront all of these signs. It’s harder to ignore or discount the audible signs of the stress that your mind and your body are under. It’s also easier to regain control, to quiet the mind and body by aligning your breathing and your thoughts to the slow rhythm of the whispering wind and babbling brook.

Silence in the City

While isolated landscapes and protected national parks may offer a ready refuge from the cacophony of life, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a quiet place to escape in even the most populated metropolises. Indeed, researchers have found that some of the world’s oldest and most visited cities are also among the quietest. Cities such as Portland, Oregon, Zurich, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany have won acclaim for their quiet, with municipal leaders taking active measures to reduce noise pollution from human sources, such as transportation and manufacturing.

Indeed, as government leaders, city planners, architects, and environmental engineers come to appreciate the profound impact of the cityscape on human health, they’re redoubling their efforts to install greenscapes in the heart of the city (10, 11, 12). While these urban greenspaces may not be able to duplicate the sound environment of the world’s quietest enclaves, they can offer a respite, mitigating the physiological and psychological harms associated with prolonged noise exposure.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Quiet Rooms

While the wondrous power of silence can be found in some of the most beautiful and remote natural landscapes on Earth, the two quietest places in the world weren’t made by nature but by humans. The runner-up in the silence sweepstakes can be found in the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, which clocks in at an astonishing -9.4 decibels of ambient sound and where normal speech sounds muffled.

The Orfield chamber is a rock concert in comparison to the newly-crowned champion in the world’s quietest contest. The recently-constructed underground anechoic chamber in Building 87 at Microsoft’s Richmond, Washington headquarters has set the world record for silence at -20 decibels. It’s a sound environment that few can tolerate for very long, bringing new meaning to the old axiom that silence is deafening. In Microsoft’s quiet room, the grinding of bones, joints, and muscles in motion can be heard. Swallowing is incredibly loud, and you can hear the blood coursing through your veins, eyes moving in their socket, and even the sound of other people breathing across the room.

Anechoic chambers like those in Washington and Minnesota are more than just a scientific curiosity. They also provide invaluable insight into the complex relationship between humans and their sound environment, including the strong connection between ambient sound and human neurobiology. Auditory stimuli, for instance, can not only have a life-or-death impact on hospitalized patients, but it can also shape the overall quality of life for neurotypical and, in particular, for neurodiverse persons.

For example, those with sensory processing disorders may find themselves under duress and unable to function in sound environments that neurotypical persons might find ordinary or even inviting. Understanding how the soundscapes of both built and natural environments impact sensory processing, cognition, and neurobiological functioning is critical in creating spaces that are safe, healthy, comfortable, and utilitarian.

How FSorb Can Help

At FSorb, we are proud to offer a broad, innovative inventory of customizable acoustic solutions. Our eco-friendly and responsibly-sourced acoustic panels, clouds, and baffles are available in a wide variety of styles and colors, and our custom sound treatments are featured in schools, hospitals, government buildings, offices, hospitality projects and manufacturing facilities around the world. Reach out to your local FSorb representative today to discuss how we can help you turn your next project into a true sanctuary of quiet for your clients.



At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.

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