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Passive Acoustic Data

Passive acoustic monitoring is a powerful observational tool that NOAA uses to detect and characterize sounds produced by fish and marine mammals, ambient noise from physical oceanographic processes, and anthropogenic noise sources that contribute to the overall ocean noise environment. NCEI established an archive for passive acoustic data to support the stewardship of these valuable data collected by NOAA line offices and partners. The archive staff developed PassivePacker, a data packaging tool to facilitate passive acoustic data submissions to the archive. 

Humpback Whale

Credit: National Marine Sanctuaries

Access Methods

Contact to download the full database or for additional questions.

Passive Acoustic Data Map

Use the Passive Acoustic Data Map to search, discover, and request archived data. 

Launch Interactive Map

Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

Access data from a Google Cloud Platform Bucket.

Access Data

Sanctuary Soundscape Monitoring Project (SanctSound) Portal

Learn about and explore data products from SanctSound.

Launch Portal

Data Citation

Individual Datasets

Each dataset has a unique citation, which is provided within each project's ReadMe file in the archive’s GCP bucket.

Complete Archive

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. 2017. Passive Acoustic Data Collection. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. [Access date]. 

Data Submission

To submit data to the archive, contact Data submitted to the archive are “packaged” using PassivePacker, a data packaging and metadata gathering software tool. This archive accepts data from stationary marine, mobile marine, and terrestrial platforms.


NOAA, academia, industry, and the international community use passive acoustic data to inform scientific research and management needs, such as monitoring and protecting marine mammal populations, monitoring geological activity, and assessing impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine life. The archive currently hosts free, globally-accessible, raw audio files and data products.

NCEI Passive Acoustic Data archive staff supported the NOAA-Navy Sanctuary Soundscape Monitoring Project (SanctSound) through stewarding its hundreds of raw audio files and data products as well as the development of the project’s new educational and interactive portal.

Contact Us 

Additional Resources

Passive Acoustic Sources

There are three main sources of sound in the ocean: physical (green), biological (blue), and human-made (orange).Credit: NOAA NEFSC Passive Acoustic Research Group

Passive Acoustic Capture Instruments

Caption: A wide range of technology is used to record underwater sound. Credit: NOAA NEFSC Passive Acoustic Research Group


NCEI established the Passive Acoustic Data archive in partnership with NOAA Fisheries and the University of Colorado. NCEI, NOAA Fisheries, National Ocean Service (NOS) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the U.S. Navy, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the National Park Service, and academia collaborate to grow this archive.

Introduction to the Archive

Passive acoustic monitoring is a powerful observational tool that NOAA and its partners use to detect and characterize sounds produced by fish and marine mammals, ambient noise from physical oceanographic processes, and anthropogenic noise sources that contribute to the overall ocean noise environment. The NOAA NCEI Passive Acoustic Data Archive was established in 2017 to support the stewardship of the valuable data NOAA line offices and partners collect.

This page describes the recommendations for the passive acoustic community on formatting, metadata, and submitting passive acoustic data to the NCEI archive.

Data and File Formatting

The archive accepts audio files and derived data products.

Audio Files

File Format

  • Need to be in a standard format, such as .wav, .aif., and .mp3. Raw or proprietary file formats such as .dat are not accepted 
  • To save space, it is recommended to flac the files. Note that there are limitations in the number of channels that the flac compression can accommodate and flac does not provide any additional compression for .mp3 formats. If you have x.wav files, ensure that the tag -keep-foreign-metadata is used.

File Naming Conventions

  • Include the deployment and timestamp to the highest resolution
    • Example
      • Kingman_A_01_111110_211500.df20.x.flac where Kingman_A_01 is the site and deployment and 111110_211500 is the timestamp in yymmdd_hhmmss format

Derived Products

Sound Level Metrics

Adapted from Wall et al, 2021: Standardized soundscape measurement routines and metrics are essential for comparing datasets across large spatio-temporal scales. Best practices, particularly for deriving ambient sound level statistics from long time series data, have been implemented across several projects (Haver et al., 2018; Heaney et al., 2020; Martin et al., 2021). These practices are driven by established international standards in acoustic terminology [International Organization for Standardization (ISO), 2017; Ainslie et al., 2018]. Recommendations from multiple international workshops focused on long-term trends in ambient sound level measurements have centered on the use of decidecade bands, also known as one-third octaves, with an averaging window of 1 m (International Whaling Commission et al., 2014; Consortium for Ocean Leadership, 2018; International Quiet Ocean Experiment, 2020). These parameters reflect the minimum acceptable resolution, with higher resolution spectral (1 Hz bands) and temporal (1-s averages) parameters desired when feasible. See Table 1 in Miksis-Olds et al., 2021 for a summary of these community recommendations. These minimum recommendations balance the amount of information available for comparison with limitations to process and store large datasets (Martin et al., 2021). 

Recently, a hybrid millidecade spectra has been proposed to quantify ambient sound levels (Martin et al., 2021; Miksis-Olds et al., 2021). This new approach has not been applied widely across projects, but it could provide a meaningful metric that captures many sources of sound contributing to the soundscape with greater resolution than decidecade, particularly for low frequencies, and offer greater volume compression compared to straight 1 Hz bands. Temporal analysis windows of 1 day to 1 month are noted as the minimum recommendation for establishing long-term (monthly, seasonal, and annual) statistics of the ambient sound levels with desirable analysis windows as short as 1 h (International Quiet Ocean Experiment, 2020). Following these guidelines, the SanctSound project has established hourly decidecade bands created from 1-s observations as one of the standardized metrics calculated across all project sites to enable comparative analysis. Similarly, ADEON has established 1-s decidecade bands as one of the standardized metrics calculated across all the ADEON recording sites.

Following the operationalization of MANTA software (Miksis-Olds et al., 2021), the IOOS DMAC project Passive Acoustic Monitoring National Cyberinfrastructure Center (SoundCoop) has established 1-min hybrid millidecade bands as the standardized metric calculated across all the SoundCoop case study sites.

  • File format
    • Recommended file formats are netCDF and CSV with netCDF most preferred. 
    • See example here of a netCDF file containing hybrid millidecade spectra.
  • File naming convention
    • Include the project, sound metric, deployment ID, and timestamp 
    • Example
      • ONMS_SB01_20220613_67678214.1.48000_20220615_DAILY_MILLIDEC_MinRes, which follows the format Project_Site_DeploymentID_SerialNum.ChannelNum.SampleRate_YYYYMMDD_SoundMetric


The sound source targeted for detection will largely drive the methodology used to extract that signal. Characteristics of the signal such as frequency range and temporal duration need to be considered in that analysis. The desire to document presence/absence over a specific time period (for example, 1 hour or 1 day) or capture finer resolution event detection will further define the methods. DeAngelis et al., (2022) provides a good reference for comparing presence/absence of different detection types for multiple marine mammal species.

  • File format
    • See example here of a CSV containing detection of North Atlantic right whale upcalls
  • File naming convention 
    • Include the project, deployment ID, and detected sound
    • Examples
      • SanctSound_CI01_01_vessel

Sound Propagation Models

  • File format
    • The recommended file format is netCDF 
    • See example here of a netCDF containing sound propagation model results
    • If you have a different format, please contact to ensure it can be archived
  • File naming convention
    • Include as much descriptive information as possible
    • Example
      • where SD is the source depth, SL is the source level, and FQ is the frequency

Sound Clips

  • File format
    • See formatting requirements noted under Audio
    • See examples here of sound clip wav files
  • File naming conventions
    • Include the deployment, timestamp, and ideally also the sound(s) that the clip is highlighting
    • Example
      • SanctSound_MB01_04_bluewhaleAcall_20200124T031012Z_8xSpeed.wav


The graphic above depicts the key metadata components necessary to properly describe passive acoustic data and the stage of the data collection process that they are typically obtained. These metadata fields span high level project description to platform type to details on the hydrophone, preamplifier, and sampling details.

It is critical to have calibration information for the recording system. At a minimum, manufacturer specifications for the hydrophone must be provided. Additional lab-based calibration pre- and/or post-deployment are preferred. Check out the Atlantic Deepwater Ecosystem Observatory Network (ADEON) Calibration and Deployment Good Practices Document for additional community-developed information on these topics.

In addition to the above project and deployment metadata, data products must also include information about the analysis time period, frequency range, processing method description, protocol references, software name(s) and version(s), and, if applicable, species name.

See below for example metadata landing pages and associated ISO 19115-2 compliant XML records for various archived datasets:

Audio Files

Derived Products

Sound Level Metrics


Sound Propagation Model

The content outlined in the Metadata and Documentation section directly aligns with the fields found in the NCEI PassivePacker, a data packaging and metadata gathering software tool the archive team developed to simplify data submission preparation for passive acoustic data. It is required to use PassivePacker to prepare data for submission to NCEI.

Detailed guidance on how to use PassivePacker can be found in the web-hosted manual.

A Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is a unique and persistent string of characters to identify a digital dataset.

A Data Citation is a unique and persistent set of text used to reference the dataset and includes the DOI.

DOI weblinks resolve to the corresponding dataset overview that contains informative metadata such as data access points, time, location, dataset description, key personnel, and documentation. 

DOI Minting and Data Citations for datasets are completed by the NCEI passive acoustic archive team at a project- or dataset-level. The resolution of the citations are based on the needs of the data provider constrained by the NCEI passive acoustic archive practices, and are determined through discussions between the data provider and the NCEI passive acoustic archive team. 

The citation for the entire NCEI passive acoustic data archive is as follows: 

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. 2017. Passive Acoustic Data Collection. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. access date 

This is an example of a project-level citation: 

NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and U.S Navy. 2020. SanctSound Raw Passive Acoustic Data. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. [access date].

Lastly, here is an example of a dataset-level citation: 

NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and U.S Navy. 2021. Sound Pressure Spectral Density at 1 Hertz and 1 Hour Resolution Recorded at SanctSound Site CI01_02, SanctSound Data Products. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. [access date].

Getting Data Ready

Before submitting data to passive packer, make sure that they are cleared for public release, calibrated, in standard audio formats, and saved in FLAC files before packaging.
Prior to data being readied for submission to NCEI, we will establish an agreement with the data provider to ensure both parties understand the data and the process. See PassivePacker for more information. 

Anticipate that all data will be made publicly available and thus need to be cleared for public release, if collected in an area or time of concern. It is possible for data submitted to the archive to be held from public accessibility for a pre-agreed upon amount of time but must still comply with open-access policies.

Ways to Send Data

  • NCEI is not able to accept data sent on internal hard drives. Please ensure that only external hard drives from well known manufacturers are used to submit large volumes of data to NCEI.
  • Processes to share data over the cloud to NCEI are still being developed and aren’t a guaranteed transfer pathway.

Communicate with Our Team

It is important to notify the NCEI passive acoustic archive team ( if you plan to submit data to the archive. This will allow us to plan appropriately, ensure your datasets are within scope, and offer help to streamline the process.

Audio files and data products in the NCEI Passive Acoustic Data Archive are discoverable in the archive’s dedicated data portal.

Filtering for just SanctSound, and further narrowed the results to show just the sound clip products. Expanding the Sound Clips list, allows the user to see the names of the 8 dataset names for the region in the Northeast constrained by the geographical range added. Clicking on the SB02_06 deployment dataset results in a window to pop up with detailed information associated with that dataset.

Data can be accessed from the archive by the two Request Data options listed. Request Data from NCEI results in a dialog box where you enter your name, organization, and email. The archive team is then notified of the requested datasets. The team will notify the requestor when the data are posted on ftp. This process is asynchronous. The Access Data from Google takes the user directly to the archive’s cloud-hosted copy on GCP. Data can be accessed immediately from this platform.