New Data Showing Memphis’ Aviation and Highway Noise Exposures

By Ryan Hanson

This week marks the first-time release of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Noise Map.  The new data is part of the ongoing National Transportation Atlas. The map shows sound footprints of the average 24-hour noise exposure from aviation and highway noise. The good news is more than 97% of the nation live in areas with an exposure of 50 decibels or lower. That is equivalent to a humming refrigerator. However, there are still areas where people are exposed to higher levels of noise.

The following map illustrates the sound exposure in the Memphis Area according to the new data. The greatest noise exposures are found at the Memphis International Airport and within the paths of its approaches and landings. There are a large number of residents exposed to more than 50 decibels and a small number exposed to over 60. Overall, most of Shelby County is exposed to low levels of daily noise from transportation, but keep in mind these are 24-hour average exposures and do not account for noise levels at peak times. 

It is also important to consider the impact of noise on health and quality of life. There have been a number of studies that found a negative association between environmental noise and myriad of health issues such mental disorders, cardiovascular disease, and childhood development to name a few. [1, 2]

The noise maps will be updated annually as part of the National Transportation Atlas, and it is planned to include additional transportation related noise such as rail and maritime sources with future releases. For more information visit the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Geospatial Homepage. [3]

Ryan Hanson is the GIS Services Programmer at the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis.


[1] Zaharna, M., & Guilleminault, C. (2010). Sleep, noise and health: Review. Noise and Health, 12(47), 64.

[2] Stansfeld, S., & Clark, C. (2015). Health Effects of Noise Exposure in Children. Current Environmental Health Reports, 2(2), 171–178.

[3] Home | Geospatial at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2017, from