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Homeland Security Listening to Boats in Hudson River

Monitoring the daily ship traffic of a busy waterway like the Hudson River isn't an easy task for the Department of Homeland Security. The biggest ships are required to carry an Automatic Identification System that broadcasts information about their identity and location, but boats weighing less than 300 tons are often an invisible security risk.

Alexander Sutin and a team of acoustics experts at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey are developing a system that tracks the traffic by listening to the noise it produces. On Wednesday, October 28, they will present experimental data demonstrating the technology's ability to pick out and classify the sound of each boat in the throng at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) in San Antonio, TX.

As part of research conducted in the Center for Secure and Resilient Maritime Commerce (CSR), the national DHS Center of Excellence for Marine, Island and Port Security, Sutin and his team placed several underwater microphones ("hydrophones") in the Hudson River. These microphones recorded the din of engine and propeller noise produced by the ships above. They developed a computer algorithm that isolated each individual boat's sound and tracked its location based on how long the sound took to travel to each microphone.

The group was also able to classify each ship based on signature characteristics in its noise. Video cameras at the surface confirmed the accuracy of their technique.

"Classification parameters can be used like fingerprints to identify to identify what class a ship is," says Sutin.

The propellers of slow-moving boats like barges, for example, generate low-frequency modulation, while fast-moving speedboats produce high-frequency modulation. The team used special analysis techniques for extracting high-frequency modulation using low frequencies.

The team hopes to develop a database that keeps track of every individual ship's identity to assist various agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, with their missions.

The talk "Cross correlation of ship noise for water traffic monitoring" (3aUW7) by Laurent Fillinger is at 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday, October 28.


The talk "Passive acoustic classification of vessels in the Hudson River" (3aUW9) by Michael Zucker is at 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, October 28.



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ASA's World Wide Press Room ( contains additional tips on dozens of newsworthy stories and lay-language papers, which are ~500-word summaries of presentations written by scientists for a general audience and accompanied by photos, audio, and video.


We will grant free registration to credentialed full-time journalists and professional freelance journalists working on assignment for major news outlets. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, please contact Jason Bardi (, 301-209-3091), who can also help to set with setting up interviews and obtaining images, sound clips, or background information.


The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science of technology of sound. Its 7,500 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world's leading journal on acoustics), Acoustics Today magazine, books and standards on acoustics. The society also holds two major scientific meetings each year. For more information about ASA, visit our website at

Devin Powell | Newswise Science News
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