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Less noise means a better life

The Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) uses data and models from swisstopo to map noise pollution in Switzerland. It also projects future noise levels and formulates specific noise abatement strategies.

10.06.2020 | DKW

Christine Badertscher

There are excessive noise levels in some parts of Switzerland: during the day every seventh person, and at night every eighth person, is exposed to harmful or disturbing traffic noise, despite major efforts to combat it.

Under the heading of “Noise” on the website the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) publishes a variety of noise pollution maps. These include road traffic noise at various times of day and night, as well as noise attributable to trains, helicopters and aircraft. The maps show that there is a clear concentration of noise in our towns and cities, which is where more than 90 percent of the people exposed to noise pollution live.

What exactly is measured, and how?

A database called sonBASE was developed in order to measure noise pollution. With the aid of a geoinformation system it can be used for modelling, estimating and visualising noise pollution throughout Switzerland. Andreas Catillaz, deputy section head at the FOEN, explains what is required for this purpose: “We possess a large quantity of georeferenced data from various federal administration units, railway companies and engineering offices, which we have amalgamated and fed into the database. Both the quantity and the quality of the available data will continue to increase in the future.”

The results have been used to produce a raster map with a pixel resolution of ten by ten metres, as well as to estimate noise pollution levels at specified points on the façades of all buildings during the day (from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and at night (from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). A nationwide calculation of rail, road and aircraft noise is carried out every four to five years. 

Christine Badertscher

Noise data for the whole of Switzerland

For its calculations the FOEN uses the following datasets and models from swisstopo: the swissALTI3D height model, the swissTLM3D topographic landscape model and the swissBUILDINGS3D dataset. “Because the federal government collects and manages these data, they are available in homogeneous form for the entire country. This is a major benefit for us and greatly simplifies our task. It also significantly reduces our costs and workload,” explains Andreas Catillaz.

30 km/h speed limit is an effective measure

What can be done to combat noise? Structural measures in the form of noise prevention barriers are labour intensive and costly, and are not always sufficiently effective. But suppressing noise at its source is a measure that works: for example, road design, low-noise surfaces, quiet tyres and lower speed limits. If a speed limit of 30 km/h is applied instead of 50 km/h, noise levels are reduced by around 3 decibels. This is equivalent to halving the volume of traffic.

Acoustic design of towns and cities

The noise data collected by the FOEN can be used not only for reducing noise levels, but also for supporting the acoustic design of towns and cities, which is gaining rapidly in importance. The reference here is to the “urban sound” that results from the acoustic properties of materials used for streets, façades, buildings and design elements. The towns and cities of the future should not only look good, they should also “sound” good. 

20th anniversary of COGIS (Coordination of Geoinformation and Services)

The COGIS (Coordination of Geoinformation and Services) Division commenced operation on 1 January 2000. Its mandate: to secure coordination in the field of geoinformation so that it would not be necessary for each federal office and each canton to develop its own infrastructure. Under the influence of COGIS, swisstopo was transformed from a producer of geodata into a service centre whose products and services can benefit the entire population. One of the products COGIS created is the “” geoportal, which offers a diverse and comprehensive range of attractive services for everyone.

Further information about COGIS
Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
+41 58 469 01 11


Relevant authority

Communication and Web

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern


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