Impacts of seabed vibration on sediment structure and infaunal organisms

Research projects

  • Research area

    Environmental impact marine biology and aquaculture

  • Institution

    University of Hull

  • Research project

    Impacts of seabed vibration on sediment structure and infaunal organisms

  • Lead supervisor

    Dr Krysia Mazik (Lecturer in Marine Biology, University of Hull)

  • PhD Student

    Sophie Al-Mudallal

  • Supervisory Team

    Dr Thomas Breithaupt (Senior Lecturer - Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Hull)
    Professor Mike Elliott (Professor – Estuarine and Coastal Sciences, University of Hull)
    Dr Silvana Birchenough, CEFAS
    Industry support from Orsted and Subacoustech Environmental Ltd

Project Description:

Logo for CEFAS

Logo for Subacoustic Environmental

Coastal and shelf sea environments are characterised by high biodiversity and their disproportionately high contribution to marine ecosystem function and productivity. They are therefore highly vulnerable to anthropogenic activity. The projected scale of offshore windfarm development (the UK being a world leader) poses significant levels of physical disturbance to the seabed in the form of underwater sound and vibration arising from pile driving during construction and turbine vibration during operation. The impact of this is poorly understood yet could have far-reaching species and ecosystem level effects. For example, noise and vibration could have physiological effects on benthic development, affecting reproduction, larval settlement and recruitment, feeding regimes and species distribution. Whilst the water-borne acoustic effects of underwater sound on marine mammals and fish are currently the focus of much research, evidence pointing towards the effects of substrate-borne vibration is only just emerging (Roberts et al., 2015; Roberts & Elliott, 2017).

Research is particularly lacking in soft sediment habitats and the infaunal (sediment dwelling) organisms that live within or burrow through it, yet these are the most widespread on earth and play a key role in production, energy transfer, biogeochemical cycling and benthic-pelagic coupling – functions which form the basis of wider ecosystem processes and the provision of ecosystem services (e.g. fisheries).  Amaral et al. (2018) demonstrated that substrate-borne vibration from pile driving could be measured 3 km from the source of impact. Benthic (seabed-dwelling) invertebrates are highly sensitive to this vibration.

This study aims (for the first time) to understand the direct and indirect effects of seabed vibration on the behaviour, physiology (as short term, immediate responses) and growth (impacting on long-term fitness) of infaunal organisms such as polychaetes and bivalves; factors which ultimately influence reproductive capacity, recruitment success and overall contribution to ecosystem function (Solan et al., 2016). Indirect effects on biological responses will be determined in relation to vibration-induced changes to sediment structure (liquefaction and compaction), which may render the sediment unfavourable for burrowing and feeding behaviour.   Our results will inform offshore developers of potential impact management and mitigation strategies.

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