In the North Sea the presence of man-made structures (MMS), such as oil platforms, has greatly expanded. This research project will examine whether there has been an impact on the abundance, distribution and seasonal timing of the plankton community in the Greater North Sea. Plankton lie at the base of the marine food web and as such they initiate and sustain all marine ecosystems - many commercially important organisms such as fish are dependent upon them.
The plankton community is made up of both plant (phyto) plankton and animal (zoo) plankton, some of which spend their entire life cycle in the plankton community (holoplankton). The remainder only spend a short part of their life as plankton, these are known as meroplankton, and examples of these are crabs, lobster, barnacles and starfish. As plankton generally grow and reproduce at a rapid rate, their high population turnover can be useful when looking at impacts on the community as a whole. For example, plankton are known to respond rapidly to climate change.
This study will use data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey, run by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS), based in Plymouth. SAHFOS has an archive of plankton abundance covering the entire North Sea (and beyond) extending back many decades, and will use information from almost 63,000 samples collected from the study area. The research will focus on trying to identify whether MMS have had an impact on the plankton community, and will use statistical methods to remove environmental signals from plankton time series, and compare this from areas where MMS are absent.