UNDerstanding the INfluence of man-made structures on the Ecosystem functions of the North Sea (UNDINE)

Abstract: Offshore man-made structures are rapidly expanding in the North Sea. Whereas artificial structures such as oil and gas rigs and ship wrecks have long been present, this expansion is nowadays mainly due to the construction of offshore wind farms. The introduced hard substrates host a fauna that is fundamentally different from the naturally occurring soft sediments that dominate the North Sea ecosystem. These offshore structures hence induce changes in biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Knowledge on the magnitude of these effects is indispensable to assess the impact at the ecosystem level, but is currently lacking.

UNDINE will evaluate (i) the ecological impact of man-made structures on trophic functioning and (ii) potential changes in connectivity by man-made structures using dispersion models validated by genetic population structure. Trophic functioning and connectivity are considered key issues as man-made structures start proliferating in the marine environment. They necessitate the extrapolation of artificial hard substrate effects from local to regional scales, all of which will be tackled by UNDINE. This research will synthesize and integrate state of the art knowledge to understand ecosystem structure and functioning. This will be useful for a sustainable management of North Sea ecosystems, especially in relation to hard substrate habitats. Additionally, UNDINE will identify knowledge gaps and provide scientific recommendations for future research priorities.

UNDINE will use offshore wind farms and data from other man-made structures in order to understand the ecological impact of man-made structures. Particularly, the high amount of high-quality data from offshore wind farms monitoring programmes will be of use here. UNDINE’s approach of combining different datasets will ensure its outcomes to be transferable to a more generic man-made structure effect context.

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