The DISCLOSE project

DIstribution, StruCture and functioning of LOw-resilience seafloor communities and habitats of the Dutch North SEa
General project outline

Human activities are causing big changes to marine ecosystems worldwide. Ecosystems are directly affected by human activities like fishing, sand extraction and indirectly by sea level and temperature rises. The North Sea is home to a diverse range of habitats and species, but at the same time it’s one of the most used marine regions in the world. Some of these habitats and species are under threat from this intensive activity. DISCLOSE wants to provide more detailed information on the vulnerability of the various habitats and species in the North Sea. This can help to move towards the sustainable use of the North Sea. If we know more we can select suitable areas for conservation and determine effective management strategies.

Marine seabed habitats and communities are complex to study due to their large surfaces and the obvious water coverage. DISCLOSE therefore takes a multi-disciplinary approach, combining acoustic remote sensing data (TUD) with video imaging data (UG) and standard seabed sampling techniques (NIOZ), allowing detailed examination of the seabed at a large scale. DISCLOSE will then create maps detailing where precisely the different habitats on the North Sea bottom are. These maps will also specify areas where there is a lot of potential for rich communities to grow. Finally, the project will examine How vulnerable habitats are to disturbances, by addressing the following questions:

  • How are habitats defined by local physical and chemical conditions?
  • To what extent are habitats shaped by man-made disturbances?
  • How do natural and man-made disturbances jointly affect habitats?
  • What conditions are necessary for specific habitats to grow into rich communities?
In addition to the three research institutes, the North Sea Foundation is a partner in the DISCLOSE project. They will ensure societal relevance of the research questions, by creating a North Sea Community consisting of scientists, policy makers, NGOs and users of the North Sea. This community will meet twice a year to safeguard collaboration with other North Sea projects and be updated on DISCLOSE outcomes. The results generated by the DISCLOSE project will be made tangible to the wider public via an online interactive map, which visualizes the results.

Interconnection between the three sub-projects and The North Sea Foundation
DISCLOSE incorporates three research disciplines: Acoustic Habitat Mapping (TUD), Community Ecology (UG) and Seafloor Ecology (NIOZ). In line with these disciplines, the project consists of three strongly interlinked sub-projects. Each sub-project will lead to a PhD dissertation with related publications. The PhDs meet on a monthly basis to discuss their progress and collaboration. The interaction of the three sub-project and the role of the North Sea Foundation is schematically shown here.
Acoustic habitat mapping using backscatter data                                                     
Leo Koop, TUD
Reviewing incoming data from the Side ScanSonar
It is a challenge to map vast areas such as the North Sea in detail. Acoustic habitat mapping can be a solution. By sailing parallel patterns with a multibeam sonar, a large area of the seafloor can be mapped with resolutions of less than a meter. Developing new acoustic mapping techniques, using multibeam backscatter data, can provide information on bathymetry and sediment types. > Read more

(Image credit: © Juan Cuetos/OCEANA)

Predicting habitat distribution using environmental conditions and verification with video techniques
Karin van der Reijden, UG
Monitoring the TowCam
Seafloor habitat distribution is determined by various environmental conditions, of which the water depth and sediment type are presumed to have the largest effects. Local physical and chemical conditions, together with anthropogenic disturbances determine the distribution of habitats as well. Existing datasets of these conditions will be combined to predict small-scale habitat distribution. Predictions are verified with newly acquired underwater video footage. Produced high-resolution maps will be publicly shared in an online GIS application. > Read more

(Image credit: © Carlos Minguell/OCEANA)

Assessing stress resilience of seafloor communities using functional traits               
Sarah O’Flynn, NIOZ
Collecting specimen from sediment samples
Marine invertebrates living on and within seabed sediments (macrofauna) exhibit a variety of characteristics, or traits, which determine their role within seafloor communities and habitats. Examples are longevity, body size and reproduction strategy. These so-called functional traits can provide an indication of the tolerance of macrofauna to stress and disturbances. Resilience and recoverability of macrofauna can be assessed by exploring relationships between the macrofauna, environmental characteristics and man-made influences. > Read more

(Image credit: © Carlos Minguell/OCEANA)