The studies constitute the culmination of the first phase of the INSITE Programme, the oil and gas industry-sponsored joint industry project (JIP).
Some 98.5 percent of the North Sea is characterised by a sandy and muddy seabed, in contrast to the greater proportion of hard substrate that existed in the past and is believed to have supported greater biodiversity of the marine ecology. Man-made structures such as offshore platforms and pipelines are thought to have a role in increasing biodiversity, but research on this has previously been limited.
The objectives of the JIP’s Foundation Phase have been focused on two areas. The first has sought to establish the spatial and temporal extent of the effects of man-made structures within the changing context of the North Sea ecosystem. The second has been focused on determining the extent of their connectivity through the provision of a large, inter-connected hard substrate or ‘reef’ system. The projects to date have focused on four key areas:
- Identification, collection, synthesis and analysis of available data
- Generation of new data
- Ecosystem model development, implementation and testing
- Modelling of species’ function and production within the North Sea ecosystem to inform the INSITE objectives.
The institutions who undertook the eight research projects as part of the £2.4m initiative were from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and United Kingdom.
The INSITE science programme was developed by an Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) and followed a rigorous two-stage assessment process. Working independently, the ISAB set the objectives for the studies, and determined which projects were selected for funding. Subject to independent audit, this process was designed to ensure the independence of the scientific outcomes was assured.