Feng Chen


Anthropogenic noise in the sea is now classed as a pollutant alongside chemical pollution and marine litter in accordance with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Noise from shipping is a major contributor to the ambient noise levels in the ocean, particularly at low (<300Hz) frequencies. The properties of sound propagation in shallow waters are highly influenced by the marine physical environment. Ocean modelling plays an important role in underwater noise studies since it can provide high resolution water column parameters over large geographic areas. This study investigates the noise patterns and their temporal variations in the Celtic Sea by using a coupled ocean model (POLCOMS) and an acoustic model (HARCAM). A method to predict noise exposure experienced by marine animals is then developed, following an application for diving seals. The ocean model is applied in the Celtic Sea to provide high-resolution 3D hourly temperature and salinity fields for the acoustic model. The model is validated against in-situ and satellite observations, giving high skills to simulate the water column structures. Sensitivity studies of modelled results to different atmospheric forcing are carried out in order to improve the accuracy of the model. The results show that the modelled sea surface temperature, stratification and water column structures are highly sensitive to the choice of surface forcing, especially in the summer time. The increase in resolution of surface forcing does not necessarily lead to more accurate results. The tidally frontal position is, however, insensitive to the forcing. The variability of noise propagation is studied using the coupled model, demonstrating high dependence on oceanographic conditions, geographic location of sound source and its depth. In summer, when the source of sound is on the inshore side of the bottom front, the sound energy is mostly concentrated in the near-bottom layer. In winter, the sound from the same source is distributed more evenly in the vertical. When the source is on the seaward side of the front, the sound level from a shallow source is nearly uniform in the vertical and the transmission loss is significantly greater (~16dB at 40km distance) in summer than in winter. In contrast, sound energy from a deep source is trapped in the bottom cold water, leading to a much lower transmission loss (~20dB) in summer than in winter. Note that ~10dB fluctuation of sound energy is found during the deterioration of the thermocline in late autumn. Shallow sources (e.g. ships) are sensitive to the surface heat flux as it changes significantly the vertical temperature gradient, while tides play an important role in determining the TL variability of deeper sources (e.g. pile driving) since they cause adjustments of positions of subsurface fronts. The seasonal noise patterns radiated by a large cargo ship are modelled by relating the AIS ship track data and the coupled model, showing a clear influence of the seasonal thermocline and associated bottom fronts on shipping noise distribution. The noise propagates much further (tens of kilometres) in winter than in summer. The predicted shipping noise exposure perceived by grey seals shows strong step changes in the sound level during their descent/ascent through the water column. Since grey seals tend to be benthic foragers, a hypothesis that the step change in sound exposure may have negative impacts on their foraging behaviour is proposed for biological specialists.

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