. . . Predicting and Minimizing Environmental Impacts . . .

Project Details

Recipient Name: University of Rhode Island
NOAA Award Number: NA05NOS4631214
CFDA Number: 11.463

In order to accurately predict environmental impacts in the marine world, it is necessary to operate in at least three dimensions (in fact, four dimensions when time is considered). For noise-producing activities, the location and depth of an animal significantly affects the amount of acoustic energy to which it is exposed. As an animal moves through the environment, it is exposed to varying levels of sound as a function of its range from the source and depth in the water column. Coupled with the varying location and depth of an acoustic source, predicting an animalís exposure can become complex. Assessment tools that attempt to predict and minimize acoustic exposure require detailed data on the species most likely to be present at the time of the operation, their abundance and distribution, as well as their diving, general movement, and acoustic behavior. These behavioral data are being collated and geo-referenced as part of the Marine Wildlife Behavior Database and will be made available via the Internet.

The prototype structure will include available behavioral data from six species critical to the Gulf of Maine ecosystem. The primary species being considered are Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Each speciesí behavioral profile will include information on distribution in the water column, duration at given water depths, swim speed and direction, and propensity for directional changes. Preliminary analyses of the data available for North Atlantic right whales yielded one study that provided time-depth recorder data in a very comprehensive format (Table 1 from Baumgartner and Mate, 2003). These data can be used to create Monte Carlo simulations of North Atlantic right whale diving behavior (Figure 1) that could then be coupled with acoustic energy levels. By examining the original literature for the selected species and contacting researchers regarding their results when necessary, a consistent database of behavioral parameters will be suggested. One of the first tasks of the scientific advisory council is to develop consensus on the behavioral data required for environmental assessments and a consistent reporting format.


Source: Baumgartner and Mate, 2003


Figure 1. Simulated diving pattern of a North Atlantic right whale based on the data of Baumgartner and Mate, 2003. The animal track is shown in blue and the seafloor is the thick black line.

The scientific advisory council will also focus on linking with parallel or supporting data or information dissemination systems that are necessary for a full environmental analysis. Data on animal distribution and abundance are needed, as well as other environmental data such as sea surface and water column temperature, ocean currents, and surface winds. The Marine Wildlife Behavior Database will either provide links to other oceanographic database web sites or will work with other research groups to create independent data themes or channels on the Marine Wildlife Behavior web site. The Marine Wildlife Behavior Database will utilize portal technology styled after the Geospatial One-Stop, allowing individual research groups to remotely administer their channels and providing one coherent web site for Internet users.

The Marine Wildlife Behavior Database will provide a three-dimensional component to animal behavior that has not been captured by existing Internet databases. Current efforts to geo-reference marine animal data, such as the Census of Marine Lifeís Ocean Biogeographic Information System Spatial Ecological Analysis of Megavertebrate Populations (OBIS-SEAMAP) project, have focused on the two-dimensional components of distribution and abundance. However, since acoustic energy levels can vary greatly with depth at a given location, the three-dimensional behavior of animals must be characterized in order to accurately calculate acoustic exposures. The Census of Marine Lifeís Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) program provides movement maps derived from tagging experiments, but no detailed diving or movement data are being distributed publicly. The Marine Wildlife Behavior Database will distribute three-dimensional behavior data on fishes, marine mammals, and sea turtles over the Internet through a registered node on the National Spatial Data Infrastructure.

The Marine Wildlife Behavior Database will also create a consistent format for behavior data to be reported. Currently, the format of behavior data depends on the researcherís preference, the type of tag or method for collecting data, and/or the analytical software used for post-processing. This has produced a discontinuity between parallel studies that makes a coherent assessment of a speciesí behavior very difficult. By examining the original literature and contacting researchers regarding their results when necessary, a more consistent database of behavioral parameters will be created.

Marine Acoustics, Inc. is also currently working with other U.S. and international research groups to develop and establish a database standard. This standard would allow other research organizations to directly contribute data to or couple their existing databases with the Marine Wildlife Behavior Database. By utilizing portal technology styled after the Geospatial One-Stop, distinct data themes or channels could be created that would be administered by distributed research groups. This will allow, for example, the University of Rhode Island to administer the marine wildlife behavior channel, whereas Marine Acoustics, Inc. will administer the components dealing with marine sounds and sound propagation modeling tools. Therefore, one Internet site would network separate channels that together would provide the necessary data for a complete environmental impact assessment.