Human activities on the deep seafloor in the North East Atlantic: an assessment of spatial extent

Benn, Angela R., Weaver, Philip P., Billett, David S.M., van den Hove, Sybille, Murdock, Andrew P., Doneghan, Gemma B. and Le Bas, Tim (2010) Human activities on the deep seafloor in the North East Atlantic: an assessment of spatial extent. PLoS ONE, 5, (9), 1-15. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012730).


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Environmental impacts of human activities on the deep seafloor are of increasing concern. While activities within waters shallower than 200 m have been the focus of previous assessments of anthropogenic impacts, no study has quantified the extent of individual activities or determined the relative severity of each type of impact in the deep sea.


The OSPAR maritime area of the North East Atlantic was chosen for the study because it is considered to be one of the most heavily impacted by human activities. In addition, it was assumed data would be accessible and comprehensive. Using the available data we map and estimate the spatial extent of five major human activities in the North East Atlantic that impact the deep seafloor: submarine communication cables, marine scientific research, oil and gas industry, bottom trawling and the historical dumping of radioactive waste, munitions and chemical weapons. It was not possible to map military activities. The extent of each activity has been quantified for a single year, 2005.

Principal Findings

Human activities on the deep seafloor of the OSPAR area of the North Atlantic are significant but their footprints vary. Some activities have an immediate impact after which seafloor communities could re-establish, while others can continue to make an impact for many years and the impact could extend far beyond the physical disturbance. The spatial extent of waste disposal, telecommunication cables, the hydrocarbon industry and marine research activities is relatively small. The extent of bottom trawling is very significant and, even on the lowest possible estimates, is an order of magnitude greater than the total extent of all the other activities.


To meet future ecosystem-based management and governance objectives for the deep sea significant improvements are required in data collection and availability as well as a greater awareness of the relative impact of each human activity.

Item Type: Article
ISSNs: 1932-6203 (print)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GC Oceanography
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Divisions: University Structure - Pre August 2011 > National Oceanography Centre (NERC)
National Oceanography Centre (NERC) > Marine Geoscience
National Oceanography Centre (NERC) > Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems
ePrint ID: 173049
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2011 14:21
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2015 16:45

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