Environment

First map of marine structures shows how much we've modified the oceans

First map of marine structures...
Through structures like oil rigs, humans have made a big imprint on the world's oceans
Through structures like oil rigs, humans have made a big imprint on the world's oceans
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Scientists have pieced together the first global map of marine construction
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Scientists have pieced together the first global map of marine construction
Through structures like oil rigs, humans have made a big imprint on the world's oceans
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Through structures like oil rigs, humans have made a big imprint on the world's oceans

With our long history of altering the environment through manmade structures, we humans sure have made our mark on the Earth in our relatively short time here. Scientists in Australia have turned their attention to what this perpetual development means for the world’s marine environments, calculating the extent of our construction footprint on the oceans for the first time ever.

The research was carried out at Australia’s University of Sydney and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, with the team collating data on marine-built structures of all kinds. These include oil rigs, wind farms, the length of telecommunication cables, commercial ports, bridges and tunnels, artificial reefs and aquaculture farms, with the data painstakingly sourced from the individual sectors of these different industries.

The result is what the scientists call the first map of human development in the world’s oceans, revealing how much of the marine environment had been altered by our activity. According to the team, a total of around 30,000 sq km (11,600 sq mi) has been modified by human construction, which amounts to 0.008 percent of the entire ocean. But as lead author Dr Ana Bugnot explains, the effects are a lot more far-reaching than that.

“The effects of built structures extend beyond their direct physical footprint,” she tells New Atlas. “Marine construction can modify surrounding environments by changing ecological and sediment characteristics, water quality and hydrodynamics, as well as noise and electromagnetic fields.”

Scientists have pieced together the first global map of marine construction
Scientists have pieced together the first global map of marine construction

Dr Bugnot and her team drew on existing data and research to quantify the impact of these types of flow-on effects, and found that the footprint of these structures is actually two million square kilometers (770,200 sq mi), more than 0.5 percent of the ocean as a whole. Among the more surprising revelations from the analysis were that 40 percent of the physical footprint of all structures can be attributed to aquaculture farms in China, and that noise pollution can carry up to 20 km (12 mi) from commercial ports.

While evidence of manmade alterations to the oceans dates back thousands of years, to the early construction of ports and breakwaters to protect low-lying coasts, the phenomenon began to accelerate around the mid-point of the 20th century, according to the team. This construction mostly takes place in coastal areas, and to better understand this trend the team cast an eye to the future, assessing data on planned projects and assuming a business-as-usual approach.

"The numbers are alarming," Dr Bugnot says. "For example, infrastructure for power and aquaculture, including cables and tunnels, is projected to increase by 50 to 70 percent by 2028. Yet this is an underestimate: there is a dearth of information on ocean development, due to poor regulation of this in many parts of the world.”

The team hopes the study can draw attention to the importance of conserving marine environments, and that the findings can provide a starting point for further investigation and tools to track of these types of ocean construction projects on an ongoing basis.

“The estimates of marine construction obtained are substantial and serve to highlight the urgent concern and need for the management of marine environments,” says Dr Bugnot. “We hope these estimates will trigger national and international initiatives and boost global efforts for integrated marine spatial planning. To achieve this, it is important to rump up efforts for detailed mapping of historical and existing marine habitats and ocean construction.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Source: University of Sydney via EurekAlert

5 comments
buzzclick
This important study does not include rivers and lakes. Also, it mentions static installations only. What about all the sea traffic, from humongous freighters to zippy motorboats? The Earth has 4 main spheres: Atmosphere (air), lithosphere (land), hydrosphere (water), and the biosphere (life). Let's face it. We humans are affecting all of it. The whole enchilada. CO2 levels, NOx, global warming, water pollution, particulate matter or species reduction...everything is interconnected and we're screwing up our only home for the sake of pleasure, convenience and greed. This Australian study is holding up a mirror to just ONE of a myriad of issues we are not confronting, My apologies if I've bummed you out. The sooner we open our eyes and get our sh*t together the better.
bwana4swahili
There is no such thing as development without environmental impact, i.e.: the 3rd law of thermodynamics sums it up nicely. All living things consume energy resulting in increased entropy of the system they occupy. It is nice to think of a utopia where we can exist without impacting the environment; however, it simply isn't going to happen!
clay
Aaaaannnnddd....another subscription only "Scientific Journal".

Normal people, again, do not get to learn from this fascinating new science/info... we only get learn OF it.. :-/

This whole pandemic has exposed the University-Scientific community's backside: keeping their ivory tower nice and shiny.. by keeping the riffraff, rabble, and commoners out of their hallowed halls.

Thank God for news outlets like NewAtlas! Freemiums are great. I pay for a membership, because of the great work these guys do, even though I know most people choose the ad-based service. Win-win.
kwalispecial
@clay Nothing is free. It isn't that scientific journals are tying to keep you out, it's that it costs money to produce a journal and you have to pay them for their work. I'd rather have journals charge the people who want access, than to have them corrupted by commercialization and ads.

I'm sure you can access the study from a public or college library if you want to.
christopher
Looks bogus to me - the entire Australian coastline has their max-impact colour, including all the bits where nobody lives and where nothing man-made is even remotely close to the ocean. e..g. Namibia (light blue) has vastly more coastal disturbance than Australia's gulf (dark blue). They seem to have merely coloured around continents, with little care to research anything.