The North Sea

Intensive utilization of the North Sea, e.g., transport, extraction and disposal of sand, laying of cables and pipes, fishery, and –for the last few years- area intensive usage by offshore wind farms result in an increase in anthropogenic stress on the environment.

A state-of-the-art ecosystem management and modern environmental protection aim at sustainable usage of our coasts, focusing on key functions of the ecosystem.

A better understanding of ecological functioning and the responses of the system to stress is therefore essential. Knowledge of the corridor of natural variability and comprehension of ecologically relevant scales, spatial as well as temporal, is an indispensable prerequisite for the distinction between anthropogenic and natural impacts.

Key Activities

We are investigating

  • the distribution of the benthos on different spatial (local-regional) and temporal (seasonal-long-term) scales
  • effects of natural and anthropogenic change on the benthic system, i.e., ecosystem shifts caused by environmental shifts
  • the ecological functioning of the benthos, i.e., the coupling of regulating environmental factors and ecosystem functions including consequential ecosystem services

To that end we are employing an extensive base of reliable, validated and georeferenced data from the southern North Sea collected during several decades of sampling. Models are coupled to these data, and the results are made accessible to agencies, decision makers, scientists, and the interested public through information systems and visualization tools. 

Our Projects

Benthic long-term series (since 1969)

Title: Benthic long-term series in the German Bight

Participants: Jennifer Dannheim, Mehdi Shojaei, Lars Gutow, Alexander Schröder, Eike Rachor

Content: The long-term series is aiming at analyzing the influence of climate change on benthic communities. Since 1969 three stations, and since 1981 an additional station, have been sampled that are thought to represent the different benthic communities. Such long-term data present a treasure trove allowing for the analysis of structural and functional change in the ecosystem.

Funding: AWI internally

External Links: Long-term observations

ANKER: Cost reduction approaches for monitoring (2016-2018)

Title: Cost reduction approaches for mointoring data surveys of offshore projects (ANKER)

Participants: Jennifer Dannheim, Thomas Brey

Content: The project aim is the construction of an information system for benthic invertebrates and demersal fish for (a) the utilisation and supply of data on protective goods via the subject information network of environmental impact assessments (UVP-FIN), (b) the publication of approval-relevant scientific information for both protective goods and (c) the development of approval relevant issues and the verification of analysis tools of the UVP-FIN which might be important to increase efficiency and thus potential cost reduction of environmental impact assessments of offshore windfarms in relation to benthos.

Funding: Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWI)

Cooperation Partners: BSH, FTZ

BfN Monitoring (2011-2018)

Title: Assessment, evaluation and mapping of benthic species and biotopes in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the North Sea

Participants: Lars Gutow, Brigitte Ebbe, Manuela Gusky, Christian Buschbaum, Dagmar Lackschewitz

Content: The Federal Republic of Germany is obligated by the European Union to regularly assess and evaluate the status of the benthic biotopes in its territorial waters. By order of the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) a benthos monitoring program shall be initialized and established that fulfills the specifications of relevant directives and conventions for the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the North Sea. In particular the issues of the Flora Fauna Habitat directive (FFH), the Marine Strategy Framework directive (MSFD), the Oslo-Paris convention (OSPAR) and the Federal Nature Conservation law (BNatSchG) are to be addressed. In the process a consistent evaluation system ensuring as much as possible a synergistic monitoring concurrently addressing all issues shall be developed.

Funding: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)

External Links: Habitat Mare

Cooperation Partners: IOW, Bioconsult

WebBenthos: Extension of the benthic information system (2015-2018)

Title: Sustainable developments at sea (NavES) – Offshore Investigations: Provision of environmental information from study projects and the monitoring of offshore windfarms – extension and update of the existing technical information system and the web based service for benthos data (subproject WebBenthos)

Participants: Jan Holstein, Jennifer Dannheim, Thomas Brey

Content: Linking of benthic data bases to digital analyzing tools and the MDI-DE (Marine Data Infrastructure, Deutschland) to generate and publish dynamic products (e.g., maps of spatial and temporal distribution of species). The results are produced to make decision processes for agencies simple and transparent.

Funding: Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)

UNDINE: Understanding the influence of man-made structures (2016-2017)

Title: Understanding the influence of man-made structures on teh ecosystem functions of the North Sea (UNDINE)

Participants: Jennifer Dannheim, Lars Gutow, Thomas Brey

Content: UNDINE will use offshore wind farms and data from other man-made structures in order to understand the impact of man-made structures in the southern North Sea. We will evaluate (i) the ecological impact of artificial structures on trophic functioning and (ii) potential changes in connectivity of benthic habitats by man-made structures (stepping stone hypothesis). Trophic functioning and connectivity are considered key issues as man-made structures start proliferating in the marine environment. They necessitate the extrapolation of artificial hard substrate effects from local to regional scales, all of which will be tackled by UNDINE.

Funding: INSITE, Oil & Gas UK

External Links: INSITE

Cooperation Partners: RBINS, Cefas, IMARES

Shine: Benthic information system (2014-2015)

Title: An integrated North Sea information system for environmental management and research

Participants: Jan Holstein, Jennifer Dannheim

Content: Biodiversity information are an essential component for spatial planning and nature conservation decision making of authorities and politics.The development of an integrated biodiversity information system for science and public concerns within this project, shares the state of the art with the interested public. In this way the necessary transparency of planning and approval procedures as a base for societal discussions is supported.

Funding: AWI-ESKP

Externer Link: Earth System Knowledge Platform, ESKP

Habitat Project: Approaches for evaluation in marine spatial planning (2011-2015)

Title: Approaches for evaluation in spatial planning and permit procedures regarding benthic systems and habitat structures

Participants: Jennifer Dannheim, Manuela Gusky, Jan Holstein, Brigitte Ebbe

Content: Development of suitable methods for the protection of the marine environment, marine spatial planning and permit procedures, in particular for offshore windfarms. A database of macrozoobenthic invertebrates and demersal fish is the base for georeferenced modelling. Resulting maps are provided for the general public through web portals (here: Geoseaportal).

Funding: Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI)

External Links: Geoseaportal

StUKplus: Evaluation of the offshore windfarm monitoring (2008-2012)

Title: Ecological research accompanying the offshore testing site „alpha ventus“ to evaluate the standard operating procedure of the BSH (StUKplus)

Subproject 1: Investigation of the effects of wind turbines on fish and vagile megafauna on the testing site alpha ventus, work package A: pelagic fish, work package B: study of effects on demersal fish and megazoobenthos (mobile demersal megafauna)

Participants: Roland Krone, Sören Krägefsky

Subproject 2: Analysis of data from scientific research, monitoring programmes and environmental impact statements for a holistic approach to evaluation of ecological impact monitoring at the testing site „alpha ventus“

Participants: Jennifer Dannheim, Alexander Schröder, Manuela Gusky, Kai Wätjen

Subproject 3: Completion of the StUK time series during the operating phase and detection of change in the benthos by expansion of the monitoring of facility related impacts

Participants: Lars Gutow, Katharina Teschke, Manuela Gusky

Content: The aim of the project was a comprehensive understanding of environmental impacts caused by offshore windfarms on benthos and fish. Aside the investigations required by the standard operating procedure (StUK) more advanced, research related questions were answered. New themes were treated in the testing site and novel methods and assessment techniques, e.g., regarding vagile megafauna, were tested. The results were employed to evaluate the StUK for the follow-up version 4.

Funding: Ministry for environment, natural conservation, construction and reactor safety (BMUB)

External Links: Ecological Monitoring at the offshore test field alpha ventus

Fishpact: Effects of trawling and sand/gravel extraction (2008)

Title: Effects of demersal trawling and mining of sand and gravel on the structure of the sea floor and the benthos in the German Exclusive Economic Zone in the North Sea

Participants: Alexander Schröder, Lars Gutow, Manuela Gusky

Content: The impact of demersal trawling and mining of sand and gravel in protected areas on local population densities of typical macrozoobenthos species of FFH habitat types „sandbanks“ and „reefs“ was modelled. Age structured models were developed based on literature data and specific mortality of benthic organisms related to fisheries was determined.

Funding: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)

Marfood: Benthic feeding habitats in the German Bight (2007-2008)

Title: Nutritional basis for marine mammals and seabirds in protected areas, feasibility and testing study: habitat requirements and spatial distribution of food fish, especially sand eels and their nutritional basis

Participants: Jennifer Dannheim, Arne Malzahn, Alexander Schröder

Content: Analysis of the trophic function of demersal fishes and macrozoobenthic invertebrates in the food web of the North Sea, testing of methods to analyze nutritional requirements of marine mammals and seabirds

Funding: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)

BeoFINO: Research platforms in the North and Baltic Sea (2003-2008)

Title: Ecological research accompanying offshore wind energy on research platforms in the Noth Sea and Baltic Sea

Participants: Lars Gutow, Covadonga Orejas, Tanja Joschko, Alexander Schröder, Roland Krone, Manuela Gusky, Markus Paster, Michael Potthoff

Content: Special questions regarding possible impacts of offshore windfarms were investigated on-site on the research platform FINO. Emphasis was put on the impacts on communities of the seafloor. Processes in the nearfield of the piles, colonization of the underwater structure, potential biomass export, changes in the surrounding benthic fauna and attraction of pelagic fishes were surveyed.

Funding: Ministry for environment, natural conservation, construction and reactor safety (BMUB)

Cooperation Partners: IOW, Institute of Avian Research, University of Duisburg-Essen

RESPONSE: Effects of trawling on the benthos (2003-2006)

Title: Response of benthic communities and sediment to different regimens of fishing disturbance in European coastal waters

Paticipants: Alexander Schröder, Jennifer Dannheim, Wolf Isbert, Kristin Blasche, Mirko Hoyer

Content: Study of the effects of fishery closure or different degrees of fishing intensity on benthic biotopes, analysis of biological and sedimentological changes on the seafloor. Validating of resistence and resilience of the benthic communities in heavily fished areas (Celtic Sea, Catalan Sea, Adriatic Sea, North Sea)

Funding: European Union (EU)

External Links: RESPONSE

Cooperation Partners: CSIC, IEO, MSM, UWB, CIBM


Henrike Andresen
Jan Beermann
Jennifer Dannheim
Brigitte Ebbe
Dario Fiorentino
Dylan Griffith
Manuela Gusky
Paul Kloss
Melina Nalmpanti
Maryam Weigt
Alexa Wrede