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Researcher underwater sound: marine acoustic environment and meaning for biodiversity

Oostende - Belgium
PhD position
48 months

Sound is omnipresent in the marine environment and can travel over long distances. Consequently, it plays a major role in the life of marine fauna (communication, predator-prey relationships, retrieval of environmental information, habitat selection, foraging...). Sound has two main components: particle motion and sound pressure. Marine underwater sound is generated by three general sources: geophony (sediment transport, type of sediment, waves, currents…), biophony (marine mammal echolocation, fish sounds, shrimp snaps…) and technophony (shipping, sonar…). This array of sound sources contributes to the marine acoustic environment inhabited by marine fauna. The aim of this research is to obtain knowledge on the sound ecology of the Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS), which is a heavily exploited area and comprises a unique sand bank system. Shipwrecks are distributed across the BPNS and can function as biodiversity hotspots. By expanding our current sensor network for harbour porpoise echolocation with hydrophones recording the ambient sound levels in the sea and by deploying an unmanned surface vehicle for complementary recording tracks, VLIZ wants to address the following research questions:
1) How can we characterize and map the acoustic environment in the Belgian part of the North Sea?
2) What sound sources can be identified and how do they contribute to the general acoustic environment?
3) Can the acoustic complexity be linked to benthic habitats to define acoustic habitats?
4) Can the underwater sound be linked to ecological and biodiversity values?
This project will be performed at the Flemish Institute for the Sea in collaboration with one or more university research groups. The research will include investigating the opportunity to develop and implement a particle motion sensor in the sea in combination with a hydrophone system, determining the recording strategy, modelling sound propagation, identifying sound sources, determining acoustic habitats and finally translating the acoustic indicators in an ecological status. It may lead to a PhD awarded by Ghent University.

5/15/19 12:00 AM
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Dick Botteldooren