Modeling acoustic wave propagation in the Southern Ocean to estimate the acoustic impact of seismic surveys on marine mammals

Monika.Breitzke [ at ]


According to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, adopted 1991, seismic surveys in the Southern Ocean south of 60°S are exclusively dedicated to academic research. The seismic surveys conducted by the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany during the last 20 years focussed on two areas: The Wedell Sea (60°W - 0°W) and the Amundsen/Bellinghausen Sea (120°W - 60°W). Histograms of the Julian days and water depths covered by these surveys indicate that maximum activities occurred in January and February, and most lines were collected either in shallow waters of 400 - 500 m depth or in deep waters of 2500 - 4500 m depth. To assess the potential risk of future seismic research on marine mammal populations an acoustic wave propagation modeling study is conducted for the Wedell and the Amundsen/Bellinghausen Sea. A 2.5D finite-difference code is used. It allows to simulate the spherical amplitude decay of point sources correctly, considers P- and S-wave velocities at the sea floor and provides snapshots of the wavefield at any spatial and temporal resolution. As source signals notional signatures of GI-, G- and Bolt guns, computed by the NUCLEUS software (PGS) are used. Based on CTD measurements, sediment core samplings and sediment echosounder recordings two horizontally-layered, range-independent generic models are established for the Wedell and the Amundsen/Bellinghausen Sea, one for shallow (500 m) and one for deep water (3000 m). They indicate that the vertical structure of the water masses is characterized by a 100 m thick, cold, low sound velocity layer (~1440 - 1450 m/s), centered in 100 m depth. In the austral summer it is overlain by a warmer, 50 m thick surface layer with slightly higher sound velocities (~1447 - 1453 m/s). Beneath the low-velocity layer sound velocities increase rapidly to ~1450 - 1460 m/s in 200 m depth, and smoothly to ~1530 m/s in 4700 m depth. The sea floor is mainly covered with soft fine-grained clayey or silty sediments, so that P- and S-wave velocities of 1550 and 200 m/s and a wet bulk density of 1400 kg/m³ are assumed. In a first step the acoustic impact of one seismic line of 10 - 20 km length is computed for the two generic models, assuming a typical shot interval of 15 s and a ship speed of 5 kn. The acoustic impact is determined by running the finite-difference scheme once, shifting the resulting wavefields in space and time according to the movement of the ship and the shot interval, and summing-up the appropriate snapshots of the propagating wavefield. As results, time-dependent contour maps of the cumulative peak-to-peak, zero-to-peak, rms and sound exposure levels are derived. From these contour maps time-dependent exposure histories and histograms of the received sound pressure levels are extracted for animals staying at fixed depth and range positions along the seismic line. Different hearing abilities of low-, mid- and high-frequency cetaceans are taken into account by applying the M-weighting filter characteristics. In a second step the cumulative sound exposure of several parallel and intersecting seismic lines is computed. The layout of the lines is derived from the cruises ANT-XIV/3 and ANT-XXIII/4 to the Wedell and the Amundsen/Bellinghausen Sea, which on average had the closest seismic line spacings of former cruises to both regions.

Item Type
Conference (Talk)
Publication Status
Event Details
AGU Fall Meeting, 10-14 December, San Francisco, CA, USA..
Eprint ID
Cite as
Breitzke, M. and Bohlen, T. (2007): Modeling acoustic wave propagation in the Southern Ocean to estimate the acoustic impact of seismic surveys on marine mammals , AGU Fall Meeting, 10-14 December, San Francisco, CA, USA. .

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