Pilot whale being tagged with a temporary
D-Tag for the in the Canary Islands
Photo by Pernille Tønnesen, Aarhus University
Underwater radiated noise (URN) emitted from commercial ships and other vessels can negatively impact aquatic species and their ecosystems, potentially threatening their survival. SATURN brings together expertise from disciplines such as bioacoustics, maritime engineering, shipping, and other fields to engage stakeholders to develop solutions to the problem of URN.
SATURN will examine; i) which sounds pose the greatest threat to aquatic species and how they are produced and propagated; ii) the short and long-term effects of URN on invertebrates, fish, and marine mammals; and iii) the most promising options for reducing the negative impacts of URN. SATURN will also develop and progress standards for terminology and methodology across all disciplines working on URN, producing recommendations for effective underwater sound management.
SATURN is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 101006443.
Horizon 2020 EU 3.4 - Societal Challenges
Smart, Green, and Integrated Transport
Research & Innovation
February 2021 - January 2025
20 partners in 12 countries
MaREI, University College Cork
Our understanding of exactly how much underwater noise animals are exposed to is limited by gaps in scientific knowledge on ship noise and animal behaviour. SATURN's research will address these gaps in our knowledge and understanding of underwater noise, including: 1) how noise can be harmful to individual animals and whole populations; 2) which sounds are the most harmful; 3) what are the mechanisms by which sound is produced; and 4) which technologies can best reduce the most harmful sounds. In order to achieve these aims, SATURN will:
Develop Standards & Methods
SATURN will define standards for terminology, methodology, tools and metrics to measure, assess, and compare the impacts of noise from shipping and boats. This includes spatially mapping particle motion, quantifying underwater radiated noise (URN) in shallow water, and defining standards for sound exposure experiments to ensure lab results can be translated to field populations.
Quantify Ship Underwater Radiated Noise
Quantifying the URN from individual vessels is an essential first step towards quantifying the dose and frequency range of noise to which animals can be exposed. Although the technology for measuring and predicting URN from naval platforms and research vessels is well developed, its application to other vessel types is to be better understood.
Quantify Sound Exposure
URN from ships and boats propagates through the underwater environment to locations where animals are exposed to it. Quantifying sound exposure will involve the use of state-of-the-art miniature tags attached to marine mammals, which will give us a better understanding of where, when, and how wild animals are exposed to ship noise.
Quantify Individual & Population-level Responses
Standards, methods, and standardized test signals will be used within SATURN to assess the impact of URN on representative aquatic species, including invertebrates, migratory fish, and three species of marine mammals. Both acute and cumulative effects will be measured.
Develop & Assess Mitigation Solutions
Having identified the most harmful aspects of the source level of ship and vessel sound, we will evaluate which of the existing and novel solutions are the most feasible and effective to mitigate these effects. The benefits and costs of these solutions will be weighed up and presented in terms of capital expenditures and operational expenditures.
Engage Stakeholders & Raise Awareness
SATURN will establish a stakeholder group across a range of disciplines (e.g. shipping, research, policy, and NGOs) and ensure their engagement in all stages of the project, including the development of standards and methodologies. SATURN will also continuously communicate our research and raise awareness of the issue of URN.
We have selected a number of study species to represent different biological groups, hearing sensitivities, and depth ranges. Our research will focus on three species of marine mammals that provide broad biological coverage of acoustic specializations and relevant European habitats to build understanding of responses of free-ranging animals under real world conditions. We will also be examining the impacts of URN on invertebrates at different life stages, and migratory fishes that use both rivers and seas — both of which are critically understudied groups in relation to underwater noise.
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Harbour porpoises are among the best-studied marine mammals regarding the effects of underwater noise. They are also strictly protected under the EU Habitats Directive, making it urgent to reduce impacts of URN on their populations.
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Pilot whales are deep diving odontocetes (toothed whales), which makes them well suited as a model species for the Mediterranean Sea and deeper parts of the Atlantic.
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Harbour seals have better low-frequency hearing than odontocetes and inhabit coastal and shelf waters and shallow riverine habitats.
Invertebrates’ low capacity or inability to escape sound sources makes them more vulnerable to a continuous sound source and likely to receive a higher dose of sound compared with species that can escape a noisy area like fish or marine mammals. SATURN will define the impact of URN on a suite of representative species, including copepods (plankton), bivalves, crustaceans, and cephalopods.
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In addition to marine mammals and invertebrates, SATURN will examine the impacts from URN on migratory marine and riverine fish, including sticklebacks, eels, and sturgeons.
SATURN's objectives align with the UN Agenda 2030 to decouple economic development from environmental degradation. In particular, SATURN contributes to SDG 14: Life Below Water, which strives for careful management of the ocean as an essential global resource and key feature of a sustainable future.
At the European level, SATURN directly feeds into the European Union's Green Deal for Europe, contributing to the transformation of the shipping industry into a zero emissions mode of transport. Our aim is to assess mitigation measures that curb underwater noise while contributing to resource-efficient and safe transport. By developing innovative solutions to mitigate noise, and strong policy recommendations, SATURN aims to make the European shipping industry more competitive and quieter at the same time.