Evaluating differences in marine spatial data resolution and robustness: A North Sea case study

Ocean and coastal management


Seabed substrates have the capacity to support a variety of marine communities. However, habitats provided by natural substrates are increasingly modified and supplemented by man-made structures. These provide hard surfaces suitable for colonisation by sedentary and/or non-migratory organisms, and may contribute to an interconnected system of benefit to diverse marine populations. Robust assessment of the influence of such structures is, therefore, a necessary consideration for their long-term management. The challenge of compiling and manipulating data for input to two North Sea models is described. Source data were processed and gridded at three different spatial resolutions to investigate the effect of scale on spatial relationships. Choice of grid size was found to exacerbate existing uncertainty in location and extent of features, influencing interpretation of their spatial distributions at the different scales examined. The small spatial footprint of man-made structures, compared with natural substrates, may lead to underestimation of the influence of the former at coarser model scales. Choices must be made between data availability, spatial resolution and accuracy, modelling and analysis requirements, to identify robust approaches to reliable outcomes. Model sensitivity and uncertainty analyses are recommended for application in data-limited situations. Greater openness and cooperation in data-sharing is required for robust scientific modelling to underpin decision-making in the marine environment.

Sea Basin(s): 
April 2020
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Mineral extraction
Nature protection
Offshore renewable energy production
Oil and gas exploitation
Submarine cables and pipelines
Type of Issue: 
Environment aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • How do man-made structures contribute to the connectivity of hard substrate in the North Sea?
  • How do man-made structures influence species composition?
  • What are the effects of spatial scales on the modelled interpretation of relationships between man-made and natural features?

Implementation Context:

The presence of man-made structures and the result of their colonisation by benthic communities, fish, seals and seabirds and their avoidance by mobile organism. Man-made structures can thus lead to a shift in species composition at the local scale.

Aspects / Objectives:

This study aims to analyse the effects of man-made structures on hard substrates, connectivity, and natural features.


This study provides an analysis of data exploited for two North Sea studies: the development of a dynamic spatial model of the North Sea food web and an investigation on how man-made structures contribute to the connectivity of hard substrates.

Main Outputs / Results:

This study highlights the importance of data sensitivity and uncertainty which need to be documented and considered when assessing the effect of man-made structures on the marine environment.


The methodology presented in this paper could be used for similar approaches in other sea basins. 

Responsible Entity:

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Barrack Road, Weymouth, DT4 8UB, United Kingdom.

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Pakefield Road, Lowestoft, NR33 0HT, United Kingdom.

Costs / Funding Source:

This work was supported by the INSITE programme and was conducted under the Cefas COSM and EcoConnect projects.

Contact person:

P.E. Posen: paulette.posen@cefas.co.uk



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