A quantification of the effect of fouling fauna in windmill farms on the coastal nitrogen cycling in current and future settings

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
In order to increase the share of renewable energy, many European countries installed offshore wind farms in their coastal areas. At the moment, about 3200 turbines are in place, at 84 offshore wind farms in 11 European countries. These windmills act as artificial hard substrates in environments that were formerly sandy environments. These artificial hard substrates are colonized by huge amounts of fouling organisms, mainly blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) and the colony-forming amphipod Jassa sp. Recent evidence suggests that the presence of the blue mussel can have important effects on the local nitrogen cycle, resulting in the production of the important greenhouse gas N2O. In Belgium, there are plans to combine offshore wind farms with aquaculture activities where the blue mussel is one of the target species. As such, it is of high importance to assess the effect of these abundant fouling organisms on the local nitrogen cycle. Within this thesis, you will investigate the relative contributions of these dominant fouling organisms on the biogeochemical characteristics of the water column, and we will unravel which part of the organisms is responsible for the observed patters. There is evidence that the biofilm on the outside of the mussel shell contributes largely to the N2O production, while for Jassa there is no current knowledge available. However, Jassa is a good candidate for impacting the nitrogen cycle as it inhabits tubes build of organic material that are subjected to slow water currents caused by the feeding movements of the amphipod. You will incubate both species, and their hard structures (mussel shells, Jassa tubes) in experimental settings to quantify how oxygen consumption and nitrogen cycling is affected by the presence of the fouling organisms, and to allocate the observed patterns to different parts of the organisms. This will be done in the current oceanographic setting, and in future conditions. These future conditions will take into account predictions made by IPCC with respect to temperature rise and ocean acidification
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Carl Van Colen
Reference Number: RP-47391