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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Engineering, environments and energy on the continental shelf and coast


The continental shelf is increasingly important for critical economic activities such as renewable electricity generation and the interconnectors needed to allow efficient transfer of energy over distances of 100s of km, as well as potential sequestration of CO2 in depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs. At the same time, continental shelf, and particularly nearshore, environments are expected to be significantly impacted by global climate change, including sea level rise and storm activity. We investigate fundamental processes through coordinated field and laboratory experiments linked to numerical prediction. Our models predict that heat transfer from buried cables will be conductive in fine-grained sediments, but convective in coarse-grained sediments, with significant implications for how much power a given cable design can reliably carry. We also study sedimentary processes on the shelf, and how these interact with large-scale engineering such as bridges and windfarms, as well as how they may change over the next decades.

Image credit: Tim Hughes
Image credit: Tim Hughes

Key Questions:

  1. How do submarine power cables interact with their environment? – Do the numerical models match real operating conditions, and what is the effect of burying cables on the sediment regime?
  2. Can we determine parameters relevant to engineering from geophysical data? – Remote data could much better characterise the physical properties of the sediments and their variation than large numbers of cores, aiding the veracity of data related to infrastructure and ultimately optimising performance
  3. How well sealed are sedimentary CO2 storage sites and can we detect leakage from them? – Sequestration that can effectively reduce the impact of global warming requires stable storage over periods of at least 100s of years
  4. How will climate change affect sedimentary processes on the shelf and in the nearshore region?

Image right: Predicted temperatures around buried submarine high-voltage cable in (top) low permeability and (bottom) high permeability sediments. Green arrows show fluid fluxes, red arrows heat fluxes. (Hughes et al., 2015,


How do we do it?                                                                                                             

In the Geology and Geophysics group we collect our own datasets using cutting edge equipment such as the 3D Chirp system, with which we can investigate the 10 m beneath the seabed as a volume at a resolution of 10s of cm, as well as more conventional seismic data with resolutions from ~0.5 m up to 5 m. We also work with industry collaborators to access data from major infrastructure projects.

We have developed a range of analysis methods to maximise the information that can be extracted from the data; our objectives are quantitative not simply qualitative descriptions.

We use laboratory and field measurements of key physical, sedimentary and hydrodynamic parameters and incorporate these into numerical and analogue modelling of the physical processes.

Links to other Research Themes

Environmental hazards

Sea level rise

Staff MemberPrimary Position
Prof. Jon Bull Associate Dean Research
Prof. Justin Dix Professor in Marine Geology & Geophysics
Prof. Tim Henstock Professor of Geophysics
Dr Hachem Kassem Teaching & Research Fellow
Dr Anthony Fogg Research Fellow
Callum Clay Postgraduate research student
Jon Duell Postgraduate research student
Andrew Jewitt Postgraduate research student
Prof. Carl Amos Emeritus Professor
Lewis Bailey Postgraduate research student
Dr Michael Grant Senior Enterprise Fellow in Marine Archaeology
Maarten Heijnen Postgraduate research student
Mohamad Anas Mohamad Annuar Postgraduate research student
Dr Esther Sumner Lecturer in Sedimentology
Dr Charlie Thompson Research Fellow
Daniele Vendettuoli Postgraduate research student
Naiyu Zhang Postgraduate research student
Prof. Ian Townend Professor
Muhamad Zaki Bin Zulkifli Postgraduate research student
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