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The ecological role of offshore man-made infrastructure is of growing international interest. By 2030, globally more than 7500 oil and gas platforms could be removed, many of which now host mature hard substrate ecosystems formed by sessile benthic species including sponges, corals and mussels. This study investigates the spatiotemporal scales of generalised species dispersal and connectivity among oil and gas structures in the North Sea using strategically designed 3D advective passive particle tracking experiments forced by high resolution (1.8 km, hourly) velocity fields including tidal, density, and wind-driven currents. Trajectories from two seasonal releases during mixed winter (February) and stratified summer (July) conditions of 2010 were analysed for a variety of pelagic larval durations (PLD) spanning 2 to 28 d. Particles dispersed on average 32 km away from their origins after just 5 d, 67 km after 15 d, and 109 km after 28 d with considerable spatial variability and limited seasonal variations. Short (2 d) PLDs generated highly connected networks over smaller spatial scales, while longer PLDs (28 d) generated less fragmented networks covering a much larger area but with fewer connections. Tidally driven dispersal was isolated using a new method based on the harmonic analysis of the velocity fields: the resulting maximum linear dispersal distances varied from ~4 km in the northern North Sea to ~8 km in the southern North Sea. The present study provides baseline spatiotemporal scales of dispersal and connectivity patterns and optimized relocatable methods to assess connectivity in tidally active shelf seas.
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1/06/19 → 30/11/23