From German bombs to Roman anchors, as more offshore energy infrastructure is built the history of the North Sea is colliding with its future.
As an ever-growing number of offshore cables, jackets and platforms are coming into contact with shipwrecks, downed aircraft and unexploded ordnance (UXO), a new industry is growing to help energy developers navigate between past and future.
That there should be so much to find on the seafloor surprises even the largest wind farm operators, says Brandon Mason, an archaeologist with Maritime Archaeology Ltd. As the commercial arm of the Maritime Archaeology Trust, the non-profit exists to promote the importance of Britain’s maritime history whilst also providing leading expertise on what might be lying on the ocean bottom.
“It’s not much of a surprise to archaeologists, but it is to developers that you keep going offshore and you keep finding this stuff,” he said. “You’d think it would be just on the beach or a few 100 metres off, but places like Doggerland are just littered with finds and we’re seeing the same on the East Anglian coast as well, really far out.
“We’ve got Iberian shipwrecks from the 15th C, coastal traders from the 18th C packed with really exciting cargoes, Dutch traders 16th C packed with pantiles and things like that.
“You’re hopping from one to the next, even 60km offshore – and it’s going to keep going as an avalanche really, rather than a trickle.”
The same can be said for the roughly half a million items of ordnance littered around the UK Continental Shelf, said Lee Wasling, a business and project development manager with UXO specialist EODEX.
Amounting to some 100,000 tonnes and largely from WW2, this includes defensive and offensive mines, bombs, torpedoes and other ordnance which was fired but did detonate, or munitions that were simply dumped during or after the war.