Marine Seismic Surveys and the Environment

Last updated:7 June 2023

An important part of the management of Australia's marine resources is mapping the geology beneath the sea floor; as part of this work we must understand and mitigate associated environmental impacts. Geoscience Australia has been using seismic surveys to map the geology of Australia's marine regions for more than 50 years. These data provide crucial knowledge of large-scale geological structures and have been fundamental to the development of Australia's energy industry. Geoscience Australia's seismic data is publicly released and used to understand Australia's rich geological history, identify areas that have potential for petroleum exploration, and assess the feasibility of emerging technologies such as CO2 geosequestration.

Environmental Mitigation

As seismic surveys are a source of underwater noise, their potential environmental impact is carefully considered. Geoscience Australia upholds environmental standards to minimise the risk of disturbing marine life, such as those prescribed in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006.

During a seismic survey, standard procedures are followed, including a soft start of the airguns whereby the sound intensity is gradually increased while monitoring the area to be sure no whales are present. For the period of seismic operations, marine fauna observers on board the vessel and acoustic listening devices continuously scan for marine life, including whales and other marine fauna. If whales are detected within close vicinity, operations cease and are only restarted when the animals have moved away.

Environmental Research

In addition to our commitment to best practice seismic operations, Geoscience Australia also leads and supports ongoing research to improve data collection methods and their interpretation. Growing interest in the potential impacts of seismic noise on fish and other commercial species has prompted Geoscience Australia to undertake studies on fish behaviour and scallop condition, as well as to provide recommendations for future impact assessments and experimental design. Since the impact of seismic activities on marine life is not yet fully understood, Geoscience Australia maintains its commitment to continue research and provide up-to-date advice.

Publications and Related Information