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2020-01-22

EuroSea: more knowledge is necessary for a sustainable use of the Ocean

As reported by Ifremer, Europe with its long coastline, many peninsulas, marginal seas, gulfs and bays is closely interlocked with the ocean. In times of sea-level rise and warming, it would therefore be important to know exactly which processes take place off the coasts and in the open ocean. However, there are still major gaps in ocean observing. An international consortium of 55 partners wants to change this within the EuroSea project. The EU is funding it with a total of 12.6 million euros. The project is coordinated by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and had its kick-off meeting in Brussels in November 2019.

The oceans provide us with food and oxygen. They are trade routes and climate buffers. They serve us as places for recreation, but often also as waste dumps. Storms, rising sea levels, tidal waves and pollution threaten people and ecosystems along the coasts. This is particularly true of Europe that is closely interlocked with the ocean with its large peninsulas, marginal seas and bays.

Yet despite the immense importance of the oceans, there are still major gaps in our knowledge of what happens inside the seas. This is partly due to missing or insufficiently linked observations. These knowledge gaps make it difficult to assess the present state and predict future developments to plan for a sustainable use of the oceans.

An international consortium of 55 partners has now joined forces in the EuroSea project with the aim to significantly improve ocean observation in Europe and beyond. The European Union is funding the project with a total of 12.6 million euros until 2023. This week, 80 researchers as well as guests from politics and industry will meet at the opening conference at the Royal Belgium Institute for Natural Science (RBINS) in Brussels.

"The aim of the project is to better combine existing capacities in the European marine observing system, to fill existing gaps and to make the resulting data and information available to users more easily," says coordinator Dr. Toste Tanhua from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.

The partners in the EuroSea consortium are scientific institutions as well as non-public partners from 13 European countries as well as Brazil and Canada. In addition, there are international institutions and networks such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO), the European Marine Board and the European part of the Global Ocean Observing System (EuroGOOS). It has also been possible to win partners from industry to, for example, further develop technologies and services for ocean observing and for securing continuation of services after the end of the project.

In addition to improving measurements directly in the ocean, EuroSea focuses on the quality and usability of the collected data, and on systems to use the data for operational forecast services. "To this end, we are working closely with existing marine databases and data infrastructures and the EU BlueCloud project to improve capabilities in these areas and facilitate efficient data exchange," stresses the project coordinator. The ocean data should comply with the FAIR standard (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable). "Unfortunately, this is not always the case" says Dr. Tanhua. 

The project also builds on its predecessor AtlantOS and cooperates with the resulting programme of the same name, which aims to improve ocean observation in the entire Atlantic region. EuroSea continues the work begun there with a focus to the European seas, including the Mediterranean Sea, and its neighbors.

"We want to pave the way for a sustained ocean observing system that not only provides researchers, but also users such as fisheries, aquaculture, coastal protection, offshore energy generation and ultimately the public with the information they need and demand. In doing so, we are also contributing to the United Nations' sustainable development goals, the UN Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and the G7 Initiative Future of the Seas and Oceans," Dr. Tanhua summarizes.

The All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance implements the Belém Statement and aims to encourage new models of cooperation in a coordinated and partnership-based approach to address the scientific and societal challenges of the Atlantic Ocean based on the principles of shared responsibility and mutual benefit in key areas, including ocean observation. Earth is really an ocean planet, as the world’s ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth's surface. Yet a whopping 95% of the ocean is unexplored! Even with all the existing technologies – satellites, buoys, underwater vehicles, vessels – the current ocean observation, forecasting and monitoring systems are fragmented and their sustainability is a concern for most. There is a recognised need for sustained long-term observations.