European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet): Making Fragmented Marine Data Relevant and Accessible

EMODnet members provide and manage marine data that supports policy development, scientific research and industrial applications as well as stimulating investment in sustainable coastal and offshore activities.

Emodnet: Rationale and Relevance

More than half of Europe’s territory lies beneath its oceans. The prohibitive cost of acquiring datasets from the marine environment often results in data being collected in an ad hoc manner. Estimates published in Marine knowledge 2020 [1], indicate the European Union (EU) member states spend about €1billion annually collecting marine data. The resulting fragmented datasets, hamper our ability to fully understand this dynamic environment and the symbiotic relationship between our land and sea.

The European Commission (EC) concluded that easily accessible marine data is crucial to supporting marine knowledge and the sustainable economic development of Europe’s marine sector. In order to provide an overarching database and clearer understanding of all European seas, the EC has directed funds toward the compilation of European marine data under a variety of scientific and sociogeographic themes through the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet).

EMODnet comprises more than 100 national maritime agencies that collect and manage national and regional datasets, data products and metadata. Conservative estimates of the benefits of creating an integrated network is about €300 million per annum, as reported in Marine Knowledge, 2020 [1]. As part of EMODnet, individual national datasets are collated, then standardized and harmonized across national boundaries to create seamless European interpretative data products.

All products are based on primary information owned by project partners or sourced, with permission, from third-party organizations. Primary data requires significant expert interpretation to generate EMODnet products and maps. These are now available as Web Mapping Services (WMS) to engineers and scientists via EMODnet open source web viewers. In most cases, original information and derived data products are available for download via data download services or Web Feature Services (WFS). It is envisioned that unification and provision of these data will enable advanced interpretation and provide a holistic understanding of our oceans. Furthermore it is predicted that an improved scientific knowledge of our oceans will result in significant socioeconomic benefits. “Blue Growth” [2] has reported that Europe’s “Blue Economy” accounts for 5.4 million jobs and about €500 billion per year in added value. Additionally, due to our increased reliance on our seas, we now have the opportunity to use these data to create robust policies that will promote responsible use of our marine environment.

The complex geology that forms Europe’s diverse onshore landscape is mirrored beneath Europe’s oceans. Heterogeneous submarine geology hosts energy sources, mineral resources and locations for carbon sequestration. It is estimated in “Blue Growth” [2] that between 5-10 percent of the world supply of minerals (e.g., cobalt and zinc) will be sourced from marine environments by 2030.
Also lurking beneath the waves are precarious environments, likely to be affected by earthquakes or landslides, which could result in destructive tsunamis. Enormous submarine canyons, volcanoes, channels and continental shelves (Fig. 1) create conduits that direct ocean currents and provide marine species with the unique and often extreme environments crucial for their survival. Modern echo sounders can detect fish stocks more efficiently than ever before, and larger ships now transport greater cargo loads across our oceans; “Blue Growth” and “Innovation in the Blue Economy” [2] [3], report that 37 percent of EU trade is seaborne.  As technology continues to develop, there may be an increased focus on utilizing currents and waves to generate renewable energy [2]. It is evident that we increasingly rely on our vast marine environment for raw materials, food, transport and energy. Sea-related industries in Europe account for 5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) (EC, 2012).

Fig. 1: Images from the EMODnet Bathymetry portal, August 2015 A: Background Image of European area showing mapped shipwrecks as black dots  B: Irish bathymetry, using a blue color spectrum, with darkening blue representing deepening of the seabed. This image displays large canyons and channels cut into west European continental slope  C: Italian bathymetry, using a red to blue color spectrum, with black representing land, red representing shallow terrain deepening to blue. This still image is taken from a 3D animation of the new EMODnet DTM for the Tyrrhenian Sea, illustrating the volcanic Lipari Islands and large outflow channels

Fig. 1: Images from the EMODnet Bathymetry portal, August 2015
A: Background Image of European area showing mapped shipwrecks as black dots
B: Irish bathymetry, using a blue color spectrum, with darkening blue representing deepening of the seabed. This image displays large canyons and channels cut into west European continental slope
C: Italian bathymetry, using a red to blue color spectrum, with black representing land, red representing shallow terrain deepening to blue. This still image is taken from a 3D animation of the new EMODnet DTM for the Tyrrhenian Sea, illustrating the volcanic Lipari Islands and large outflow channels

While there is no question regarding the importance of scientific mapping in order to understand the interconnected science between land and sea, it is not an easy task. Across Europe, a myriad of agencies, authorities, institutes and industries acquire expensive marine data for their own applied use, thus generating large datasets that are often used only once, or sit on data servers, rather like reports gathering dust on shelves. Though these data are collected for specific purposes, they can be used for a variety of applications. However, until now, these data have not been centralized, standardized and harmonized for a wide range of users.

EMODnet: Structure and Management

As part of the Integrated Maritime Policy Action Plan, the European Commission Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) formulated EMODnet in 2007. The network was established by the European Union under Regulation (EU) No.1255/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2011 to support the further development of an integrated Maritime Policy. It is a long-term marine data initiative that supports, for example, sustainable economic development in the marine sector [2], the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and Marine Knowledge 2020, by providing the best European marine data free to users, through the central EMODnet portal. This ethos has been established so that existing infrastructures are supported and new initiatives are developed with specified standards across varying scientific and sociogeographical disciplines.

The EMODnet data infrastructure comprises seven sub-portals (Fig. 2) that provide access to marine data including bathymetry, geology, physics, chemistry, biology, seabed habitats and human activities. During the project, EMODnet products will continue to be designed and refined so they are user-friendly.

Fig. 2: The EMODnet project is divided into seven key themes. Image Credit:   EMODnet Secretariat

Fig. 2: The EMODnet project is divided into seven key themes. Image Credit: EMODnet Secretariat

Central to the management of this large scale project is the EMODnet Secretariat that works to develop an efficient, effective and widely used data service. With such a large complement of countries, cultures and languages, the Secretariat’s role extends to supporting member states, coordinating international communication and monitoring progress. It provides a test and advisory service for each theme and prioritizes the optimum communication of each quality controlled data set. As EMODnet progresses, the Secretariat will continue to produce up-to-date, online demonstrations, videos, brochures and posters. It is administered by Seascape Consultants UK and is hosted by the Flemish Government at the InnovOcean site in Oostende, Belgium.

 

Emodnet Partner Case Study, Geological Survey of Ireland

The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) participates in two of the EMODnet themes: Bathymetry and Geology. A team of geologists and data-handling experts from Ireland’s national seabed mapping program, INFOMAR (Integrated Mapping For the sustainable development of Irelands MARine resources), contributes Ireland’s high resolution bathymetry data, derived geological data products and associated metadata. In collaboration with our European partners, the scientists continually refine and improve EMODnet project outputs, available through the EMODnet open source web viewers.  

EMODnet Bathymetry

EMODnet Bathymetry has created a single harmonized bathymetric map for all European seas using the best available bathymetry from a variety of sources. Bathymetry (water depth) is the term used to refer to ocean topography. A bathymetry map is in the form of a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) and is a 3D representation of the seabed surface (Fig. 1). The variations of depth are visualized using color ramps along with artificial illumination techniques (shaded relief). Gaps with no data coverage are completed by integrating the GEBCO Digital Bathymetry (2014). Currently, it is estimated that about half of European seafloor lacks high resolution bathymetric surveys, essential to our understanding of our marine environment as cited in Innovation in the Blue Economy[3].

Hydrographers use a range of multibeam echosounder systems, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technologies and satellite data to produce maps representing ocean depths. These maps are essential for safety and navigation, understanding current dynamics, generating hydrodynamic models, habitat mapping and planning the installation of marine infrastructure such as cables, pipelines or wind turbines.

Since its commencement in 1999, INFOMAR (formerly Irish National Seabed Survey), has developed extensive expertise in acquiring seabed mapping datasets. INFOMAR data meets International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Order 1a standards and is sent to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) to update the nautical charts.  

INFOMAR data was resampled (from 50m deep-water up to 2m near-shore) to a resolution of 1/8 * 1/8 arc-minute (ca 230m) for inclusion in the EMODnet Bathymetry DTM. The DTM is freely available to view and the data can be downloaded from the EMODnet Hydrography portal. It is available for digital download in the following formats: EMODnet CSV, EMODnet NetCDF, both including the EMODnet data model and with or without GEBCO and interpolated (INT) gridcells, ESRI ASCII, GeoTiff, Fledermaus SD, and XYZ files. Furthermore, each DTM cell contains a reference to the source dataset and users can link to the metadata record which describes the origin and owner of the dataset. All layers are OGC WMS services that can be integrated into other WMS service portals.

In addition, INFOMAR is involved in a pilot study along with The Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOM – France) and the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany (BSH) to produce high resolution coastal DTMs. These DTMs will be included as a new layer on the portal in September 2015.

The geographical boundaries of the service are set to: N 69 W36 and N25 E42. The geodetic system for the grid is WGS84.

EMODnet Geology

The marine environment provides significant challenges to geologists and researchers keen on interpreting the geology of the Earth under the oceans. Marine geologists use a variety of techniques to generate information which, when used in combination with bathymetry, provide us with a comprehensive geological understanding of the seabed. Physical samples are often collected via coring, drilling, grab sampling or dredging. Visual observations can be obtained by using towed cameras and remotely operated vehicles. Sound waves are used as an acoustic remote sensing technique, to interpret the sediments detected on the seabed and the geology of the deeper sub-seafloor. These data are acquired, or stored, by the relevant national agency as primary data and are interpreted by national experts.

The EMODnet Geology project comprises experts from 36 agencies and geological surveys across Europe. Project partners at these agencies transpose their national geological maps, into internationally standardized and harmonized maps, at a scale of 1:250,000. Geological information is divided into five key subject workpackages:

  • Seabed substrate (Fig. 3) and sediment accumulation rates
  • Pre-Quaternary geology (Fig. 3), Quaternary geology, geomorphology and faults
  • Rate of coastal erosion and sedimentation
  • Geological events and probabilities, including earthquakes, landslides and volcanoes
  • Marine minerals, including aggregates, hydrocarbons, placer deposits and metalliferous deposits (Fig. 3).

Fig 3: Images from the EMODnet Geology portal, August 2015  A: Distribution of marine minerals deposits data, as displayed on the EMODnet Geology portal  B: 1:1 million Seabed geology map, as displayed on the EMODnet Geology portal  C: Irish Seabed Substrate map developed, using folk 7 classification, for EMODnet Geology

Fig 3: Images from the EMODnet Geology portal, August 2015
A: Distribution of marine minerals deposits data, as displayed on the EMODnet Geology portal
B: 1:1 million Seabed geology map, as displayed on the EMODnet Geology portal
C: Irish Seabed Substrate map developed, using folk 7 classification, for EMODnet Geology

As part of EMODnet Geology, the GSI coordinates the Minerals work package. Partners in this work package are compiling information on areas of marine mineral deposits, which will provide an overview of all publicly available marine minerals information for the European regional seas. Mapping the spatial extent of marine mineral occurrences within European seas will allow us to communicate the extent of these deposits visually, using one common data standard, at one common scale. It is envisaged that these seabed mineral deposit maps will be used by policymakers, marine spatial planners and related industries.

To create this service, the GSI developed a strategy for compiling, standardizing, modeling and disseminating the data and metadata for nine marine mineral types. A standardized format has been adapted, which allows harmonization of multiple typologies within multiple datasets. This European standardized format is called Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE). The result is a map with individual layers reflecting the known extent of specified mineral deposit types within the EMODnet geographic area.

The EMODnet geographic area comprises the Exclusive Economic Zone’s (EEZ) of all 30 EMODnet Geology partner nations. In order to identify and map areas of marine mineral deposits in each of the participating states EEZ, we have requested that each partner provides available information, including publicly available third-party information, on the following marine mineral deposit types:

  • Aggregates
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Gas hydrates
  • Marine placers
  • Phosphorites
  • Evaporites
  • Polymetallic sulphides
  • Polymetallic nodules
  • Cobalt rich ferromanganese crust. 

A unique data schema has been created for each deposit type. Each partner has been encouraged to focus on delivering comprehensive data for the marine mineral deposits within their national EEZ. This ensures that as many attribution fields as possible are populated within the data schema; the final product is then standardized and represents the most up-to-date data available. All partner data are merged using ArcGIS, WGS84 projection at a 1:250,000 scale and modelled according to INSPIRE specifications.

Currently mid-way through the project, GSI has standardized all marine minerals data submitted thus far (Fig. 3). WMS layers have been created, hosted by the GSI and consumed by the new EMODnet Geology open source viewer and are now publicly available. Along with minerals data, the GSI have contributed maps of the seabed substrate (Fig. 3), geomorphology, seabed geology (Fig. 3), faults, coastal erosion and offshore geohazards including landslides. Many of these maps have been produced as a result of our involvement in the EMODnet project. Over the course of the project, GSI has received EMODnet data product requests from diverse sources, including habitat mappers, local authorities, marine spatial planners, researchers and industry. It is anticipated that development of these products will continue and data will provide baseline information for industry, academia and policymakers in European government.

In October 2015, EMODnet will host its first open conference. All partners from each of the seven thematic groups are due to attend. This conference will provide an opportunity to look at how to best maximize the benefits of data and communicate our products to a variety of end users. As EMODnet reaches development maturity, stakeholder engagement and user feedback will provide invaluable project evaluation. This feedback will be used to assess the project’s success in achieving its goal: that European marine data is available and free of restrictions on use. It is anticipated these data will promote responsible husbandry of our oceans and continue to highlight the importance of ocean health.

Author Bio

Maria Judge is a marine geologist. She works on the EMODnet project for the Geological Survey of Ireland. Her research interests include oceanic spreading and the evolution of oceanic crust, hydrothermal mineralisation and seabed mineral accumulation. She may be contacted at Maria.Judge@gsi.ie.

Acknowledgements

EMODnet is funded by the European Commission, DG Mare.

The GSI as partners in the Geology and Bathymetry themes acknowledges the diligent work and data contributions of all EMODnet project partners.

References

[1] Marine Knowledge 2020. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council Marine Knowledge 2020 marine data and observation for smart and sustainable growth. COM/2010/0461. 2010.

[2] Blue Growth, opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. COM/2012/0494. 2012. 

[3] Innovation in the Blue Economy: realising the potential of our seas and oceans for jobs and growth. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions COM (2014) 254/2 (13/05/2014). 2014.