Meet the European Marine Observation and Data Network

Meet the European Marine Observation and Data Network

A portrait of EMODnet

Is climate change affecting fish populations in this part of the ocean? Are we seeing more vessel activity than usual? What is the best location in this area to develop a wind energy park with the least damage to the seabed? The data needed to help answer these and hundreds of other marine-related questions can be found for free through the European Marine Observation and Data Network portal, EMODnet.

EMODnet is a data service that aims to help realize the EU’s integrated maritime policy and is funded by the EU Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. The more than 120 member organizations are experts in marine data. They collectively assemble and harmonize data collected from diverse sources into interoperable data layers and geodata products. Kate Larkin, head of the EMODnet Secretariat, based in Ostend at the Belgium coast, is certain: “Data services like EMODnet add value to ocean observations, converting individual datasets into easy to find and use products. The open and free access to high-resolution baseline data, integrated data and information saves stakeholders a lot of money. The trusted, continent-wide data products also open up new opportunities for innovation and growth.” The European Commission has calculated that open access to marine data via EMODnet and other services saves one billion euros a year.

Pan-European data and maps

Before EMODnet, which started in 2009, European ocean observation data was largely distributed in disparate organizations. This data was often closed to the wider user community and, even if it was openly available, it was not very user-friendly. EMODnet changed this, providing data about the marine environment (bathymetry, biology, chemistry, geology, seabed habitats and physics) and related human activities (offshore platform sitings, vessel density and maritime spatial planning). Larkin says: “EMODnet is unique in offering both marine environmental data and data/information on human activities at sea. Both are essential to monitor the environmental status of our oceans and to assess humanity’s impact on them.” For each theme, EMODnet has created a gateway to a range of data archives that are managed by local, national, regional and international organizations. Through these gateways, users have access to standardized observations, data quality indicators and processed data products. “We also create and make available pan-European multi-resolution maps of seas and oceans, spanning all seven disciplinary themes,” continues Larkin. “Based on the philosophy ‘collect once, use many times’, we provide high added value whereby a user, such as an offshore renewable energy operator, no longer has to start from scratch collecting marine environmental survey data in the planning stages of a new installation.” One of the products that such an energy company can use is the Bathymetry digital terrain model. This has recently been further enhanced in the new unified EMODnet Portal, where a user can access not only the full pan-European DTM, but can also download high-resolution datasets for their region of interest in an easy-to-use common map viewer.

Kate Larkin, head of the EMODnet Secretariat.

Understanding environmental processes

Another clear use case relates to storm surges, which pose a huge risk to coastal communities, human life and property. EMODnet Bathymetry, including the digital terrain model, has been used by several EU Member States to deliver more accurate storm surge models. The EMODnet’s Central Map Viewer offers countless possibilities to combine multidisciplinary data from many themes. Kate Larkin elaborates: “For example, seeing areas of highest vessel activity and comparing this with a map of the most vulnerable seabed habitats, can help marine managers to more accurately identify potential no-boating zones, allowing marine life to restore and recover. It also empowers coastal tourism operators towards more sustainable approaches. Such easy and free data combinations are a game-changer for assessing human impact and driving evidence-based, sustainable marine management.” To be clear: EMODnet does not conduct its own analyses or impact assessments, but provides the data that enables users to do so in an effective and efficient way. Larkin explains: “We stimulate organizations to use our data resources to build new applications.”

Expanded geographical scope

The core mandate for EMODnet is delivering high-resolution multi-parametric maps and data services for European seas. However, partnerships have expanded the geographical scope. The platform provides a multitude of resources covering, among others, the Atlantic, Arctic and Mediterranean areas. There are several collaborations in the US, including with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). EMODnet was one of the first European initiatives to collaborate with NOAA on free and open source ERDDAP services that give users a simple, consistent way to download subsets of maritime datasets. Dialogue is also ongoing with the US and Canadian Integrated Ocean Observing System to achieve a better interoperability of regional data services. There is also a partnership with China, says Larkin: “Two projects so far, funded by the EU and China respectively, have leveraged sharing of best practices and marine data to ensure more accessible and usable marine knowledge for all. About 20 European partner organizations took part.”

On the theme of bathymetry, EMODnet actively contributes to the Seabed 2030 initiative to produce a global seabed map by 2030. On the theme of biology, EMODnet has worldwide coverage of many biodiversity parameters, thanks to a collaboration with EurOBIS, part of the international Ocean Biodiversity Information system of UNESCO. And on the theme of geology, a collaboration with Mexico and other partners in the Caribbean Sea now offers various products for this region, and the same is being set up for the Caspian Sea.

Bathymetry Digital Terrain Model.

Open access

As they are funded by the European Union, the data products are fully open access and free to use by all (Creative Commons 4.0). However, in some cases the underlying data is subject to a specific data policy, restricting it to open source. Larkin explains: “We have the philosophy of making data as open as possible and as closed as necessary. This means that users can still benefit from all data shared with EMODnet since all data is accompanied by metadata that describes the data collection and attributes ownership to the data originator. Then, if a particular dataset requires permission to access, the user can contact the data originator to request this.” Kate Larkin, her Secretariat team and in fact the whole network have many ongoing dialogues with stakeholders to promote data sharing – including with the private sector – to further fill gaps in geographical coverage, parameter and resolution. “We are strengthening collaboration with all sectors of the blue economy, from offshore renewables to aquaculture and the shipping industry,” continues Larkin. “This often engages our Data Ingestion service, which specifically helps organizations to curate data into FAIR data: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. One such example is a collaboration with the UK Crown Estate and the UK Marine Environmental Data and Information Network to make marine environmental data, collected under licence by British offshore renewable energy operators, available via EMODnet.”

EMODnet comprises a single portal for in situ marine data in Europe and beyond.

Win-win for the private sector

It is not just public marine and maritime organizations who can apply to participate in the no-fee partner network; the private sector can also use the services and join open events free of charge. Examples are Open Sea Lab Hackathons and other more sector-specific dialogues and events. Larkin: “The private sector can also share data with EMODnet, which is a win-win, not only because the company can get free support for data curation. Since the data can now be integrated into pan-European and increasingly global layers, it has more impact, with our services being accessed by more than 200,000 users per year. In addition, our full offer is linked to international ocean data and metadata catalogues that serve even larger user bases, such as GEOSS for earth observation data and OBIS, the clearing-house on marine biodiversity data.” Connecting best practices used for data and metadata is also important for the full marine knowledge value chain. Larkin concludes: “It is one of our priorities this year to provide guidance to ocean observation and data collection efforts to collect a rich description of metadata alongside the data. It will make the data better available for ingestion to EMODnet and to the wider European and global community.”

For more information, see here.

How EMODnet supports the blue economy and society.
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