Maritime Forum

Maritime Forum Themes


Second meeting of Marine Observation and Data Expert Group

Event date:
15/09/2008 - 17:00 to 16/09/2008 - 17:00
Table of Contents
    MODEG Meeting, 15-16 September 2008

    agenda and presentations

    The second meeting of the Marine Observation and Data Expert Group (MODEG) was held on 15-16 September 2008. Nineteen members of the Group were present - Colpan Beken, Jean-François Bourillet, Peter Burkill, Frederique Blanc, Antonio Bode, Gianna Casazza, Hans Dahlin (chairman), Yann-Hervé De Roeck, Robert Gatliff, Lars Hansen, François Le Corre, Ilaria Nardello, Manfred Reinke, Lesley Rickards, Dick Schaap, Anastasios Tselepidis, Henry Vallius and Christopher Zimmerman. Four others, Antonios Bode, Neil Holdsworth, Remi Laane, and Ralph Rayner - had apologized for their unavoidable absence. From the Commission there was Luis Cuervo (DG-MARE), Alan Edwards (DG-RTD), Arno Kaschl (DG-ENTR), Pascal Le Grand (DG-RTD), Iain Shepherd (DG-MARE), Mikko Strahlendorff (DG-ENTR), Gert Verreet (DG-ENV) and Anne-France Woestyn (DG-MARE).


    A study carried out in the first half of 2008 had examined legal aspects of marine data. Their draft final report had been distributed beforehand and some Experts had sent their comments to the chairman.

    The study was presented by Stephen Hodgson on behalf of the contractors. Ian Payne, Conor O'Kane and Peter van de Velde were also present. The study consisted of (1) a general analysis of the legal framework, (2) a special analysis of the legal position for a sample of maritime countries – Bulgaria, France, Greece, Norway, Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom - and for regulatory data on fisheries reported to the European Commission (3) a practical exercise in requesting data from holders of marine data.

    Their study considered aspects such as the Inspire Directive's contribution to accessing and using spatial data, the Environmental Information Directive for accessing data and the Re-use of Public Sector Information Directive for using data. The importance of respecting intellectual property rights was emphasised. Only the data owner can grant permission to access or use data. This could be the organization that collected the data or funded its collection and is not necessarily the data holder.

    The contractors had sent out "data hunters" to request different types of data from leading data-holding institutions from each country. The reaction was mixed. Some institutions had very well defined data policies whereas others did not. The ISO 19115 descriptors of legal access were found to be a non-disjoint set and totally unhelpful for useful classification. One descriptor was "restricted" another was "other restrictions". The contractors suggested another more appropriate classification. It was pointed out that the Seadatanet project has also developed a description.

    Access of course depends on who is asking for it. Many data holders treat researchers, government bodies, environmental lobbyists and commercial interests differently. Certainly the new Data Collection regulation in fisheries makes this distinction. This fact may also have affected the "data hunters" results as "collecting data in order to discover how easy it is" does not readily fall into one of the normal categories of data use.

    The Commission had tried to extract trends from the database. In very broad terms about one third of the requests were satisfied immediately through web-downloads, another third was provided after a few days and the rest not at all. Some of the findings were contrary to expectation. For instance a large proportion of fisheries data was flagged as unrestricted which does not tie in at all with the Group's experience. It was suggested that a true statistical analysis of data accessibility might be impossible with these data and that it would be better to focus on good and bad practice.

    One of the Experts had checked the Spanish data and found that most of the data series he was aware of had been included in the review. Some of them, however, seem to have been erroneously identified (or more precisely, with incomplete references to programs or institutions). For instance, the hydrography and biology data for Spanish coastal data series from the programs of the Instituto Español de Oceanografía appear correctly recorded in the lists (except that the Baltic Sea is mentioned) and the sampling stations appear in the maps, while the list of names of the parent research programs do not include the largest one (RADIALES) that is responsible for data in the Atlantic coasts (Bay of Biscay and E Atlantic). He understood that this inventory is a first approach but noted that most Spanish researchers have been responding repeatedly to questionnaires dealing with data inventories in recent years. Perhaps such international inventories need to be regularly updated by relevant organizations (e.g. national data centers) instead of sending requests to individual scientists every time.

    The different MODEG subgroups were invited to comment on these findings.


    The hydrography-geology group felt that some degree of control of data was necessary. Hydrographic offices and geological surveys want to know who is using the data and why. They were concerned about liability in safety-critical applications and the dangers of allowing enemy access to bathymetry data in sensitive military areas. They emphasized the importance of making sure that intellectual property rights were respected and distinguishing between raw data and processed data. They thought that EMODNET should promote access to metadata rather than the data itself but that European countries could agree to provide a gridded nautical terrain model at a common resolution.


    Some of the physics subgroup found the language of the "legal status of data" report difficult to read and would appreciate a summary more easily readable by laymen. Indeed this will be delivered in due course.

    They are a little puzzled by the INSPIRE Directive. It sounds fine in practice but it is not clear exactly what Member States will be obliged to make available. The scale is significant. Will measurements averaged over a large area be enough to fulfill the requirements or will more detailed information be required? A presentation on INSPIRE in the next meeting will be useful.

    They were concerned that the information obtained in the "data hunter" exercise might not be amenable to the statistical analysis attempted by the Commission. They agreed that highlighting best and worst practice might be more appropriate.


    The Chemistry subgroup emphasised that there were a number of legal reporting obligations already. Making sure that these data were made available would be a good first step. The study group should examine the policies and practice of the marine sea conventions and also see what the water framework directive and marine strategy directive say.


    The biologists agreed with the study's finding that ownership and access conditions are crucial. This information should be included with all datasets.


    Lesley Rickards presented the status of marine data catalogues. She showed the European Directory of the Ocean-Observing System (EDIOS), the European Directory of Marine Environmental Data (EDMED), Cruise Summary Reports (CSR), Common Data Index (CDI), EU SeaSed (including European Marine Sediment Information Network (EUMARSIN) and EUROCORE) and EUROSEISMIC. Not all of these are up to date but they do provide a reference source of information.

    The Group thought that a good start had been made. However it is hard to determine from this data whether it is fit for purpose – where the gaps are, whether enough data is being collected to meet the needs of future generations, what the precision and reproducibility is and whether the components fit together. The Commission appealed to the Group to answer these questions using their experience. Some initial replies were given.


    The International Hydrographic Organisation holds an "S55" registry of reports from IHO memberstates, where the state of hydrographic surveys and safety information to mariners is registered. The publication can be downloaded from the Web The database does not identify individual surveys but gives a world wide overview of coverage. It is an international publication where all nations have to agree to the form of the content. It provides qualitative assessments such as “adequately surveyed” which provides a picture and a tool to identify areas in need of capacity building. However there are no formal quality standards and it is not easy to use for those not working in other disciplines.

    Indeed this is probably a general truth. Scientists from one discipline can use their years of experience to locate sources of data but those wanting data from another discipline do not know where to turn.

    Quality is definitely an issue. Data collected 100 years ago with a line and sinker does not have the same value as a modern sonar measurement.

    Multi-beam surveys providing water-depth and sea-bottom roughness have the potential to answer many questions on habitat type. A number of hydrographical institutes, geological surveys and commercial companies have collected these data but nobody has an overall picture of what is available and what remains to be done. The Commission should start work on this straightaway. It was pointed out that for deep water, where the resolution of surveys from the surface is low, underwater platforms would be necessary if we want some habitat detail. And this is expensive.

    Geologists feel that the status of their metadata catalogues was reasonable. Different institutes have different classifications for sea-bed sediments. The Australians are beginning an exercise in harmonizing the approaches of individual states that could be adopted in Europe.


    The physics subgroup emphasized the "monitoring" component of EMODNET. Access to data is not enough. We need a strong commitment to continued monitoring.

    Little consideration had been given to meteorological data in EMODNET so far but the cost of meteorological agencies is clearly a deterrent to its use. Meteorological agencies focus on their own value-added services rather than helping those who need less-processed products to develop their own services. According to one Expert, Europe's meteorological agencies only obtain 3% of their income from selling data. Making it more freely available would enable more downstream services to be developed.

    The MyOcean (for open ocean) and ECOOP)(for coastal waters) projects will identify the need for new data and can feed the gap analysis.


    There are currently no obligations on atmospheric inputs or human inputs from shipping. But even where there are obligations - on river inputs for instance – it is difficult to obtain data is not available in a harmonized accessible form – whether real-time or delayed-mode – at any price.

    The marine data catalogues presented by Lesley Rickards will be examined by the Subgroup in order to define how much (which type, spatial coverage, temporal coverage, data policy) of chemistry data they contain.

    They highlighted the importance of continuous monitoring of dissolved nutrients, oxygen and chlorophyll using advanced sensors and data distribution networks as well as the identification of gaps due to inadequate technology or sampling.

    The European Commission could do its bit by insisting that data collected within EU-funded projects be made available.


    The biologists agreed that there is a wealth of data lying in files of researchers and students that could greatly improve our understanding of the marine biosphere if made available. Obliging those who publish to do this is already becoming common practice in some disciplines. Certainly the EU should oblige or facilitate the projects that it funds to do this.

    They also reported difficulties in fitting data together. For instance physical and biological data collected in the same cruise is processed by different teams and stored in different archives. Retrieving the physical conditions during a biological sampling can be difficult.

    The group then considered the different data availability of trophic layers.

    Useful fisheries data is generally not publicly available. Official landings figures are not a good estimate of extractions from the stock because they do not include "black" landings or discards. A considerable part of the effort involved in scientific stock assessments consists in assembling data from different sources. Assessment sessions are held in secret.

    Benthic data is available for the immediate coast but not much further. Cooperation with non-EU countries is essential – particularly in the Mediterranean where the situation is not good. Indeed the status of data in the Mediterranean was identified as poorer than in other marine basins for nearly all biological data.

    In general there is only loose linkage between the different disciplines. One school specializes in the identification of bacteria and another on production.

    Better biological data will enable more efficient assessment of environmental impact, and enable the setting of reference points for depleted fish stocks. Spatial planning cannot be achieved without better data on our seas than we have at present. If we are going to implement the ecosystem approach to fisheries we will need more data on the impact of fisheries on the environment and on the environment's impact on fisheries.


    The Group suggested a number of technological developments that would enable a more effective marine observation and data infrastructure. They included:

    1. lack of common standards
    2. better sensors
    3. more platforms for collecting data – a United States proposal to use vessels of opportunity to improve coverage in time and space was mentioned.

    The subgroups were asked to reflect on these needs and report back to the Commission within two weeks.


    The Commission plans to submit an impact assessment for EMODNET in June 2009. This will require an analysis of the present condition of marine data, the costs of collecting and the benefits of improving quality, quantity and accessibility. This will be facilitated by an intense study for €250 000 to begin in January 2009. The Commission is aware that much work has been done in the past and some of the work will involve collecting and summarizing these findings. Questions that might be asked include:

    1. How much is spent on collecting marine data already?
    2. How much income of institutions is derived from sales of data?
    3. What is the cost of collecting data for impact and environmental assessments?
    4. What would be the economic benefit of more accurate sea-level data (this would not necessarily require a detailed analysis of exactly how better data would reduce that uncertainty?
    5. what would we not have been able to do if certain data had not been available
    6. what are the economic benefits of biodiversity?

    The SEPRISE project has prepared a methodology explaining how one might construct an economic case for better data and monitoring but that it would cost more than €1 million to do. However we might be able to take some elements from it. The Irish government has done a very detailed cost-benefit study that we should look at.

    The Experts were asked to indicate any studies that they were aware of that had already addressed this issue and any additional questions that needed answering.


    The Commission presented initial ideas for a European Atlas of the Seas. This had been promised in the Blue Book on Maritime Policy and a preliminary budget has been allocated in 2009. Stakeholders had presented a number of suggestions in the consultation process leading up to the Blue Book. The consensus was that it should be a predominantly on-line effort and that it should not only be for specialists but should raise awareness amongst the general public.

    The Experts were generally favourable to the idea. They pointed out that the semiology of on-line atlases is different to that of paper versions. We should see if three dimensional viewing could be implemented. Allowing space for user-generated content is in principle a good idea but we should be careful; Encora's coastal wiki only allows authorized users to contribute.

    Finally the Commission were warned about being too ambitious in the first phase. A few good quality layers will be enough. The developers of the GEO portal have found it difficult to deliver an effective initial system, partly due to trying to do "too much too soon".


    The Commission outlined the WISE Marine initiative. This is an extension of the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) extension to cover marine data and information and is part of the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS). A concept paper had been released in February 2008 and comments had been received from the OSPAR and HELCOM marine conventions, the governments of France, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom and the European Science Foundation Marine Board. It aims to facilitate reporting the state of the marine environment and in constructing indicators will draw on data from EMODNET.

    The Experts felt that the explanation (and in particular a triangular diagram presented by the Commission) had been helpful in clarifying the difference between the two initiatives.

    the pyramid


    The Commission will produce a Roadmap this year outlining the steps to be taken towards a European Marine Observation and Data Network. A draft including some text and some chapter headings was distributed to the Experts. A further draft will be distributed in the next two weeks incorporating some of inputs expected from expert group.


    The actions from the previous meeting had all been completed. New actions to be completed by each of the four subgroups were to:


    Provide any feedback on the study of legal issues (in addition to that reported in this summary) subgroup leaders to send contributions to Chairman and Secretary by evening September 23
    Provide feedback to the Rickards report on meta data catalogues on practical issues on access to marine data from a user perspective. What cannot be done now or what is done inefficiently? sub-group leaders to send contributions to Rickards, Chairman and Secretary by evening 30 September
    Provide one or two pages on technical issues for data – standards, sensors, platforms etc subgroup leaders to send contributions to Chairman and Secretary by evening 30 September
    Provide references of studies dealing with economics of marine data and suggest questions that could be dealt with in study on legal issues subgroup leaders to send contributions to Chairman and Secretary by evening 30 September
    ask for presentation on implementing rules for INSPIRE at next meeting

    Within two weeks a revised version of the Roadmap will be distributed for comment.


    The next meeting is to be held on 1-2 December, 2008, starting at 11am on 1 December.