Maritime Forum

Maritime Forum Themes


First meeting of Marine Observation and Data Expert Group

Event date:
18/06/2008 - 17:00
Table of Contents

    MODEG Meeting, 18 June 2008

    This was the first meeting of the Marine Observation and Data Expert Group (MODEG). Eighteen members of the Group were present - Colpan Beken, Frederique Blanc, Antonio Bode, Gianna Casazza, Hans Dahlin, Yann-Hervé De Roeck, Robert Gatliff, Lars Hansen, Neil Holdsworth, Remi Laane, François Le Corre, Ilaria Nardello, Manfred Reinke, Lesley Rickards, Dick Schaap, Anastasios Tselepidis, Henry Vallius and Christopher Zimmerman. Three others - Jean-François Bourillet, Peter Burkill and Ralph Rayner - had apologized for their unavoidable absence.

    The Commission was represented by Trine Christiansen (European Environment Agency), Alan Edwards (Directorate General for Research), Reinhard Priebe (Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries), Iain Shepherd (Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries), Gert Verreet (Directorate General for the Environment). Phil Weaver (National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton) and Jan-Bart Calewaert from the European Science Foundation's Marine Board participated as invited experts. Philippe Moguedet (Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) apologized for his absence.


    Reinhard Priebe, the Director responsible for maritime data in the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, welcomed the group. He said that the Commission was encouraged by the diversity of disciplines of the group and the high scientific level. It indicated an awareness amongst the community that something needs to be done. He expected that the Group would provide an invaluable input to the development of an integrated EU maritime policy.


    Draft rules of procedure based on a standard Commission Expert Group template were presented and discussed. Important points were:

    1. The group is independent. Its Members are not representing their employers but must act in the public interest.
    2. The Commission is committed to transparency. The minutes of the meeting will be made available to the public. But opinions expressed at the meeting will not be attributed to individual Members. Those reporting on the meeting orally should obey this rule.
    3. Where a consensus is not possible, a majority of votes will secure a decision. Dissenting opinions should be appropriately recorded. In some cases it may be better to have a divergence of views than a conclusion so watered down that it does not say anything.
    4. Participating in MODEG would not bar someone from answering calls for tender related to the European Marine Observation and Data Network. However any conflicts of interest on any point on the agenda should be declared to the Chairman. The Group will then decide what action to take for that particular point – exclusion from listening, exclusion from speaking, exclusion for voting etc

    In about six months a proper web-site with protected areas and blogging features will be ready. Until then e-mails will be used for communication. All presentations, approved documents and minutes of meetings will be posted on the public web-site. The secretariat will prepare a mailing list of Members.

    The Members agreed to provide photographs of themselves and short descriptions of their background for the web-site.

    Hans Dahlin was elected chairman of the group. He will act as contact point between the Commission and the Group.


    The Commission presented a summary of the history of EMODNET, explained the deadlines for producing roadmaps and action plans, outlined the aims of the preparatory actions to develop prototypes and provided some indications of the architecture they were considering.

    Regional Approach

    The Commission believes that EMODNET should have a regional component in order to assure coherence over a maritime basin. This is particularly necessary for gridded or polygon type data where continuity across borders must bne assured but also for individual point measurements.

    Some of the Members agreed with this approach. Others thought it more important to develop standards that are agreed at a European level. EMODNET will consist of data acquisition systems (in-space, in the air, in the water, in the water, on the sea-bed and under the sea-bed and data management systems. The challenge for the implementation of EMODNET is interconnecting all these systems into a coherent network, that will deliver harmonized data and information to various users.

    Achieving a good observation coverage of a sea area, is best organized on a regional level. However it is also necessary to establish common standards and protocols, both on the content level (vocabularies, quality control methods, quality control flags, units, ..) as well as on the technical communication level (technical interoperability). This is best organized on a European level.

    Therefore achieving EMODNET will require a mix of regional and European approaches, depending on the aspects. This is also quite well illustrated by the approach in SeaDataNet and the Marine Core Services, which both mix European approaches with regional approaches .

    The Commission explained that following experience with the GEOSS project, emphasis is switching from harmonization to interoperability. This was accepted but some harmonization will still be necessary. We will not get far in constructing sea-bottom maps if one institution uses three classes of sediment and another four.

    Classification of Data

    The Commission indicated that many classifications of data – remote sensing, or sediment samples for instance – focus on the collection mode rather than the parameters that interest users. By identifying instead the measured parameters it is easier to determine whether needs are being met and to identify gaps. The Commission proposed six groups – biology, chemistry, hydrography, geology, physics and human activity.

    The Group suggested amalgamating hydrography with geology; the same instruments are being used to analyse sediments. Human activity data – fishing density, shipping routes, mineral extraction sites – could be considered as pressure indicators and included within one of the four main groups – physics, chemistry. biology and geology – as appropriate. Thus each of the four main groups would be divided between measurements of state and pressure.

    Distributed or Centralised Approach

    The ubiquity and increasing speed of the internet makes distributed databases a possibility. This can ease maintenance because it ensures that the data used at a regional European level is identical to that used nationally. However some regional processing is still required – for instance to produce gridded or polygon data. Whether this is done occasionally or on demand depends on the complexity of the processing required and whether it requires human intervention.

    (MODEG thought we should not be too simplistic. Generally speaking we are all in favor of a distributed data acquisition and management approach, whereby common standards and protocols enable us to exchange and share data and information. However for practical and efficiency reasons we also need regional and European databases as well as thematic databases.

    User Needs

    The purpose of monitoring needs to be carefully defined. Some data currently delivered to the Environment Agency cannot be used because it is incomplete. For instance the water depth of samples might not be provided.


    The question of the funding for environmental monitoring data was raised. Currently this is funded entirely by Member States, based mainly on obligations to assess their environment (e.g. for the Water Framework Directive), but there are no incentives or guidelines to achieve this objective whereas the fisheries policies benefit through the Data Collection Regulation, of a financial contribution from the EU. Such a support would raise the quality and quantity of environmental data.


    In order to demonstrate that the various Commission initiatives on marine data and information are not an unconnected set of uncoordinated initiatives but rather a carefully-thought-out strategy with long-term mutually compatible objectives, the latest developments in ongoing parallel initiatives were explained.

    Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)

    The marine core service of GMES will constitute an integrated capacity for ocean forecasting and monitoring to be able to systematically deliver forecasts (from one day nowcasting to one month seasonal forecasting), re-analysis (time series) and scenario simulations (for climate change issues) on sea state and dynamics (3D currents, temperature, salinity, …) and primary ecosystem (surface phytoplankton and primary production) characteristics at a global scale (all world ocean) with daily updates on 5-10 km horizontal grids and over European regional seas (Baltic, Mediterranean, North Sea, North East Atlantic Basin), with daily updates at customised space resolution (1-5 km horizontal grids).

    Research projects are developing this service and aim to achieve a pre-operational validation. It is expected that funding will be available for a completely operational approach in the EU’s financial perspective from 2014. The target customers are service-providers who would develop more specific, tailored products based on core service outputs.

    EMODNET will support GMES and vice versa. GMES development should profit from the integration efforts and efforts at facilitated access made through EMODNET. GMES is an important driver in the field of environmental data. It will contribute to the availability of relevant data/products by promoting free access to products. Marine core service output will be part of EMODNET.

    European Environment Agency

    The European Environment Agency’s mission is to provide sound, independent information on the environment. It provides regular comprehensive assessments of the European environment on a 5-year cycle and coordinates a number of networks. Gathering data has been a considerable challenge.

    Environmental data reported to the Commission to respect obligations is not necessarily available to the Agency. Data are reported electronically to the EEA on a voluntary basis through Eionet-water.

    The Marine Strategy Framework Directive obliges Member States to monitor their waters with reporting on a regional sea-basin basis. This will be a driver for systematic observations of different parameters but the Commission is aware that the Directive, on its own will not be enough. It will require accompanying measures if it is to achieve its objectives.

    WISE-marine is a common platform for all users that facilitates reporting and use of data reported through obligations of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. A concept paper is currently being reviewed internally. It is linked to WISE (Water Information System Europe) and will be based on principles of the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS).

    The Agency believes that a functioning EMODNET will deliver some of the data needed for indicators needed for initial assessments and shown in Wise-Marine. Those indicators will be used by regional authorities in initial assessments and regional strategies, and will cover parameters specified in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

    EU Research Projects

    Up to and including the EU’s Fourth Framework Programme, the intellectual property rights (IPR) set out within EU-RTD marine (MAST) contracts stated that data gathered by projects was part of the foreground information generated by the project and that this data had to be accessible for at least 10 years after termination of the contract. It was understood that MAST projects would meet these obligations if they made data publicly accessible at project termination. Access could be ensured by entrusting data to public data banks, or by publishing data on electronic media which could be archived. It was recommended that any moratorium period for public access should have been shorter than 6 months counted from the date of project termination.

    However in the Fifth and Sixth Framework Programme there was a change in the intellectual property rights and the Commission could no longer insist that the provisions used during the MAST Programme could be included into EC-funded research contracts. Hence access to EC funded marine research data could no longer be "guaranteed".

    Under the Seventh Framework Programme, following pressure from the Commission's Directorate General for Environment, research contracts in the environment area will oblige consortia to release data to public bodies, but not for commercial use. Under the terms of the relevant special clause, the Directorate General for Environment and other Community Institutions and Bodies can oblige contractors to release data immediately to them if required for the purpose of developing, implementing and monitoring environmental policies.

    MODEG agreed that it is reasonable to allow researchers to hold on to data for some period in order to allow time for them to publish provided that immediate access to metadata should be granted. However the Commission is determined that this period not be extended for too long. If someone has not published after a reasonable time, others should be given the opportunity to do so. There were similar discussions during the revision of the Data Collection Regulation in fisheries.


    The European science community, represented by the Marine Board of the European Science Foundation and Eurogoos had been alarmed by what appeared to be a scaling-back of EMODNET’s ambitions as expressed in the background paper to the maritime policy Green Paper. They were particularly insistent that EMODNET should not only be a means to access data that has already been collected but also an impetus for more monitoring. They believe that current programmes are severely undersampling.

    The two bodies therefore set up a joint panel to prepare an opinion on the matter. They will produce a 10-page document for September that will pass through a careful and thorough review. Jan-Bart Calewaert of the Marine Board presented the preliminary conclusions to MODEG. They endorsed the regional approach – in fact they identified three levels – global, regional and local - and indicated that analysis is necessary to estimate the cost to society of not setting up EMODNET.


    Phil Weaver of the UK’s National Oceanographic Centre represented a group that had been asked by the Commissioner to determine a way of preparing a sea-bed map of European waters. Their suggestion was to proceed in two phases:

    Phase 1

    1. Obtain agreement from all maritime states to release data
    2. Compile map of existing public domain swath data coverage

    Phase 2

    1. Complete the swath mapping exercise filling in data gaps
    2. Combine all data at highest resolution available
    3. Produce bathymetry and reflectivity maps
    4. Ground truth reflectivity data using existing and newly collected samples to produce seabed habitat maps

    MODEG thought that complementary seismic surveys should also be considered in order to determine the thickness of sand and gravel layers.

    Weaver estimated that an area including all the EU Member States waters up to 200 miles and Mediterranean states up to the median line is 3.5 million km2 shallow water and 7.7 million km2 of deep ocean. It includes Madeira, the Canaries and the Azores but not Guyana, Guadeloupe, La Réunion or Martinique. Neither does it include Norway although the Norwegian mapping effort is well advanced.

    The resolution in the deeper water will be lower than in shallower water and surface instruments might not provide sufficient resolution to capture detailed features such as deepwater corals. For instance the Darwin Mounds were found in 1998 with deep towed sidescatter sonar.

    He believed that the Irish strategy of mapping the deep areas first had been sound because it is much cheaper than for shallow water and gives demonstrable results early in the process. LIDAR can provide cheap mapping of shallow waters – but only between 10 and 20 metres of depth. His estimate of the cost was € 60 millions for the deep sea and € 900 million for the shallow sea. This was felt by some at the meeting to be an underestimate – the Irish had spent € 30 million on their deep sea waters. The French have estimated that it would take 50 years to map their coastal waters thoroughly. The Mediterranean, being deep, is rather well mapped but the Atlantic is covered more patchily.

    The group were warned that mapping would almost certainly reveal new ecosystems that would interest fishermen as well as scientists. It would be essential to protect these areas at the same time as they are discovered. Otherwise there might be nothing left to protect.

    Some countries might be reluctant to release their maps for security reasons – in order to hinder navigation of enemy submarines and avoid detection of friendly ones.


    The Commission has undertaken to produce an Atlas of the Seas next year. This should showcase data from the European Marine Observation and Data Network, educate the public and enhance the visibility of Europe’s maritime heritage. The Commission services have not yet made up their minds on what this should be. One suggestion was to provide an € 80k grant to a publishing house and let them get on with it. Others favour an on-line geospatial infrastructure that can show the spatial extent of EU policies – Natura sites, fisheries regulations, motorways of the sea and act as a permanent repository and showcase for data coming from the European Marine Observation and Data Network and research projects such as HERMES.

    Those experts who had experience of such efforts in the past highlighted the difficulty of finding enough data to make meaningful maps (precisely the reason why we are developing EMODNET). Others said that the coarse resolution of the data often prohibited zooming.

    The Commission had learnt that Google are developing a Google Oceans that might be considered as a framework for the data but nobody present had further information.



    The Commission is committed to producing a Roadmap for EMODNET this year. It will be a Commission Staff Working Paper which, because it does not need to be translated into all the languages of the EU, can be as long as is necessary. This might incorporate the “programme for the development of mutually compatible and multi-dimensional mapping of seas in Member States' waters” that is also promised for this year. Based on these a Communication will be issued next year. The Roadmap might include:

    1. Rationale for EMODNET
    2. History of EMODNET
    3. Data status
        who collects it, who uses it, results of legal study
    4. Design principles for EMODNET
    5. Relationship with other initiatives
        GMES, SEIS, INSPIRE, Data Collection Regulation
    6. Timetable for moving ahead

    Expert Group Contribution

    MODEG are expected to contribute to the “data status” chapter. A first draft will be drawn up by Lesley Rickards and Dick Schaap based on the EDIOS database. The other Members of the Expert Group will receive a draft report in mid-July and will contribute to the chapters – geology, physics, chemistry, biology – based on their expertise. The group was tentatively divided into the following sub-groups:

    Geology and Hydrography
    Jean-François Bourillet
    Robert Gatliff
    Lars Hansen
    François Le Corre
    Henry Vallius
    Frederique Blanc
    Neil Holdsworth
    Ralph Rayner
    Colpan Beken
    Remi Laane
    Yann-Hervé De Roeck
    Ilaria Nardello
    Antonio Bode (plankton)
    Peter Burkill
    Giannna Casazza
    Manfred Reinke
    Anastasios Tselepides (deep-sea benthos)
    Chris Zimmerman (fish)


    The next meetings will be 15-16 September and 1-2 December, starting at 11.00 the first day and finishing at 16.00 the second day.


    Lesley Rickards and Dick Schaap will prepare a first draft of the “description of current status of marine data” by mid-July. The four main groups of data will be geology, chemistry, biology and physics

    The Expert Group will

    1. divide themselves into four sub-groups – geology, chemistry, biology and physics
    2. on the basis of these groups finalise the Rickards-Schaap description of marine data one week before the next meeting
    3. provide comments on the study on access to marine data by 20 August (the draft report will be provided by the Commission on 20 July)
    4. send photographs and short two-paragraph CVs to the Commission for the web-site.

    The Commission will post all relevant information on the MODEG web-site