Having access to real-time data about the state of our oceans – their local temperature, currents, salinity, sea levels or sea-ice – is important for a wide range of human activities.
© Fotolia, 2012
Whether responding to oil-spills, protecting marine resources, or managing safety at sea, to give just a few examples, this information is crucial. As well as knowing about conditions now, it is equally important to be able to forecast them.
It was to meet this need for high-quality information and forecasts about ocean states that MyOcean, a European Union (EU)-funded project, started in 2009. Implementing a major component of Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative, MyOcean completed its first phase and moved seamlessly into MyOcean2 in April 2012.
With 60 partner organisations from 28 countries, MyOcean2 is a 2.5-year project intended to develop and fine-tune the successful outcome of the first phase – the creation, for the first time, of a pan-European capability for ocean monitoring and forecasting.
Gathering information from both satellite and in situ observation, MyOcean provides state-of-the-art datasets, including 3D models, which offer an unprecedented capability to observe, understand and anticipate patterns within the marine environment. This information is made available freely and openly to users around the world via the MyOcean web portal.
The information provided by MyOcean plays a pivotal role in areas such as maritime safety. It can aid ships needing to navigate ice-free routes through northern seas, for example, or assist search and rescue operations by using information about local currents to define and reduce the search area. It also helps in the protection and sustainable management of living marine resources, for example by monitoring and assessing levels of nutrients in the water. And it contributes to the protection of coastal and marine environments, and to medium-range weather forecasting and climate change monitoring and analysis.
The number of registered users of MyOcean now exceeds 1,000 and includes public, private, national and international organisations including the European Maritime Safety Agency and the European Environment Agency. Other users are coastguards, navies, environmental agencies, research centres, ocean centres and commercial service providers.
When the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground and overturned in January 2012, MyOcean provided the Italian coast guard with valuable information about currents in the Mediterranean, in order to simulate and forecast the dispersion of any possible fuel leak.
Conversely, gathering data on sea currents from the recent past, or ‘hindcasting’, can be an important tool when oil spills are discovered and the source of the spill needs to be identified.
One recent MyOcean achievement was the completion of a 25 year historical simulation for the ocean, providing a valuable long-term context for users to understand ocean patterns and what constitutes ‘normal’.
With the infrastructure now fully in place as a result of the first phase of MyOcean, MyOcean2 will focus on fine-tuning the service and making it more responsive to user needs. The ultimate aim, says Project Coordinator Pierre Bahurel, is to establish the long-term sustainability of the service and to demonstrate that, by meeting important societal needs, it is worthy of continued support by EU member states beyond the end of MyOcean2 project in 2014.
In the words of Mr Bahurel, MyOcean has produced a ‘very powerful service’ which has attracted global attention. ‘When we talk with our colleagues in the US, in Australia or in Asia, they are really impressed with what we are doing at the European level,’ he says.