Maritime Affairs

Stress tests reveal gaps in existing data for North Sea and the Mediterranean

Stress tests reveal gaps in existing data for North Sea and the Mediterranean

Stress tests reveal gaps in existing data for North Sea and the Mediterranean


Nearly all scientists and engineers involved in analysing our seas and oceans agree on the need for a more coordinated approach to observing and surveying the ocean.

While plenty of data exist, they have generally not been gathered as part of an overall strategy. The result: an incomplete picture of what has already been measured. Do we have the right data, for instance, to predict the impact of oil spills, to determine the number of fish caught or to assess the coherence of marine protected areas?

The EU's "seabasin checkpoints", part of the "marine knowledge 2020" initiative, are beginning to provide answers. Over the past months, teams have been carrying out "stress tests" with publicly available marine data for each sea basin, trying to assess whether the data themselves and the processes for accessing and using them are fit for purpose.

A recent meeting of scientists and engineers in the UK, from 2-4 September, discussed first results of stress tests in the Mediterranean and North Sea. Interim findings show that:

  • trajectories of oil spills can be estimated within 24 hours of an alert. But the results are highly sensitive to wind forecasts, and a lack of information on fishing activity in the North Sea and sensitive coastal areas in the Mediterranean makes the impact difficult to assess.
  • while it is possible to draw up maps of all protected areas in the North Sea, information on the management measures designed to protect them is incomplete and the lack of data on larval transport means that it is not possible to determine whether or not they represented a coherent set;
  • data on fish landings in the Mediterranean, provided by EU Member States under the EU's data collection framework, took up to 9 months to be delivered and are still incomplete;
  • in contrast, the OSPAR sea-basin convention for the North Sea and completed EU research projects for the Mediterranean were useful sources of data.

The final results for the North Sea and Mediterranean will be delivered by the end of next year and presented to those responsible for producing the data and those who use them.
Meanwhile new checkpoints were launched at the meeting for the Arctic, Atlantic, Baltic and Black Seas to tackle these and other challenges and assess existing data for those sea basins.

Marine protected areas