Seabed Mapping: New Opportunities for Growth, Jobs in Seas

Lucy Towers
30 August 2012, at 1:00am

EU - The oceans and seas that surround Europe offer new opportunities for growth and jobs to meet the Europe 2020 goals. To best tap this potential, we need to know more about what is happening under the sea. The European Commission is proposing to create a digital seabed map of European waters by 2020 by collecting all existing data into one coherent database accessible to everyone.

In a Green Paper on "Marine Knowledge" the Commission launches a consultation as to how this could be achieved. It poses a number of questions such as "how can ongoing efforts in Member States be incorporated into a common EU effort?", "how can new cheaper observation technologies be developed?" and "how can the private sector contribute?" The consultation will be open till 15 December 2012.

The new seamless multi-resolution digital seabed map of European waters should be of the highest resolution possible, covering topography, geology, habitats and ecosystems. It should be accompanied by access to timely observations and information of physical, chemical and biological state of the water column, by associated data on the impact of human activities, and by oceanographic forecasts. All this should be easily accessible, interoperable and free of restrictions on use. It should be nourished by a sustainable process that progressively improves its fitness for purpose and helps Member States maximise the potential of their marine observation, sampling and surveying programmes.

Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: "The European economy can benefit from a more structured approach to marine knowledge. This can improve the competitiveness of those working on our seas and coasts by 300 million per year. It can generate new opportunities worth another 200 million a year. The benefits of reduced uncertainty are harder to calculate but we estimate that if we could reduce uncertainty in future sea-level rise by 25 per cent a year, we would save those in charge of protecting Europe's coastlines another 100 million a year. A first set of pilot projects have shown this approach to be feasible. We will build on the lessons learned from these."

The oceans and seas that surround Europe can provide challenging, rewarding jobs that meet the expectations of our young people. They can provide the clean energy we need if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe. They can provide protein for healthy diets. They can provide pharmaceuticals or enzymes from organisms that inhabit the greatest extremes of temperature, darkness and pressure encountered by life. And they can also respond to the growing global hunger for raw materials from deep-sea mining.

These new opportunities for blue growth and jobs are being driven by two developments. First, a shortage of available land and freshwater is encouraging mankind to look again at the resources in the 71 per cent of our planet's surface covered by saltwater. Second, the rapid advances in underwater observation, the remote handling and the construction technology, developed primarily by the petroleum industry, can be used in a range of other nascent industries under a wide range of oceanographic and meteorological conditions.

To realise this potential, we need to make it easier for any possible investments. We need to lower costs, reduce risks and stimulate innovation. And we need to ensure that this expansion of the blue economy will be sustainable. The resources are large but not infinite. So, we need to know what the state of the sea is now and how it might change in the future. We need to understand how the changing climate will affect the ocean and vice versa.

Presently data are held by hundreds of institutions in Europe. It is hard to find the data on a particular parameter in a particular area, it is complicated to obtain authorisation to use them and time-consuming to put together mutually-incompatible data from different sources into a coherent picture. This adds to the costs of marine operators and means that many potential activities never get off the ground.

The Commission aims to work together with Member States to bring together available resources and mechanisms to make that knowledge accessible for the benefit of industry, public authorities, researchers and society.