Marine matters with Copernicus
26 March 2014
Safety at sea, protecting aquatic ecosystems and securing marine resources are challenges faced around the world. The best way to tackle them, therefore, is through the co-ordination and collaboration of organisations in a range of countries. This is precisely why Europe's ambitious environmental monitoring programme — the Copernicus marine service — was born.
In homage to the 16th century scientist, Copernicus is the new name for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative - developed in partnership by the European Commission and the European Space Agency. Copernicus will provide services for atmosphere (chemical composition), marine, climate change and land monitoring and services for emergency management and security.
It will also support five types of Sentinel satellites underpinning these services. The marine services will draw on measurements of sea level, currents, ocean colour, sea surface temperature, wind and sea ice made from these satellites and in-situ sensors in the water some of which are operated by partner organisations. A group, including the Met Office, of 14 European institutions that have been leading the development of the marine service is aiming to play the leading role in delivering the Copernicus marine service, scheduled to start in spring 2014.
The Copernicus marine service will provide both real-time forecasts and analyses for the last 20 to 40 years calculated using historical data. This information will be used by national agencies and the commercial sector to help with a range of operations including ship routing, offshore operations, search and rescue, aquaculture and fisheries research. Information about the waves, sea ice and ocean temperatures will also feed directly into the Met Office's weather, seasonal and climate predictions.
Dr Mike Bell, head of the UK's National Centre for Ocean Forecasting and Ocean Forecasting Research & Development within the Met Office outlines the motivation behind Copernicus: "Europe wants to maintain a leading role in the satellites monitoring the environment as well as to ensure data that's expensive to generate is used effectively for operational services and to assess and improve the quality of climate change models."
Copernicus also reflects a Europe-wide paradigm shift towards taking a more holistic approach to managing living marine resources. Ongoing monitoring and prediction will help us understand, for instance, the impact that river run-off with too many oxygen-sapping nutrients can have on biodiversity in our oceans.
Another example of how Copernicus encourages a sustainable marine ecosystem is fishing. By combining information on temperatures, currents and phytoplankton near the sea surface, the most suitable areas for fishing can be pinpointed and fishermen could be much more efficient with their catch.
Working within Copernicus and with other meteorological centres, the Met Office has explored how crucial surface wave models are for shipping and heavy lifting operations. The oil and gas sector are also affected by sub-surface ocean currents, which can damage the deep flexible pipes that connect the well-heads to the surface platforms.
One of the partner organisations that provides sub-surface measurements is the Argo global ocean observing network. Since Argo was conceived in 1997, it has established a network of over 3,000 profiling floats spread across the global ocean. Each float follows a programmed schedule - descending 2,000 metres before rising to the surface every ten days, making temperature and salinity measurements that are sent via satellites to be analysed.
A major contributor to the international Argo programme is Euro-Argo. It began in 2008 and has increased the number of European countries contributing to Argo, which has led to enhanced coverage in the Nordic Seas, Mediterranean and Black Sea.
The importance of the Copernicus marine service becomes abundantly clear when you consider that 90% of world trade is transported by sea. From a European perspective, the sharing of best practice and co-ordination of information that Copernicus will provide is good news for the marine environment, as well as Europe's growth agenda for the future.