The development of ocean monitoring and forecasting systems on global and European regional scales calls for a broad range of research and development activities to ensure that they operate on firm scientific and technical grounds; that optimal use is made of all data available; that the systems are fully validated and robust from an operational standpoint; that they are well integrated into an efficient system of systems, with easy access and smooth exchange of data; and that the systems are fit for purpose with engagement of the stakeholders.
Those are some of the objectives and challenges that we set in the Mersea work plan. The conception of the project was based on the view that a prerequisite to the development of ocean and marine applications is the provision of reliable, generic data and information products serving the needs of several classes of intermediate users, to enable them to fulfill their mission and to provide the services required by their final users.
Broadly speaking, the project activities can be grouped in several inter-related categories: those dealing with data (from earth observing satellites, in situ data, and forcing fields); system development, implementation and operation; research and development; and user products and applications. Moreover, we had several actions of outreach, training, communication, and publications.
Robust ocean monitoring and forecasting
The world's oceans are vast and changing. Undaunted, European researchers have taken on the challenge of collecting and processing these vast amounts of ocean data so we can learn more about ocean physics, biochemistry and ecosystems.
Developing robust ocean monitoring and forecasting systems calls for a broad range of research and development (R&D) activities to ensure that they operate on firm scientific and technical grounds. At least this is how the 'Marine environment and security for the European area' (Mersea) project approached the challenge back in 2004 when it started with EUR 14 million of EU funding in hand.
The Mersea project tackled the full range of tasks, from ocean data collection, R&D and systems development to user products, applications and even outreach programmes. For example, on the data side, Mersea focused on improving the retrieval algorithms required to determine geophysical parameters, such as ice concentration and drift and levels of suspended matter.
The FP6 integrate project included nearly 40 partners from all over Europe, among them the UK's MET Office, technology firms and leading academic centres. It was led by the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer). The data and results they produce help shed light on a number of important changes taking place in and around the world's oceans, from seasonal weather forecasting to longer-term climate and ecosystems indicators (biogeochemical analyses). Its work also contributes to the EU's Inspire Directive for more informed environmental policy.
Mersea put in place a network of monitoring and forecasting centres (MFCs) and thematic assembly centres (TACs). Today, the MFCs cover the global ocean and the main European seas (Arctic, North East Atlantic, Baltic and Mediterranean), while the TACs process the data from satellite remote sensing (sea ice, ocean colour, altimetry, and sea surface temperature), and from global networks in the field.
At present, the centres offer this data as a standardised service to a range of end-users. The partners invested a lot of effort into upgrading the monitoring and forecasting centres using, for instance, better software models, and providing faster and more frequent analyses which boost overall performance. Maritime operators can use Mersea's ice drift forecasting, for example, to improve their ship routing, while the petroleum industry can use the data to predict oil spill drift.
Where accurate ocean data is needed, systems like Mersea's are highly valued. Further research and development would help keep the systems up to date and in tune with the target users' potentially changing needs.