InSea (Data Integration System for Eutrophication Assessment in Coastal Waters)


The EU recognizes that it is impossible to recommend a single European criterion to deal with eutrophication problems applicable to coastal areas. A number of scientific issues are addressed to develop efficient eutrophication criteria on coastal areas. Coastal waters are transitional ecosystems buffered by variable landward-based freshwater input volumes and constituents, influences of oceanic provinces, and human disturbances, including nutrient enrichment, superimposed on these natural regimes. Even in a relatively narrow section of coastline, the ecosystem diversity and variability may be quite large. Considering coastal systems complexity, associated with highly dynamic spatial (horizontally and vertically) and temporal changes, it becomes obvious that any type of monitoring, either remote sensing or local data acquisition, can only give a brief perspective of the problems in coastal waters and estuaries (eutrophication, sediment transport). Satellite imagery has an impressive capability of describing spatial distribution but, inevitably, short term temporal phenomena (in the range of hours) and vertical processes are impossible to track. On the other hand, local data measurements (with high costs) can show these short time trends but usually are unable to give a clear overview of spatial variation. With the proper modelling tools we are able to pick the information given by monitoring work and fill the information gaps, thus the combination of these components gives the best management tool to deal with such complex problems.

We aim to set-up and validate numerically robust ecological modelling systems for the areas under investigation in order to describe biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients occurring under different hydrographic and trophic regimes, and to explore the system capabilities in a forecast mode to support coastal zone management issues.

One of the objectives of this project is the development of methodologies to downscale physics from large scale data systems to regional models in order to force ecological modelling systems on coastal areas and make use of the full potential given by the fast growing computer power and IT skills to deliver useful information to decision makers and other data users. By accomplishing such tasks, the consortium will be able demonstrate the potential of the combination of Earth Observation (EO) data, numerical modelling and in-situ data.

One of the most important issues of current eutrophication assessments is integrating information of different types (e.g. sampling data, numerical modelling results, stakeholderse preferences, common knowledge) to produce indexes representing the overall integrity of a particular ecosystem and to prioritize political options. Major European (European Environmental Agency) and US Environmental Agencies (NOAA, EPA) are responsible for developing such indexes, to support the implementation of legislation and to answer specific environmental questions such as eutrophication, contamination and habitat vulnerability. The data integration system developed under this project will sustain the implementation of spatially and temporally dynamical indexes and will be able to support a way of addressing different scale predictions, complex geometries and to efficiently incorporate different data sources to define boundary and surface conditions. InSea will give to data users, in particular to local decision makers, valuable information for assessing coastal eutrophication problems. The data delivery system behind Insea will be supported by state of the art numerical tools, for simulating the complexity associated to these ecosystems, and the most recent information technology tools for supporting data delivery and storage. The success of the project is guaranteed by the high level of competence of the consortium, with proven expertise in all relevant areas of the project, the robustness and reliability of the numerical tools in use and the data rich approach combining Earth Observation and local data with the integrating power of models.


The strategic objectives of InSea, which are in accordance with EuroGOOS and GMES purposes, are:

  • Development of methodologies to downscale physics from large scale data systems to regional models in order to force ecological modelling systems on coastal areas
  • Set-up and validate numerically robust ecological modelling systems for the areas under investigation in order to describe biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients occurring under different hydrographic and trophic regimes
  • Explore the system capabilities of a forecast mode to support coastal zone management issues
  • To improve and develop new tools to link field measurements (from Earth Observation and acquired locally) to model results
  • Demonstrate the potential of the combination of Earth Observation data, numerical modelling and in-situ data to solve eutrophication problems on coastal areas

Participant List

1 IST Instituto Superior Te cnico PT
2 HIDROMOD* Hidromod, lda PT
3 COMSINE* ComSine Limited UK
4 MARIS* Marine Information Service B.V. NL
5 UPS-LA Universite Paul Sabatier. Laboratoire d'Ae rologie - Pole d'Oce anographie Coti`re. FR
6 CNRS-LOB Centre National Recherche Scientifique. Laboratoire d'Oce anologie et de Bioge ochimie. FR
7 NOVELTIS* Noveltis GR
8 HCMR Hellenic Centre for Marine Research GR
9 NKUA National and Kapodistrian University of Athens GR

Potential impacts

i) Contributions to standards

Water quality assessment through monitoring cannot take into consideration all the frequencies responsible for spatio-temporal variability, being carried out monthly and most often only seasonally. Environmental managers and research community are aware that low frequency point observations do not describe environmental and ecosystem variability at the appropriate spatio-temporal scales for present needs. Nevertheless due to the lack of tools able to perform analysis considering system complexity, this simplistic approach is usually the only way for diagnosing problems and for establishing plans for their resolution.

These facts are stated in several documents that establish the legal and political framework for EU water management (e.g. The Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, OSPAR Convention) from which is also stated the emergence of requirements for an ecosystem approach to environmental management based on a profound knowledge of system behaviour. Thus, the use of predictive models to help the implementation and application of water policies is becoming very commonplace worldwide.

Considering the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on 22 December 2000, referring to the need of ensuring comparability of monitoring systems between Member States. It is stated that the results of the systems operated by each Member State shall be expressed as ecological quality ratios for the purposes of classification of ecological status. These ratios shall represent the relationship between the values of the biological parameters observed for a given body of surface water and the values for these parameters in the reference conditions applicable to that body. This kind of approach derives its philosophy from the OSPAR convention where the concept of background conditions, or reference conditions, aims to represent the conditions existing before remarkable anthropogenic inputs. The main objective is to analyze the evolution trends of the system comparing it to recent measures. The definition of these reference conditions can be quite complicated due to the lack of historical information, or to the uncertainty of the system behaviour, especially in estuarine areas where spatial and temporal gradients are very intense. An incorrect definition of these reference conditions can have serious consequences on planning level with repercussion to social and economical level. Thus the implementation of the proposed data integration system in the study areas can represent a major advance for local administration to establish wise environmental decisions and a step forward in meeting what is becoming standard procedure in Europe on the definition of ecological quality ratios for the purposes of classification of ecological status.

ii) Implementation of the EU environment policy

The policies with regard to key aspects of the proposal, namely eutrophication control and biodiversity protection, are increasingly determined at a supranational level. European regulations of nutrient loading to rivers and coastal waters may directly influence the productivity of these coastal waters for exploited stocks, and their potential for biodiversity protection. The European Water Framework Directive requires high biological quality in all estuarine waters. However more scientific input is needed for research into how this quality should be evaluated and achieved by management options. The common European market for food products, e.g. shellfish, is a reality which requires equal rules. applying to all producers. It is therefore important that development of these policies can be based on a generic prediction tool, applicable to European coastal waters of quite different natures. The project is also directly relevant to other European water-related directives, e.g. on nitrogen release into coastal waters and on the management of urban waste waters. As effects of eutrophication may differ between systems depending on their biological communities, the present project will be highly relevant to a rational management of the problem. Moreover, our approach of biodiversity in coastal systems in relation to both physical forcing and biological forcing is relevant to the prediction and understanding of eventual eutrophication effects on intensely monitored, but badly understood, biological indicators. The work and outputs definition together with the strong commitment to establish synergies with local data managers will bring to InSea the ability to support the implementation of the following laws:

  • Bathing Water Quality Directive (Council Directive 76/160/EEC concerning the quality of bathing water) and its proposed revision (COM(94)0036-94/00006SYN)
  • Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water treatment) and the IPC Directive (98(C6)05 of 10/1/98
  • Nitrates Directive (Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by Nitrates from agricultural sources)
  • Water Framework Directive (COM/99/271, European Parliament and Council Directive establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy)

n addition to the Directives there are various Programmes and Communications in place which address coastal issues where InSea will also be a potential tool for their implementation:

  • 6th Environmental Action Program which should help amongst others things the implementation of existing environmental legislation and the integration of environmental concerns into other policies
  • Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Integrated Coastal Zone Management: A strategy for Europe

This project addresses several topics of the Plan of Implementation of the WORLD SUMMIT ON

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (WSSD). This project is driven mostly by the " key societal issueA coastal ecosystems play in the development of the countries in the project. In all of these countries, coastal ecosystems are historically favoured for urban use due to natural resources abundance, to sea commerce, dilution and dispersion capability and recreational use. All those uses of the coastal ecosystems are translated into economic value once more and more economic activities depend, on one hand, on the availability of natural resources, on the urban expansion possibilities, on the regenerating capabilities of the environment, and, on the other hand, on the availability of healthy ecosystems to preserve bio diversity in the long term (our legacy for future generations).

Ecologists and social scientists have only recently realized that in order to fulfil the requirements for sustainable development, human beings have to be explicitly incorporated as structural components of almost all ecosystems on earth. Indeed, the clear distinction between " naturalA and "managed A ecosystems is slowly fading away, leaving us with the task of re-writing ecological theory in order to incorporate humans. New concepts and techniques are indeed necessary to understand these " ecosocial systemsA. In fact, to " reverse the current trend in natural resource degradationA (WSSD), all stakeholders in the ecosystem must be taken into account, integrated with the scientific knowledge of ecosystems, and generating an overall comprehension of the physical-ecological-social system. This is the way to " increase understanding of the sustainable use, protection and management of water resources to advance long-term sustainability of freshwater, coastal and marine environmentsA (WSSD).

iii) Risk assessment and related communication strategy

InSea does not involve risks for society. Risks for the project itself are described in the Chapter describing the Management of the Project.


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