Global Ocean and Coastal Observation: From Science to Decision-Making | Geneva Blue Talks
17 May 2022
Venue: International Environment House I, Room 3 & Online | Webex
Organization: Portugal, Kenya, Geneva Environment Network
In the run-up to the UN Ocean Conference (June 2022, Lisbon), the Geneva Blue Talks aim to engage stakeholders in the process by focusing on key issues related to SDG14 that are both at the heart of International Geneva and of the upcoming conference. This session focused on the need for science and data to inform and support policy and decision-making processes toward a healthy and productive ocean. This session was organized with UNEP/GRID-Geneva, GEO, WMO, and IUCN who will present ongoing partnerships and projects to enhance ocean and coastal observations.
About the Geneva Blue Talks
Pursuant to General Assembly decision 75/578, the 2022 UN Ocean Conference will be held from 27 June to 1 July 2022 in Lisbon. The conference will be co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya under the theme “Scaling up the ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”. It will provide a critical opportunity to mobilize partnerships and increase investment in science-driven approaches to achieve SDG 14.
In the run-up to the conference, “Blue Talks” are taking place around the world, to discuss the core issues that will be addressed at the conference, contextualizing the debate with an overview of the status quo while underlining the urgency of finding solutions to the challenges identified. The objective is to trigger the debate and wide interest in Ocean related issues and by extend active participation in the UN Ocean Conference, to promote SDG 14, the sharing of experiences and innovative approaches, and to identify opportunities to mobilize the public and private sectors.
In this context, the Geneva Environment Network is collaborating with Portugal and Kenya to propose the Geneva Blue Talks, addressing issues that are both at the heart of International Geneva and of the UN Ocean Conference, thus highlighting the contribution of Geneva to the global ocean agenda. Geneva is indeed a major hub for global environmental governance, were questions regarding the sustainability of our ocean are addressed in various processes and negotiations. Protecting our ecosystems from pollution or climate change, developing a sustainable blue economy, providing data and science solutions to help decision-making processes, or creating synergies for achieving SDG14, are some of the topics discussed in Geneva that could contribute to help implementing measure to achieve SDG14.
About this Session
Science and data play an important role in support of decision-making processes towards ocean sustainability. Indeed, monitoring the state of the ocean is necessary to understand the dynamics and vulnerabilities at different scales, considering its natural and society importance, and the numerous ecosystem services that it provides. Despite many advances, much of the ocean remains understudied. Ocean, estuarine, and coastal areas are vast and often difficult to access and, therefore, generally under-sampled and poorly understood.
Therefore, coordinated and sustained data sharing, as well as infrastructure for advancing research, is essential. Various stakeholders in Geneva are part of these efforts to further science and data sharing on the ocean. At this session, they discussed ongoing partnerships and projects to enhance ocean and coastal observations to inform and support policy and decision-making processes toward a healthy and productive ocean. Speakers also discussed identified gaps and further needs in the field.
H.E. Amb. Rui MACIEIRA
Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva
H.E. Amb. Cleopa MAILU
Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva
Lars Peter RIISHØJGAARD
Deputy Director, Infrastructure Department, & Director, Earth System Branch, WMO
Climate Coordinator, GEO Secretariat
Head, Spatially-Explicit Environment Modelling Unit, UNEP/GRID-Geneva
Programme Officer, IUCN Ocean
Chief Operations Officer, Atlantic International Research Centre
Daniel F. McGINNIS
Associate Professor, Aquatic Physics Department F.-A. Forel, University of Geneva | Moderator
In addition to the live WebEx and social media transmissions, the video of the event is available on this webpage.
UN Ocean Conference Video
Welcome and Opening Statements
H.E. Amb. Rui MACEIRA | Permanent Representative of Portugal to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva
Warmest welcome to the participants of the first Geneva Blue Talk.
Portugal’s relationship with the Ocean is a long one. For many centuries, vessels and technics from northern Europe and from the Mediterranean met in Portugal. By putting together these elements and improving on them, we started a process that contributed to bringing people and cultures together, globalising trade and further developing science and knowledge. With about 2.500 km of coastline, Portugal is home to a great variety of ecosystems and resources and to 48 per cent of all marine waters of the European Union. Counting its exclusive economic zone and the extension of its continental shelf, Portugal is 43 times more ocean than land.
The Ocean is essential even for countries without a coastline for its vital role in climate regulation in the whole world. In fact, the Ocean is our primary carbon and heat sink, absorbing more than 90 per cent of excess heat from climate change. We now know that warming waters can alter the currents and the lives of tens of millions of people. And that the Ocean’s biodiversity, 80 per cent of all life on Earth, is being harmed by acidification.
Promoting the ocean’s sustainable management is a strategic priority for Portugal. We are therefore honoured to co-host, with Kenya, the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, taking place in Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July. Its theme is “Scaling up the ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”. The Conference will include eight interactive dialogues to tackle a wide range of issues, such as marine pollution, sustainable fisheries, science and marine technology transfer, and sustainable ocean-based economies.
The triple nexus Ocean-Climate-Biodiversity will be at the heart of the discussions, supporting ambitious actions to minimize and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. Several special events are planned:
- High-Level Symposium on Water, to explore interlinkages between “fresh” and “salt” water, promoting an integrated vision of the water cycle and discussing the link between SDGs 14 and 6;
- Sustainable Blue Economy Investment Forum, to discuss how the financial sector can more effectively and consistently support the development of a sustainable blue economy.
- Youth and Innovation Forum, to mobilize youth participation in the implementation of SDG14, promote innovation, and facilitate the sharing of knowledge among the new generations.
The conference aims to achieve tangible results, involve the private sector, mobilize youth and coordinate the work between the various international initiatives in the area of the sea, following up on the 1st edition of the Conference (in 2017).
Our expectation is the adoption by consensus of a concise political declaration; action-oriented; focused on solutions; based on science and innovation, to support the implementation of SDG 14. This declaration is under negotiation in New York.
In addition to the political declaration, the submission of voluntary commitments toward the implementation of SDG14 is also encouraged.
This second UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon will launch the pillars of an ambitious Global Agenda for the Ocean. The conference is a “call to action”. With the deadline set by Agenda 2030 fast approaching, countries need to redouble efforts, seek joint areas of action and make ocean management policies more efficient. These policies need to be based on partnerships and concrete ideas and involve all stakeholders.
“Blue Talks” like these are happening around the world to generate debate and interest in Ocean issues to mobilize the public and private sectors. Given that Geneva is a major hub for global environmental governance, with the sustainability of the ocean addressed in many processes and negotiations, the Geneva Environment Network is collaborating with Kenya and Portugal in the organization of three Blue Talks:
- This first on “Global Ocean and Coastal Observation: From Science to Decision Making”;
- The second on “New Disciplines on Fisheries Subsidies to Achieve SDG14 and Improve Ocean Governance”, taking place on 24 May
- Finally, the “High-Level Briefing on the 2022 UN Ocean Conference” on 31 May.
Today we will hear about science and its irreplaceable role in supporting decision-making toward ocean sustainability. There is a strong need for partnerships between the private sector, the scientific community, and governmental organizations at national, regional, and international levels to gather and analyse big data regarding oceanographic processes. Additional work is needed to address knowledge gaps and find technological solutions for data collection and management. These gaps are often linked to lack of training, infrastructures, and resources to conduct work at sea; scarcity of information; lack of standard data, and lack of multidisciplinary studies and approaches connecting different fields of knowledge. Integrated management policies need to rely on the best available science. The best practices and recommendations identified over these three Blue Talks will feed into the discussions in Lisbon. So, I look forward to hearing the recommendations of our excellent panelists.
Let me conclude with the inspiring words of Secretary-General António Guterres: We ask all delegations to “bring a plan, not a speech”.
Portugal very much looks forward to welcoming you in Lisbon from 27 June to 1 July.
Finally let me thank the Geneva Environment Network and all our panellists for contributing to our common goal: promoting the blue global agenda and the implementation of SDG 14. I wish you a very fruitful event.
H.E. Amb. Cleopa MAILU | Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva
At the outset, I would like to profoundly commend the Geneva Environment Network and the United Nations Environment Programme for agreeing to collaborate with Portugal and Kenya as the co-hosts of the 2022 United Nations Oceans Conference, in organizing the Geneva Blue Talks. These Talks are very timely and will not only create awareness about the Conference but also present an opportunity to engage stakeholders in the process by focusing on key issues related to SDG14 that are of priority to both the International Geneva and the upcoming conference.
Kenya is also pleased to join Portugal in supporting these Talks and we look forward to working with all of you not only towards the successful outcomes of these talks, but also those of the second UN Ocean Conference. I have a strong conviction that the outcomes of these discussions will immensely contribute to the outcomes of the Lisbon conference as well as those of future deliberations on the blue economy agenda.
This first session is about Global Ocean and Coastal Observation: From Science to Decision Making, which resonates well with the theme of the 2022 Oceans conference of “Scaling up the ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions” and more specifically, with the sub-theme vi of increasing scientific knowledge, developing research capacity and transfer of marine technology. The deliberations in this session will therefore go a long way in supporting the implementation of SDG 14, specifically SDG 14.8 which targets to increase scientific knowledge, research and technology for ocean health.
We should all be cognizant of the fact that human activities are having widespread negative impacts on the ocean such as overfishing, biodiversity loss, and ocean acidification. This state of the ocean cannot be left unattended and therefore, the international community needs to find appropriate ways of managing our relationship with the ocean and coastal seas more effectively, so that future generations can benefit from it more than we even do.
To this end, we need to be more continuously alert to how and why the ocean is changing in order to better predict the impacts of the ocean on people and of people on the ocean. It is, therefore, vital that we ensure continuous ocean measurements through scientific research, data and monitoring for informed policy and decision-making processes toward a healthy and productive ocean. This will help us manage a safer and more sustainable relationship between people and the ocean.
Kenya has made substantial progress towards ensuring informed decision making in the management of the ocean and coastal areas through scientific research, monitoring and harnessing of data. The Kenya National Oceanographic Data Center (KeNODC) under the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) has been central in achieving this through a number of projects that include: Management of the tide gauge data, Oceanographic data exchange with international data centres under the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) Network, Adoption of oceanographic data management tools, and Creation of a national marine and coastal bibliographic databases among others.
In conclusion, the ocean is vast and interconnected and its impact if not well managed is huge and affects all of us, therefore, there is a need for global concerted efforts in building a truly global ocean measurement system needed to understand and monitor the ocean for the benefit of all.
I wish you fruitful discussions through all the sessions and look forward to seeing you all in Lisbon.
Moderated Daniel F. McGINNIS, Associate Professor, University of Geneva
Lars Peter RIISHOJGAARD | Deputy Director, Infrastructure Department, & Director, Earth System Branch, WMO
There is a long history between what WMO does, which is weather and climate, and maritime interests.
Historically, the maritime interest of the European powers was an immense driver of the development of meteorology, and as the realization spread, that meteorology is a global topic, eventually we needed observations from the whole planet in order to tackle this. Nonetheless, the ocean is the most significant observation data gap for WMO.
In more recent time, we have come to increasingly realize the necessity to see the earth as an integrated system. We do not just talk about the atmosphere, the ocean, the land surface, or the biosphere. The whole thing needs to play together for us to come to grips with. As H.E. Amb. Rui Maceira said, you cannot tackle separately the nexus between the ocean, biodiversity and climate, it is one overall system.
The reason by WMO exists is that weather and climate know no boundaries. You cannot tackle them locally. You need observations and modeling for the entire globe, because that is how the atmosphere and the mathematics of the equations that we used to predict it have decided. You need observations from the opposite side of the planet in order to predict the weather where you are. This is a global game. We coordinate the international exchange of observations to make that happen, however, there are relatively few stations in the oceans, which is a problem we are struggling with.
We aim to having a high density of observations in every country, but this is not always possible, and it correlates with the countries’ GDP. WMO does two things to remediate this situation. The members agreed last fall to regulate this for the first time in the history of the Organization to establish formal regulations for how many observations do we need to take, how often, and that we need to exchange them on a mandatory basis.
Nonetheless, there are some countries that cannot pay for this and to that end, we have established together with UNEP and UNDP the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF). That is a new financial mechanism specifically to support that implementation, and it is supported by several wealthy donor countries who have realized for the first time that they have both a moral obligation, and a self-interest to pay for observations far away from their own national territory. This is somewhat revolutionary. The legal agreement has been signed, the initial funding has been secured, and this will be up and running from 1 July. It includes the data sets of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), therefore there is a very strong ocean component to this. This is our first attempt to secure financing for observations in the marine area. It does not extend into the high seas yet, but the fact that we can pay for marine observations, nonetheless marks a breakthrough in the thinking of the wealthy countries, so we think this is a very significant development.
The second example is about strengthening the scientific basis for mitigation under the Paris Agreement. WMO is considering proposing the establishment of a global objective scientifically based operational approach to greenhouse gas monitoring involving the atmosphere, which is what matters for climate. But you cannot just monitor what humans are pumping into the atmosphere, you need to account for how much disappears into the ocean, for how long, how much comes from the land surface, how much goes back to the land surface. So, we believe that we need to take an operational approach to this the same way that we do for weather and climate. Many of the required elements already exist. Greenhouse gas monitoring is a very complex landscape with several stakeholders, but an integrated internationally coordinated approach to modeling and simulation in the use of all space, based on surface-based operations do not does not exist yet. We are modeling that on the infrastructure that we have had running for weather prediction and climate monitoring for several decades. We will have the atmospheric observations, we will have ocean observations, and we will have models of the different components coupling with the both the ocean and land biosphere model and permafrost to account accurately for how much carbon is in each of these domains and what are the exchanges between them.
The take away messages:
- WMO’s activities span is weather, climate and anything that is related to it. But the steady growth and demand for data products, and the expectations of better and better quality, has led us to realize that we need to tackle this as an integrated system.
- GBON/SOFF marks a break-through: Wealthy countries recognizing obligation (and self interest) to ensure data coverage also outside national territories. The high seas are not there yet, but the conversation is starting.
- We also have a new Global Greenhouse Gas Monitoring initiative that will have a very strong ocean involvement, because of the links to not just the climate, but to desertification and to several other things that span across the domains. It will allow in an integrated approach, and we are engaging very heavily with the ocean community to make that happen.
Dorina SEITAJ | Programme Officer, IUCN Oceans
IUCN is a very large organization that brings together governments, civil society and indigenous people and. We also are a science-based organization, we have our own commissions, and we work with scientific communities throughout our initiatives.
In IUCN marine team, we strive to bring that connection from knowledge to decision making, and we achieve our impact by implementing solutions on the ground. Our goal is to conserve and protect marine species as well as restoring maintain marine ecosystems while also ensuring that their use is sustainable and equitable. How do we do this? I would bring really some very brief examples.
We publish large and detailed documents as we did for Ocean Deoxygenation, launched at the COP in Madrid, gathering knowledge from a very large group of scientists. We also publish other type of documents, a little bit more accessible. But then the work does not stop there.
We engage with stakeholders coming from different sectors, i.e., small fisheries, resource managers and marine protected area managers. And this is what we did in this case, we had consultation processes, and we looked at ways of implementing some of the solutions to tackle this issue. One thing that came up during these consultations was that deoxygenation does not occur alone. Very often in a lot of areas in the ocean, it occurs together with ocean acidification, and with temperature driven issues like ocean warming and marine heatwaves. These issues altogether have a cumulative impact on marine ecosystems, making this seem like a very complicated and very difficult issue to solve. We therefore work together with other stakeholders looking for ways to tackle this issue. And one of the angles was to look to work with marine protected areas because marine protected areas are already structured, and some of them are performing monitoring. One idea was to expand the monitoring that is already being done and implement some response plans, and also connect the fisheries with the marine protected area managers. This sounded like a very good idea, but what we realized as we spoke to practitioners coming from the Western Indian Ocean, and also from the Mediterranean is that the capacity on the ground is very limited, so it is challenging for practitioners to use the data, or even to generate new data due to lack of funding or to simply lack of equipment and lack of trained personnel.
We spoke about biochemical data, physical data, but another aspect is biological data. We are doing relatively well in terms of physical data; however, this is less true for biological data. We have very large areas in the ocean where we do not have a good baseline, and this is important because we cannot track progress if we do not know the current state. We cannot track how the changes are happening in the ocean if we do not know what is in there now. We do need to make that connection and one way is, for example, by bringing together many organizations and of stakeholders. One example is Marine Life 2030, a program from the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science, and its goal is to create these linkages.
Another way is by creating very simple and accessible tools that policy makers can use as we did in this case for plankton. We worked with the Geneva Science Policy Interface and ETH Zurich, and built this tool where decision and policy makers can go in and visualize the changes in plankton communities linked to different emission scenarios. This is an example of linking science with policy, but also linking observations with modeling. As we saw, modeling in a lot of cases, is necessary and is the only way.
We have also done a lot of work on mangroves, as they are examples of ecosystems which really impact the human societies that live around them. They are not only natural carbon stocks, but they also provide other services like coastal protection, fisheries, habitat, etc. We have a very large and long-standing project on connecting all these actors together. And one of the outputs is the Global Mangrove Watch, which shows the surface of mangroves over time, so marine protected areas practitioners can go online and see what is happening and how is everything evolving over time.
The high seas were mentioned several times, and if there is an area of the ocean where we lack data, this is it, and at the same time, it is also an area where we need to have collaborations and partnerships with different type of stakeholders, not only governments, but also industry which is already there and thinking about deep sea mining and other activities. IUCN has been involved for a very long time in the negotiations of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement, which aim to regulate the activities in the areas beyond on national jurisdiction and one of the components that is currently being discussed and negotiated does concern data. There are a lot of discussions about who is going to collect the data who is going to own it, how it is going to be distributed.
To conclude, we need a very solid baseline for biological and physical data so we can understand changes and address the data gaps. We need to think about what is happening on the ground at a very small scale and to build capacity so data can be used and be useful.
Pierre LACROIX | Head, Spatially Explicit Environment Modelling Unit, UNEP/GRID-Geneva
I am going to present the World Environment Situation Room (WESR) and its contribution to the ocean and sea and cost monitoring. This is a UNEP data, information and knowledge platform. Dozens of partners from the public and private sector are involved in its implementation. The goal of WESR is to produce assessments like emission gap reports or the Global Environmental Outlook. It aims also to communicate through a dynamic visualization and communication products based on data. For instance, we use a lot MapX for the geo special aspects and WESR supports UNEP country teams to perform their common country analysis (CCA) and their reporting to multilateral environmental agreements.
The global scale development of dedicated workspace managed by GRID-Arendal, one of the partners. They have published 50 layers of geospatial data related to pollution, climate and marine biodiversity. The organization of those data sets follows the drivers, pressure, state, impact, response (DISIR) framework. The data is publicly available and the web services and download for interoperability with other systems can be activated on demand.
The current collaboration between Plan Bleu and WESR at the regional level has been ongoing for one year. Plan Blue is a Mediterranean Action Plan Regional Activity Center (RAC) and the collaboration names to enable the access to a series of geospatial data sets that are relevant for monitoring the Mediterranean strategy for sustainable development through sustainability dashboard composed of 28 indicators, completed by thematic branched that, show a specific relation between human activity pressures on the state of the environment. The twenty-one countries who have access to the Mediterranean Sea are concerned, and in fact, we offer a knowledge management product or products that are accessible from a unique entry point in WESR. Still, it is important to note that the data providers keep the ownership of the data. We centralize data in a visualization tool, and finally, this is also a decision-support tool for the contracting parties of the Barcelona Convention.
The Co-design of the new UNEP Global Environmental Monitoring System for the ocean and coast (GEMS Ocean). We aim to work at all geographical scale with a focus on global data sets. GEMS Ocean is a global environmental monitoring system that provides open and easily accessible ocean and the coastal data, analysis and information, guiding actions to protect sustainably use marine customer resources. The contribution of WESR will be to display data and analytics, some of which as ocean variables and under SDG14 have already been identified. It also wishes to offer a decision support tool for experts that are involved in ocean and coast monitoring.
The current collaboration between WESR, through GRID-Geneva at the regional scale, and the Cartagena Convention Secretariat, operating in the Caribbean Sea and wider region. We will develop an online open-source, regional environmental platform to support reporting on marine pollution and biodiversity to support the Secretariat in monitoring of the implementation of regional strategies. This will happen by connecting WESR and MapX. We are developing a knowledge-management product, inclusive of statistical timeseries, dashboards and so on. Lastly, we are providing capacity-building to local partners to give them technical ownership of the platform and be able to use it autonomously later.
This proof of concept to detect aquaculture structures, using artificial intelligence has analyzed two types of sites, one in land, in the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador with rectangular structures, and the other conducted in water in Greece, with circular structures and was more difficult to detect due to issues in water. The Descartes Lab was used, a platform where the partners, using a combination of Sentinel 2 and spot images is called the transfer learning method this combination because they do not have the same temporal and special resolution and the for the artificial intelligence algorithm and machine learning we use the TensorFlow platform and unit models for fast and precise image segmentation.
To conclude and to leave you with the key messages, we deal with many of our rental data issues and challenges within weather. How do we address them or try to address them?
- We transform data into knowledge management products into information and knowledge.
- We automate data workflows as far as possible to keep the information of today because the environmental issues them are evolving with time.
- We develop application programming interfaces to improve the interoperability between the different systems.
- We comply with the international standards for just special data, for example, or potential special consortium and for meta data in order to avoid duplicating repositories we adopt an open-source model on these projects.
- We use many data providers that do the same as us.
- We optimize tools in terms of data transfer. For example, the application cryptographic application is less than two megabytes in order to be used in countries with low Internet connection.
- And finally, we build capacity of users to help them improve their use of digital tools.
- We designate technology experts that will oversee validating, selecting the data and the content into WESR.
Sara VENTURINI | Climate Coordinator, GEO Secretariat
The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is an inter-governmental partnership created in 2005 to support the coordination and openness of earth observation and enable better decision-making for more effective global policies. Our community connects 120 national governments, international agencies, academia and researcher organizations, data providers, businesses and financial institutions and local communities. We aim to create innovative solutions based on science, which is essential to tackle multiple challenges at the same time, especially for this big challenge that the ocean represents. Therefore, GEO members and partners lead over sixty joint activities in multiple sectors and areas. Together, these cover 7000 data providers and four million observation data that are free and accessible for all.
Earth observation entails data and information collected about the atmosphere, ocean and land, inclusive of environmental, socio-economic and cultural variables. These can take the form of satellite imagery, remote- sensing as well as ground based or in-situ data. Satellites are particularly helpful for real time decisions and disaster reduction because of their accuracy and timeliness, and because they can reach areas that are scarcely covered by ground or sea infrastructure. Satellites work even better when they are combined with other data and information generated by other observations sources like in-situ data collected on the ground or on the sea, modeling as well as artificial intelligence, machine-learning technologies and so on. This data can then be optimized and turned into services for target users.
With regards to the ocean, earth observation can support the preparation for marine special planning and integrated coastal zone management by countries with environmental, social and cultural assessment and scenario building. Again, earth observation allows monitoring later phases, like the implementation and the achievement of green objectives. In the GEO work program, the various activities generate specific products that are recognized as contribution to the UN Decade of Ocean Science and Sustainable Development and the marine life program.
Examples of the GEO Work Program
- The digital earth Africa Coastlines Tool maps the location of the coastline at the mid-sea level for each year, and then uses this annual shorelines to calculate and visualize the rates of coastal erosion or accretion. It is set up to be an effective management tool for Western African coast countries and it is indeed already used by coastal of managers and local authorities in various countries in the region. Training local stakeholders is a big component of this program as it important to ensure sustainability in the long run.
- The GEO Marine Biodiversity Observation Network produces the global coastline explorer tool, which allows to zoom in to any stretch of coastline in the planet and learn about its attributes.
- GEO Blue Planet has developed WaveFoRCE to address to address increasing flooding due big waves that hit especially small island States. This WaveFoRCE tool permits forecasting one week ahead of the flood event at three-hour intervals. It is instrumental to support early warning systems, particularly for reef line coasts in developing countries, but also long-term planning of coastal infrastructure and investments.
- CEOS Coast is a coastal coordination program by the Committee of Earth Observation Satellites, which is the consortium of all space agencies of the word. They tackle high-impact problems in high-impact areas through core development with regional stakeholders to develop a series of tools, including habitats-mapping, cost electrification, shoreline mapping and more.
All this data and products are open and free, so that pilot products can be then scaled up to become global products. Capacity-development is an embedded element and new applications are being developed to support climate action, for instance, by including mapping of blue carbon for nationally determined contribution or supporting national adaptation plans.
Emir SIRAGE | Chief Operations Officer, Atlantic International Research Centre
The Atlantic International Research Center (AIR) is a recently funded international organization distributed around the Atlantic, aiming to promote job creation knowledge and scientific excellence around the Atlantic regions. We are aligned with the SDGs and trying to integrate the areas of space, climate earth, ocean, energy, and data sciences. The AIR Center promotes North- South cooperation and follow various thematic missions. Our network around the Atlantic is quite big as we work with different countries, geographies, and institutions. AIR is structured around a general assembly where members collaborate on the challenge of the Atlantic. We have different models of membership partnerships, regional agreements, and collaborations with other organizations on Atlantic Ocean challenges.
AIR Center Five Thematic Missions. The choice of these comes from internal consultations and was also informed by identified user needs, which affect many of the countries. In order to fulfill these missions, we need data and instruments that can support countries in mitigating and solving these needs. The AIR Center prioritizes data to support impacting activities and decision making towards a sustainable ocean. These are channeled through key projects, flagship initiatives, key projects, and capacitation and networking. For flagship initiatives for instance, the vision is to have an integrated system of systems where we can have the space, the sea surface and the underwater components connected. This will allow the data they collect to be merged and processed in different levels of data, and then this data to be transformed in knowledge information for the end user. On the space component, we have a very important flagship project called Atlantic Constellation where we try to fill the gap on resolution latency and revisit time with a constellation of 16 satellites. Portugal and Spain are very committed to this to this project. Other projects in collaboration with the European Space Agency in the Azores allows collecting satellite data applicable to extreme meteorological alerts and disaster monitoring. Moreover, AIR is also developing a data center that will process around 219 gigabytes of data and a system to give this data to users within the AIR Center Network. These sorts of projects present all sorts of scientific measurements.
On key projects we are also in aligned with our missions working in a situation for the area fishers in aquaculture to develop a service that could promote sustainable fisheries, plus is regarding the monitoring, a mapping of plastics in the ocean, because this is as, you know, a huge problem. For instance, regarding ports as it is, not the tourism activity is very active in certain locations. We will continue to increase, and we need to evaluate and deploy actions to more environmentally friendly ports.
We are also part of a very interesting European project to map the marine biodiversity current situation to understand what is happening at a European level regarding the systems that are being developed. Interestingly in the Azores we are working on what we call a free-technological zone really to test solutions that can be scaled to other regions of the Atlantic, and in the Azores, this is a kind of test lab where we can join ocean and space technologies, working together for specific problems in a freer area to test technology. In terms of capacitation and networking, we have a PhD program where we want to train the leaders of the future regarding the challenges that we have around the Atlantic and these are some of the areas in data science, health, marine robotics, marine litter, numerical modeling, biodiversity, ocean accounting and their situation and. We will have 60 scholarships that we must provide until 2023. We recently joined and wish to contribute to the activities of UNEP-Grid and the World Environment Situation Room. The AIR Center is also part of the GEO MBON Secretariat, a permanent observant member in the UN, and a Scientific Community in Oceanic Research (SCOR) member to mobilize in Portugal the community working on ocean science.
Collaborative is ever more important when we talk about using data from raw to processed. In that sense, the AIR Center has organized Networking Fridays, where data harmonization for a specific areas and purposes of scientific research is often debated.
Daniel McGINNIS: Today’s presentations excellently showed the importance of integrating ocean and terrain in earth climate models. At the same time, it has been stated that we know less about our ocean than we do about the solar system. Therefore, for correct climate modelling, it is fundamental to collect additional data to understand the heat budgets of the ocean. What is your opinion on this issue and how could we address it in a way that it moves forward in an efficient and useful manner?
Lars Peter RIISHØJGAARD: There are several ways this can be done. Currently, most ocean observations are research-funded and the fact we know less about the deeper ocean than about Mars shows different things. This awareness comes from a strengthened curiosity about the sea services and the ocean depths, which pushes us to better understand the coupling between the atmosphere and the ocean. Nevertheless, research funding for the observations is fragile WMO is trying to tackle it. Observation is not only key for day-to-day decision-making on weather prediction, it also is a key policy instrument under the auspices of the Paris Agreement. The case we are trying to make is that unfair that the Paris Agreement’s implementation and monitoring hinge on something that experts need beg funding for yearly. It is necessary to have a conversation about what research needs to happen as observations must be planned to be taken in a 20 to 40-year timeframe.
Daniel McGINNIS: The problem always is the deeper you go, the more the cost increases. The recent inclusion of the methane findings in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) shows that methane is about 85 times stronger than CO2. This has now reached alarming levels and we certainly missed the window of action to prevent it. Ocean data measurements are key, but how can this be accomplished and how can these data be efficiently implemented into decision-making and policy regarding greenhouse gas?
Lars Peter RIISHØJGAARD: Integrated greenhouse gas monitoring activity and carbon tracking and monitoring are characterized by plural initiatives, many stakeholders, and coordination activities. This is partially explained by the fact that these are research-funded, giving a certain fragility to them. Concerning this integrated greenhouse gas monitoring initiative, WMO is trying to set up a framework allowing a structured conversation about what the observational needs from surface and space for the different domains are. This can prevent collisions on what we need to measure. An integrated framework that analyzes requirements based on modelling is the backbone of how observations are used for different things. As we run models every day many times a day, we let the results on that set the requirements. If that is done in an integrated sense, we can come to grips with what observational needs are and then make sound funding decisions.
Q: We have seen many platforms and initiatives that help measure ocean data produce scientific knowledge and policy recommendations. Can the UN Ocean Conference provide an opportunity to bring all these platforms together? This will make scientific data and information available for academia and policy-making. What would be needed for this from the international organization’s and academia’s perspectives?
Sara VENTURINI: From the international agencies’ perspective, we can only agree on the fact that we need to integrate all these platforms and work together. A practical suggestion on how this can be endorsed during the Lisbon UN Ocean Conference is to focus on national action. Action by countries must be strengthened to include investment in ocean science and monitoring. Therefore, the answer for me is to develop or strengthen integrated national policies. These should include marine spatial planning; integrated courses on management and climate action policies; targets for mitigation, greenhouse gas, emission reduction in nationally determined contributions and, adaptation targets to increase the resilience of coastal zones. All these need to be grounded on science while at the same time working towards the same objectives. This does not suggest there should be a single policy document that covers all of this, but rather a coordination strategy inclusive of all these elements. This should be the starting point for these platforms to work together and develop the necessary science and solutions that respond to ocean challenges.
Pierre LACROIX: From UNEP’s perspective as an international organization, and the University of Geneva’s for the academic side, we need to reflect on the reliability of data. All these platforms present data in different formats, coming from different sources and collected differently. Again, methodologies of collection differ if data comes from in situ or earth observations. Data must be reliable as not to be contested by the different stakeholders. Therefore, we need thematic experts to oversee, validate, identify and select the right data for it to be disseminated to the scientific community, academia and other stakeholders.
Daniel McGINNIS: How can we build capacity on the ground for data to guide informed decision-making and local management of marine ecosystems and resources? How are we sure that there is interaction between these sources and to efficiently utilize it?
Dorina SEITAJ: That is very challenging, and the big amount of very good information is not easy to use on the ground. Management should happen both at the national and regional levels so governments can address it properly. For example, the Nairobi Convention has done excellent work on ocean acidification by bringing countries together and having a common program, establishing common goals, targets and teaming up in the efforts on the ground. On the other hand, various initiatives are active in the Mediterranean, despite being sparse and disparity existing between the Northern, Southern and Eastern parts of the Mediterranean. Still, these collaborations with a centralized structure allow a displaying of data and n going down towards the more end-users as small aquaculture areas or small fisheries managed at the regional level. All these require funding from the governments or from the marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are more easily managed as networks as it is easier to access funding in that way.
Pierre LACROIX: There are other challenges here. First, the price of the data, as exportable and usable data needs to be public. We need to involve the private sector and encourage it to provide data free of charge. Secondly, data must be comprehensive to be used. We are observing a proliferation of data now, which must be aggregated to certain levels of usability to provide actionable information and knowledge. Data should also be discoverable, searchable, standardized, and easy to understand. Documenting data is complex and tedious and people do not want to do it, but it has to be made easier, so that user-friendly tools for documenting the data are used to their full potential. Another challenge is to understand the end-user needs. This could be done at the national level in order to build capacity and to develop tools that are easy to use for users and that will not stay unused.
Emir SIRAGE: From the AIR center both at the regional level in the Azores and national level, mobilizing funds and partners for ideas and projects related to the ocean is quite easy. What is challenging instead is to scale prototypes to the international level. This prevents different geographies facing similar problems to benefit from already existing ideas and projects. The funding mechanism does not match the different geographies. Another gap we should think about is the industry side, since solving ocean challenges requires a sustainable business model and economy. We do not yet know how to build that, and we must rapidly fill this gap.
Dorina SEITAJ; Tools are excellent, and they should be user-friendly. For this to be the case, we must involve stakeholders before developing the tools to avoid ending up with good ideas that are not necessarily needed on the ground.
Lars Peter RIISHØJGAARD – Making data available is essential. We are making observations, analyzing and trying to meet requirements to solidify findings, but if these remain at the site where are produced, they do not help the global challenges.
Dorina SEITAJ –Once the data is available, we need to build strong partnerships among different stakeholders. This then allows information to be shared and capacities build at all levels. In this way, data can be translated into action and solutions.
Pierre LACROIX – The most important aspect is a collaboration between the various stakeholders involved in the ocean and sea monitoring. We must collaborate with the public sector, MEAs, international organizations, and the academic community, but also with the private sector. The private sector should be especially encouraged to make data available in the first place and then maybe tools. This will certainly boost global efforts.
Sara VENTURINI – A key aspect of this is coherence. It is important to strengthen action with consistent policies across the wider UN system and UNFCCC to address the multiple challenges that the ocean is facing. Under UNFCCC, the ocean should be included as an inherent part of all workstreams, including the Paris agreement Global Stocktake. This will allow scientists and experts to help policymakers understand if progress has been made on earth observations. Again, it is critical to align global finance to support ocean and climate action under the wider UN system. This can allow building better frameworks to coordinate collective efforts and pull our scientific resources and initiatives to maximize our chances to protect the ocean.
Emir SIRAGE – One important point is to agree and prioritize common challenges towards the ocean. This agreement on common challenges should be done by oceanographers, marine biologists, space and data scientists. Lastly, it is important to praise a youth that is more aware of environmental challenges. We need training at secondary university levels to be more focused on the ocean and integrated with other disciplines.
H.E. Amb. Rui MACIEIRA – This was a very good first input for Lisbon, and the next Geneva Blue Talks will set up the stage for a fruitful UN Ocean Conference, to which we very much look forward to welcoming you at.
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- United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)
- Ocean and Coastal Observations | UNEP
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