ODYSSEA Project brings new observatories to coast

“We will be able to provide datasets – past, current, and future – to the user in a very simple manner, in order to help them make decisions,” Sylaois said.

By SONIA EPSTEIN
July 4, 2019 14:45
3 minute read.
ODYSSEA Project brings new observatories to coast

ODYSSEA's new glider. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Israel will soon reap the benefits of cutting-edge maritime observatories along its coast, which will monitor conditions in the Mediterranean as part of the EU-backed ODYSSEA Project.

ODYSSEA, which began in June 2017, is a collaboration between 14 countries, designed to integrate existing data on the Mediterranean with information from new observatories, ultimately providing user-friendly models to stakeholders throughout the region.

In Israel, for example, a sensor roughly 10 kilometers off the shore of Ashdod will be placed on fish cages to measure salinity, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and other metrics that concern those in the fish-farming industry.

Through initiatives like this one scattered across the Mediterranean basin, both in coastal zones and on the open seas, ODYSSEA will spur what chief project coordinator Georgios Sylaios, a professor at the Democritus University of Thrace, refers to as blue growth, economic growth based in maritime activities.

Its end-users will be able to use ODYSSEA’s models to easily track environmental changes in the ocean and inform business, agriculture, real estate, tourism, and travel.

“We will be able to provide datasets – past, current, and future – to the user in a very simple manner, in order to help them make decisions,” Sylaios said.

One important metric that will be integrated into the new platform are measurements of microplastic along Israel’s coast. A recent report by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that Tel Aviv is the third-most plastic-polluted shore in the Mediterranean, something that threatens marine life, fishing activities, and human health. One of ODYSSEA’s new observation platforms will be a “glider,” or an autonomous submarine, that will travel up and down Israel’s coast collecting data on microplastic concentration.

ODYSSEA has identified 130 different aspects of the Mediterranean to monitor, from erosion and the presence of plastics, oil, and gases to more qualitative data like enforcement of environmental legislation.

Ten observatories in total, including the Israel Observatory, will ultimately contribute maritime data to the platform. The others will operate in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and Malta.

“Each of them represents an area that has not been reported [on] enough… but [from] which there are many important things to be learned,” said Arik Rosenblum, the CEO of EcoOcean, an Israeli environmental NGO collaborating on project. “The object is to make the Mediterranean a single unit when it comes to research.”

ODYSSEA will receive €8.4 million in funds from the EU until November 2021, after which it hopes to sustain its observation and forecasting systems by selling the synthesized data and models to its stakeholders, though the raw data will always be freely available.

Currently, ODYSSEA is training a new generation to collect and process this data, while also training it to consult clients in its usage. Last year, ODYSSEA launched its first summer school session in Kavala, Greece, to strengthen participants’ technical skills and encourage them to contribute to the ODYSSEA observatory and platform in their native countries. About 60 people participated in the program, which will take place again this fall.

“I’m working now on 18 different EU-funded projects, but this project is really, really making a difference,” said Simon van Dam, the managing director of Israeli consultancy firm Agora Partners, and one of the original three initiators of the project. “It is the apple of my eye.”

According to Sylaios, ODYSSEA’s data center in Toulouse, France is nearly complete and will become operational this fall. ODYSSEA will spend the next two and a half years using its support from the EU to work with its clients, tailoring their models and interfaces to their needs.

“In most systems, the projects tend to complete the whole system and then present it to the users,” Sylaios said. “We worked really hard in the first 18 months to create a platform, and now we have plenty of time to design the services and products that we will deploy based on [user’s] needs.”

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