Sea temperature soars beyond 30 °C

Swimmers taking a dip in the sea will not find it as refreshing. The intense solar radiation associated with the high air temperatures in recent days has naturally also affected the sea temperature. Sea surface temperature (SST) has been on the high all around the Maltese Islands, reaching values well beyond 29°C and peaking up to 30.1°C in the coastal stretch of sea opposite Marsascala on Saturday 5th August, in the early evening hours.

SST is regularly monitored by orbiting satellites which keep an eye on its variability in time and in space. The Physical Oceanography Research Group at the Dept. of Geosciences of the University of Malta elaborates such data from the COPERNICUS Marine Environment Monitoring Service which provide snapshots of SST centred around midnight each day. Numerical models further produce maps of SST around the Maltese Islands as it changes during the day. These maps show how the sea temperatures change from place to place as well as in time, rising to highest values in late afternoon when the sea has accumulated the sun's radiation during the day, and cooling down by around 2°C during the night when the sea surface re-radiates part of its acquired heat energy back to the atmosphere.

In a press release to the media, Prof. Aldo Drago explained how the satellite SST for the night between Thursday 4th and Friday 5th August reached peaks of 28.6°C. The sea continued to absorb heat energy during the day as solar radiation fluxes, measured by the heat station at the University of Malta, poured on land and at sea at persisting rates of up to 875 Watts per square meter. The picture shows the modelled SST map of the sea on Saturday in the early evening hours when sea water temperatures reached their highest. Sea temperatures in shallower areas, ports, embayments and beaches were even higher. The sea temperature measured at 3m depth in a yacht marina on the eastern coast reached close to 31°C. The warm waters near Malta are in contrast to the relatively cooler patch of sea west of the islands.


Sea Surface Temperature around the Maltese Islands at 5.30pm on 5th August with a maximum of 30.1°C on the eastern coast

Prof. Drago also pointed to the exceptional warming of the sea which is in sharp contrast with the much cooler daily average temperatures registered in Delimara in the period 1977 – 2006 by the Malta Meteorological Office. The highest sea temperatures are typically reached in early August each year, but are 2°C cooler than the recent values. The mean sea surface temperature in the coastal waters of the Maltese Islands has been steadily increasing at a hefty average rate of close to 0.05°C per year since the late 70s.

GliderSouth Seminar introduces sea gliders to the Maltese public

The University of Malta’s Physical Oceanography Research Group organised a half-day seminar to present the GliderSouth project and its experience using a sea glider, for the first time, in the stretch of sea south of Malta towards the North African shelf as well as in the offshore areas around the Maltese Islands. The seminar was attended by key stakeholders and interested parties and showcased how the new generation multi-purpose sea gliders offer an innovative aid to observe and monitor the sea areas under local jurisdiction. The seminar was intended to describe the versatility of sea gliders as a means of collecting profiles of sea data from an autonomous device that can monitor large sea areas at high resolution and in all sea state conditions without the support of large survey ships.

Prof. Aldo Drago, the head of the Group and coordinator of this project, highlighted Malta’s commitments as an EU country to set up by 2020 a comprehensive national system to report regularly on the state of health of coastal waters. The seminar showed how the use of sea gliders offers a cost-effective solution to achieve a state-of-the-art marine environmental monitoring system capable of collecting baseline data and of routinely assessing the good environmental status of the sea surrounding the Maltese Islands. With an investment of 0.5 million Euro it is possible to set up a local fleet of three gliders which would become an integral part of the local operational marine observing system, providing routine monitoring as well as baseline data needed to set up thresholds for the Good Environmental Status of our coastal seas. With two gliders at sea at any time, and following a track around the Maltese Islands with positions phased half a track away from each other, it is possible to collect a 3D snapshot of the physical, chemical and biological data about the state of the sea around the islands every five days. This is a monitoring strategy that fits an island state surrounded 360o by the sea, and would comprise a state-of-the-art system leading other countries to implement monitoring obligations to the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Foreign experts on sea glider technology, elaborated further on the capabilities of these gliders and on potential applications. Dr Anthony Galea described how the sea glider used in this project, CAMPE, conducted two surveys along a transect between the Maltese Islands and the southern Mediterranean shelf. The sea glider was further employed along a track close to the Maltese Islands, to demonstrate how adaptive monitoring strategies, using remotely controlled unmanned devices, provide cost effective methods to routinely collect basic marine data. A preliminary analysis of the data collected and presented by Adam Gauci showed that this data is useful to validate oceanographic models of the area. Furthermore, such data is instrumental in monitoring the sea to ensure that it is maintained in a good environmental state. Miraine Rizzo, from the Environment and Resources Authority, expanded on this, by describing the level of monitoring that the Authority conducts to ensure that Malta adheres to its obligations. She gave a comprehensive overview of the monitoring targets, and provided the setting for a brainstorming session held within the seminar to identify bottlenecks and the way forward.

The seminar was opened by the Hon. José Herrera, Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, and the Rector of the University of Malta, Prof. Alfred J. Vella. Prior to the opening, Prof. Vella officially thanked the Commander of the Armed Forces of Malta, Brig. Jeffrey Curmi, for the continuous support that the AFM offered throughout the implementation of this project.

Minister Herrera expressed his appreciation to the University of Malta’s Physical Oceanography Research Group and to all the collaborators of the project for yet another leading research initiative. 'These endeavours truly play a vital role not only to strengthen monitoring capabilities for our marine environment, but also to advocate that the best results can be achieved through cooperation” he said, “we have to maximise the momentum that has been created so far and focus our energies to coordinate our efforts towards the protection of our marine environment.'

This project is supported by the European Commission – H2020 Framework Programme, through the JERICO NEXT (grant agreement No. 654410) Trans-National Activity.

COPERNICUS Marine Environment Monitoring Service at the BLUEMED Conference

Blue Growth in the Mediterranean was on the highlights in a two-day conference held on 18/19th April under the auspices of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Presentations on various projects and existing best practices that promote the BLUEMED agenda were delivered by invited experts, and set the scene on what is anticipated to be a strong push for research and innovation in favour of blue jobs and growth in the maritime sector in the region.

COPERNICUS Marine Environment Monitoring Service at the BLUEMED Conference

Prof. Aldo Drago, Head of the Physical Oceanography Research Group (ex PO-Unit) within the Department of Geosciences, made two presentations on international initiatives in which the University of Malta is a key player. The Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) was presented on behalf of MERCATOR OCEAN, the French centre for analysis and forecasting of the global ocean, and the entity entrusted by the European Commission to implement and operate the service. Dedicated to ocean observation and monitoring, CMEMS is one of the six services delivered in the Copernicus programme, creating value by distributing regular and systematic core reference information on the state of the global oceans and the European regional seas. The service is designed to serve many public, commercial and scientific purposes including major EU policies, combating pollution, protection of marine species, maritime safety and routing, sustainable exploitation of ocean resources, marine energy resources, climate monitoring and hurricane forecasting. It also aims at increasing general public awareness by better informing European citizens about ocean-related issues.

The PO-Res. Grp. are a historical partner in the MyOcean series of projects that led to CMEMS, and is a champion user of CMEMS data as an intermediate user to downscale forecasts to the shelf and coastal scales. It also acts as the local broker to promote the uptake of CMEMS data by Maltese stakeholders. In particular, the M.Sc. course on Applied Oceanography run by the PO-Res. Grp. is a showcase resource to empower future marine professionals with skills in operational oceanography and in the intelligent derivation of added value and knowledge from marine data for smart and innovative applications.

Prof. Drago also presented the CMEMS Ocean State Report. This report provides a comprehensive and state-of the art assessment of the state of the global ocean and European regional seas for the ocean scientific community as well as for policy and decision-makers.

The presentation at the BLUMED conference is gearing up to the preparations for a dedicated event on CMEMS to be held in Malta on 27 June 2017. The meeting will serve to determine how CMEMS can better serve the needs of national users, in the private, public and scientific sectors, and will be contributing to gathering Maltese stakeholders of the Blue Economy.

Drifter deployment in the Malta Channel

Sea surface current and temperature measurements by the Physical Oceanography Research Group, at the Department of Geosciences within the Faculty of Sciences, University of Malta, have not cooled down during summer. With the support of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), five surface Lagrangian drifters have been released between Malta and Sicily to study circulation patterns and changes in the sea surface temperature. Drifters consist of a spherical float and subsurface vanes that sense the drag of the sea currents. Each buoy was programmed to transmit short burst data messages every hour that encode information about the instrument’s current position as well as other information related to the conditions of the sea at that point. By using satellite telemetry and the Iridium constellation, transmitted data packets can be picked up from anywhere on the globe.


Ten day trajectories followed by the deployed five drifters


This is one of several ongoing drifter experiments that is serving to better understand the mesoscale circulations that exist around the Maltese islands and the Malta-Sicily Channel. The data collected is also used to validate the observations made by the CALYPSO HF Radar network. With radial sites at Ta’ Barkat (in Xghajra, Malta) and at Ta’ Sopu (Nadur, Gozo) which are synchronised with two other radars in Pozzallo and Ragusa (in Sicily), this system is capable of measuring real-time sea surface currents every hour and show how these evolve through time. Apart from allowing for more accurate numerical forecasting models to be developed, such information is vital for search and rescue operations. This data is also useful in case of hazardous substances or oil leaks that could drift towards Malta. The drifters show how oil slicks could eventually land on our coasts even though they are released several kilometres away from the islands.


Deployment of a drifter in open waters by the Armed Forces of Malta
(photo courtesy of AFM Bdr Muscat C. and SSgt Santillo E.)

Planned future work includes the enhancement of the HF Radar network coverage to the southern approaches of the islands.

Ocean observations and monitoring are carried out by Prof. Aldo Drago and Adam Gauci from the Physical Oceanography Research Group within the Department of Geosciences of the Faculty of Science. Deployment of the instruments could not have been possible without the help of the Armed Forces of Malta.

This activity was done in collaboration with Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS) in Italy. The deployed instruments form part of MedArgo which is a programme within the Mediterranean Operational Network for the Global Ocean Observing System (MONGOOS) and provides data to the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS). Partial support is provided by the Argo-Italy and European Commission projects. The real-time trajectories of the drifters can be followed from the following link.

Students interested in the management of coastal and marine resources, policy-making, governance, marine-related industries, environmental monitoring, marine observations and forecasting can follow a one-year Master course in Applied Oceanography which features a dedicated bootcamp involving fieldwork and instrument deployment. More information can be obtained from the following link.

Applications for this course must be received by not later than 30 September 2016.