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.

Sea level rises and floods Msida valley

Thursday, 12th May, 2016

Msida flooded

Prof. Drago

Roads along the coast of Msida were flooded this morning as a result of a phenomenon known in Maltese as “il-Milghuba”.

This phenomenon occurs all year round, and causes changes in sea level of a few centimetres usually. However, under certain atmospheric conditions, usually occurring in May and September, the effect is stronger. In an interview on TVM news, Prof. Aldo Drago, of the Physical Oceanography Research Group, Department of Geosciences, University of Malta, described the cause of the flooding. The atmospheric conditions act on the sea surface, beating it like a hammer. This creates waves of long wavelengths, having periods of the order of minutes. When these waves approach land, they cause the sea level to fall and rise within a few minutes.

The event observed this morning was stronger than usual, to the extent that flood relief measures in Msida valley were not sufficient to stop flooding of the roads there. Records from the Physical Oceanography Research Group’s sea level gauge, located in the Portomaso Yacht Marina, showed that the change in sea level occurred throughout the night and reached a peak at about 6:15am when the sea rose above the level of the road, as shown in the photos above. At this point, the change in sea level was more than one metre.

The last time such an event was observed was in July 2014.

CALYPSO features at GHFRN meeting

GHFRN news item

Represented by the Physical Oceanography Research Group, Malta was one of the nine countries within the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) that contributed to the Fourth Meeting of the Global High Frequency Radar Network (GHFRN), held in Crete, Greece, 22–23 September 2015. Presently, GEO includes 35 countries that operate HF radar networks, which produce hourly maps of ocean surface currents within 200 kilometers of a coastline. The technology is becoming a standard component for ocean observing systems—approximately 400 radar systems are in place around the world—but only 2% of the world’s coastline is measured with this technology.

The presentation on surface current measurements in the Malta Channel for oil spill response, by the CALYPSO project partners, was one of the key presentations of the meeting.