Held in March 2007, kick-off meeting of ESONET NoE project is the starting point of many actions whose ultimate goal is the building of a European Deep Sea Observatory Community. Before this step, predecessors were ESONET CA and ESONIM projects. In June 2007, the European Marine and Maritime Science and Technology Community defined a strategy for the community through Aberdeen Declaration: this was the actual beginning of ESONET NoE. Concurrently, EMSO-PP project officially started in 2008 to prepare the implementation of the infrastructure according to ESONET initiative.
ESONET CA, THE FIRST STEP
ESONET is the acronym for European Sea Observatory NETwork.The first initiative took the form of a Coordinated Action (EVK3-CT-2002-80008) in 2002 led by Imants G. Priede from the University of Aberdeen and grouped 14 partners all over Europe. Involved partners came from universities, operational institutions and the private sector (University of Aberdeen, University of Tromsø, IFREMER, Royal NIOZ, IFM-GEOMAR, CSA Group Ltd, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, International University Bremen, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Tecnomare SpA., Istituto Per La Geologia Marina CNR, Laboratoire d'Océanographie et de Biogéochimie CNRS, TFH Berlin, University of Applied Sciences and the University of Lisbon).
ESONET/CA emphasized the importance of the submarine terrain around Europe from the continental shelves to the abyss, an area of 3 millions km 2, comparable in size with the total landmass of Europe and increasingly important in terms of resources (food, energy, biodiversity). Also, this area is the place of large natural hazards such as submarine slides, earthquakes and tsunamis, whose impact is enormous particularly in coastal areas. Finally, an important part of the processes that are critical to climate change takes place in the ocean system and its monitoring is increasingly important for the sustainability of the humankind. The only systematic way to complement existing spatial and coastal devices was seen as the implementation of a group of multiparametric seafloor permanent observatories, connected directly or indirectly to shore. They were specifically designed to ensure a long term monitoring of chosen critical locations, where the most important biological, chemical or physical processes could be detected or followed up.
ESONET/CA made the first assessment of available European capacity in ocean observatories. It allowed the identification of the potential stakeholders in Europe and elsewhere with interests in the proposed system and it produced a first level configuration of the observatory nodes. It also started systematic connections with similar initiatives in the USA, Canada and Japan, establishing itself as the reference seafloor observatory program.
ESONIM, TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE COST MODEL
The economical sustainability of a seafloor observatory network is a critical problem due to the high running costs of submersed technological platforms and the need for frequent servicing of critical components. ESONIM, a European Specific Support Action (SSA), led by Mick Gillooly from the Irish Marine Institute (IMI), took the ESONET/CA plan a step further by producing a practical and flexible business plan to establish a seafloor observatory based on the ESONET Porcupine site.
ESONIM consortium includes a set of 9 institutions (Irish Marine Institute, CSA Group, IFM-GEOMAR, IFREMER, University of Aberdeen, Goodbodys Economic Consultants, Philip Lee Solicitors and the University of Gothenberg). The consortium comprises experts in cabled observatory technology, specialists in building appropriate business models for financing major infrastructure projects (capital expenditure and recurrent revenue streams), legal experts on public private partnerships and large infrastructure procurement and a distinguished body of international research scientists and monitoring agencies to precisely define the required measurements and outputs expected from a European cabled seafloor observatory.
ESONIM focuses on a specific place and gathered relevant information on legal and administrative implications of permanent seafloor infrastructures, including insurance, service level and decommissioning, for example. The financial model is prepared by Goodbody Corporate Finance to estimate the financing, construction and operation of a cabled observatory. The primary function of the model is to assess (given certain assumptions regarding capital costs, funding facilities and operation & maintenance costs) the level of revenue required to support the project. Financial models of this type are generally used by project sponsors or potential investors to determine if the financial returns are sufficient to offset the risks involved in investment.
ESONIM final report, recently made public is a defined layout for the legal, administrative and financial implementation of a regional ESONET node.
ESONET implementation comes in the framework of the Aberdeen Declaration (2007, June the 22 nd) made by the European Marine and Maritime Science and Technology Community.
This declaration defines a strategy for this community in order to deliver significant added-value elements in the fields of economic development, environmental management, ocean and coastal governance.
THE ROAD TO INTEGRATION: ESONET NoE
In the last call of the Framework Program 6, the European Commission launched the possibility to fund the organization of a European wide network of excellence to cover the theme of seafloor observatories. A proposal leaded by Roland Person and encompassing a group of 43 institutions was designed to create an organization able of implement, operate and maintain a network of multidisciplinary ocean observatories in deep waters around Europe from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. This organization should put together and further integrate the resources of the participating institutes to create the necessary critical mass, remove barriers and develop a joint program of activities towards a future organization.
ESONET NoE program includes a revision of the eleven nodes of ESONET well distributed around the European seas: ARCTIC, NORWEGIAN MARGIN, KOSTERFJORD, PORCUPINE, AZORES, IBERIAN, LIGURIAN, EAST SICILY, HELLENIC, MARMARA and BLACK SEA. Some of these nodes will have a key role on the early warning system that is being developed on UNESCO's responsibility (NEAMTWS).
Technological integration is under way through deeper cooperation between partners and the exchange of engineers and scientists. Main concerns relate to interoperability and the promotion of best technological practices. Cooperation with on-going similar initiatives (e.g. NEPTUNE) is a key issue.
A new organization of the private sector within a still informal structure, PESOS (Providers for Equipment and Services for Observatory Systems), is launched by ESONET NoE, where companies that act as suppliers, partners or clients of ESONET coordinate their efforts to combine scientific, technological and entrepreneurial excellence. The outreach plan, including the ESONEWS newsletter and the new ESONET webpage promotes the visibility of the initiative.
Demonstration Missions that focus on a set of ESONET nodes and address specific scientific and technological objectives are under way. These Demonstration Missions will be developed in the forthcoming years producing the first design of a set of nodes and a set of original data concerning most of ESONET scientific and technological objectives.
TOWARDS INSTITUTIONAL BUILDING: EMSO
Under FP7 Infrastructures 2007 call, a European Multidisciplinar Seafloor Observation (EMSO) initiative, led by Paolo Favali, gathers a set of European national funding institutions (or their mandates) aiming to prepare the future institutional framework of ESONET initiative.
EMSO project is funded by EC and its coordination is led by Paolo Favali, INGV (Italy). First phase of the project has begun in April 2008 with EMSO-PP designation (EMSO - Preparatory Phase).