Marine data portals and tools

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This article provides an overview of marine data portals operated by institutions in Europe.

Data portals

Pan-European data portals


The European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) is the most important source for marine environmental data. EMODNET is a network of organisations supported by the EU’s integrated maritime policy. These organisations work together to observe the sea, process the data according to international standards and make that information freely available as interoperable data layers and data products. This "collect once and use many times" philosophy benefits all marine data users, including policy makers, scientists, private industry and the public. It has been estimated that such an integrated marine data policy will save at least one billion Euros per year, as well as opening up new opportunities for innovation and growth.

EMODnet provides access to European marine data across seven discipline-based themes:

  • Bathymetry
  • Geology
  • Seabed habitats
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Human activities

For each of these themes, EMODnet has created a gateway to a range of data archives managed by local, national, regional and international organisations. Through these gateways, users have access to standardized observations, data quality indicators and processed data products, such as basin-scale maps. These data products are free to access and use.

EMODnet is a long term marine data initiative. It has been developed through a step-wise approach and is currently in its third and final development phase. Available data are being used to create multi-resolution maps of all Europe’s seas and oceans, spanning all seven disciplinary themes - these are expected to be complete in 2020. More than 150 organisations are involved in the EMODnet programme; new contributors are always welcome via the EMODnet Associated Partnership Scheme. User requirements are a priority for EMODnet, so a series of 'Sea-basin Checkpoints' were established, starting with the Mediterranean and North Sea in 2013 and extending to the Arctic, Atlantic, Baltic Sea and Black Sea in 2015. The checkpoints act as surrogate users attempting to address a number of simulated user challenges (windfarm siting, predicting the fate of an oil spill at sea etc.). In doing so, they assess and report for each sea-basin on the adequacy of the data, in terms of what is available and how useful it is. To further increase the quantity and quality of available European marine data, the EMODnet Data Ingestion Portal was launched in 2017.


SeaDataNet is a standardized distributed system for managing the large and diverse data sets collected by the European oceanographic fleets and new automatic observation systems. It is a network of major institutes and marine data centres active in data collection from 35 countries bordering the North-East Atlantic, and its adjacent seas: the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic, the North Sea and the Arctic. SeaDataNet has developed an efficient distributed Pan-European Marine Data Management Infrastructure for managing these large and diverse data sets and provides integrated databases of standardized quality on-line. National Oceanographic Data Centres, Designated National Agencies for international data exchange and Satellite Data Centres represent the backbone of the marine data and information infrastructure.


MESH is a framework for Mapping European Seabed Habitats, which contains 1013 datasets. MESH is an international marine habitat mapping programme that started in spring 2004 and lasted for 3 years. A consortium of 12 partners across the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France gained financial support from the EU INTERREG IIIB fund for this international programme. The MESH partnership covers all five countries in the INTERREG (IIIb) north-west Europe area, drawing together scientific and technical habitat mapping skills, expertise in data collation and its management, and proven practical experience in the use of seabed habitat maps for environmental management within national regulatory frameworks.

National data portals

British Oceanographic Data Centre

The British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC) is a national facility for looking after and distributing data concerning the marine environment. The BODC deal with biological, chemical, physical and geophysical data, and their databases contain measurements of nearly 10,000 different variables.


MEDIN (formerly Marine Data Information Partnership MDIP) is a partnership of public and private sector organisations working to provide harmonised stewardship and access to marine data and information, and so facilitate improved management of the seas around the UK. MEDIN hosts a discovery metadata portal for UK marine environmental data.


The Defra strategic wave monitoring network for England and Wales will provide a single source of real time wave data from a network of wave buoys located in areas at risk from flooding. Data from this network will be used to improve the management of flood and coastal erosion risk for which Defra has policy responsibility. WaveNet will be managed by the WaveNet steering group. The data will be used by Flood Managers, Local Authorities, Consultants, and other stakeholders in order to assess flood risk and on a longer timescale will be to help design improved flood defence schemes and to provide data for climate change studies. The wave data will be also be used to validate the Met Office wave model which is run 4 times daily.


DASHH (Data Archive for Seabed Species and Habitats) is the UK Marine Data Archive Centre for benthic survey data of both species and habitats. DASSH provides digital archive facilities for benthic datasets and a digital repository for benthic images and video.


SISMER (Systèmes d’informations scientifiques pour la Mer) is the national marine data portal in France operated by Iremer. The information systems managed by Sismer range from CATDS (SMOS satellite data) to geoscience data (bathymetry, seismic, geological samples) to water column data (physics and chemistry, data for operational oceanography - Coriolis - Copernicus CMEMS), fishery data (Harmony), coastal environment data (Quadrige 2) and deep environment data (Archimedes).


The SHOM (Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine) is the public operator for maritime and littoral geographical information in France. SHOM collects and disseminates baseline data in the areas: bathymetry, sedimentology, coastal hydrodynamics, oceanography, marine acquisition systems engineering, maritime and coastal geographic information. It also provides "data intelligence" services, which help sea and coastal stakeholders to make optimal use of the data.

MDI-DE portal

In Germany an integrated national marine and coastal information system was set up in 2014 within the co-operative project "Marine Data Infrastructure (MDI-DE)". Coastal and marine data collected by 11 Federal and State agencies are made available by OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) compliant Web services and documented with metadata according to the ISO standard. The new MDI-DE portal serves as central entry point for data and information from the German coastal zone and the adjacent marine waters. This facilitates intersectoral views of resources by providing technological solutions of networking and distributed data management. The benefit of hosting the data locally is that the data from different sources can be merged in almost any way, custom-made compositions of thematic data layers can be compiled without touching the data itself. Each participating agency or institute operates a node which consists of a few basic components: services to provide the data, metadata and a database. For the provision of spatial data, the OGC has developed a number of open and international standards. The Web Map Service (WMS) to generate and visualize digital maps in the Web and the Web Feature Service (WFS) to download the data in an interoperable format such as GML (Geography Markup Language). Corresponding metadata are harvested from the different local nodes and are provided through a standardized Catalogue Service for the Web (CSW) interface. Beyond the basic services such as WMS and WFS, a Web Processing Service (WPS) for data analysis was implemented. MDI-DE represents not only a state-of-the-art spatial data infrastructure; it also aspires to lose the ‘spatial-only’ attribute and includes other related data into this distributed data source. The future WebServices provided by MDI-DE will support system analysis applications related to coastal engineering, spatial planning, nature conservation, science and ecology. The NOKIS information system for the North and the Baltic Sea can be accessed through the MDI-DE portal.

Informatiehuis Marien

The portal Informatiehuis Marien gives access to all monitoring data collected in the Netherlands by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Watermanagement and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.

NODC Italy

The Italian National Oceanographic Data Centre (NODC) is hosted by the Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografica e di Geofisica Sperimentale. It is part of the IOC's network of National Oceanographic Data Centres and responsible for the coordination of data and information management at national level. The oceanographic database covers the fields of marine physics, chemical, biological, underway geophysics and general information on Italian oceanographic cruises and data sets.

Data tools

Open Earth

OpenEarth is a free and open source initiative to deal with Data, Models and Tools in earth science & engineering projects, currently mainly marine & coastal. In current practice, research, consultancy and construction projects commonly spend a significant part of their budget to setup some basic infrastructure for data and knowledge management. Most of these efforts disappear again once the project is finished. As an alternative to these ad-hoc approaches, OpenEarth aims for a more continuous approach to data & knowledge management. It provides a platform to archive, host and disseminate high quality data, state-of-the-art model systems and well-tested tools for practical analysis. Through this project-superseding approach, marine & coastal engineers and scientists can learn from experiences in previous projects and each other. This may lead to considerable efficiency gains, both in terms of budget and time.

OpenEarth community and workflow

Matlab is one of the most commonly used programming languages for data analysis by marine and coastal scientist and engineers. In 2003, a number of scientists from Deltares and the TUDelft merged their Matlab toolboxes for marine and coastal science and engineering into one toolbox, culminating in open source release as OpenEarthTools (OET) in 2008. OpenEarth adopts the wikipedia approach to growth: web 2.0 crowd sourcing. All users are given full write access to help improve the collection. Quality is assured by version control tracking all changes in [SubVersion], the same tool used by professional software engineers worldwide. OpenEarth started as social experiment to investigate whether crowd sourcing was possible in our community. The answer is yes: just a few years after its launch over 1000 users registered, enjoying over 5000 contributions from over 100 contributors.

GooglePlot toolbox

One of the most powerful toolboxes of OpenEarth is the GooglePlot toolbox. GooglePlot was developed in 307 revisions by 20 developers. They devised a set of Matlab functions that can plot any atomic data type with one coherent toolbox. The GooglePlot toolbox is designed to be the primary example of the OpenEarth quality control guidelines. For each GooglePlot plot function the settings were made customizable. Proper default values for all settings were chosen, which can be requested by calling the function without arguments. Common code fragments were detected in the toolbox and put into a separate subtoolbox. For each function in the GooglePlot toolbox a dedicated unit test was conceived. These test were coded into a unit test function that is run periodically to test ongoing performance of the entire toolbox. The rigorous test approach was included to deal with the typical shortcoming found in computer code made by scientists and engineers [Merali, 2010]. [1].

See also


  1. Merali, Z. 2010. Computational science: ...Error …why scientific programming does not compute. Nature 467: 775-777

The main authors of this article are Bas Borsje, Joanne Vinke-De Kruijf, Clivia Haese, Renata Archetti and Juliette, Jackson
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.