The Atlantic Ocean has been a key avenue of trade and travel since centuries and it is becoming the core of the development of the ocean economy, being a source of food, energy, minerals, health, leisure and transport (OECD (2016), The Ocean economy in 2030). It stretches from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, bordered by the Americas to the west and Europe and Africa to the east, being the second-largest ocean on Earth after the Pacific Ocean.
Billions of people worldwide rely on the oceans for food and jobs. Around 60 million people are involved in fisheries and aquaculture, most of them in small scale fisheries in developing countries. Healthy oceans and coasts are essential for economic growth and food production, as well as for the health and well-being of local populations. Coastal and marine environments are often rich, with high levels of productivity and biodiversity, but they are also vulnerable to climate change and pressures from human activities.
The Blue Economy approach to the oceans supports economic growth, social inclusion and improvement of livelihoods, while also ensuring the continued health of coastal and marine ecosystems and the services they provide. This takes careful planning and management, based on a sound understanding of marine and coastal environments. However, these areas are expensive and challenging to measure and monitor using in situ techniques alone. In many cases there are no viable alternatives to EO for providing the information decision-makers need in order to build a sustainable blue economy.
The Atlantic Ocean borders nine ESA Member States (Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway) and one ESA Cooperating State (Canada). It is therefore a key interest for ESA to focus its space applications portfolio on the Atlantic region, including also established privileged European relations with Brazil and South Africa, and potentially strengthening partnerships with the U.S.A. and other Atlantic countries (e.g. Iceland, Morocco, Nigeria, Caribbean States, Mexico, Argentina. It is also to be highlighted that challenges faced by Atlantic Ocean indirectly impact also the other European seas (Arctic, Baltic, Mediterranean and Black sea) and the Member States bordering them.
The Atlantic Regional Initiative is therefore of global nature per se and it requires proper engagement of the relevant stakeholders and adequate strategies to address the mid to long term developments of various economic activities. There are several active fora in place to support regional approaches for managing Atlantic related activities. These fora work to address the various challenges within the regions, including sustainable management of the environment (e.g. water quality, river sediment, marine pollution, toxic waste, land degradation), urban development, economic development, resource management and cultural heritage.
The need to embed and exploit satellite EO within these regional-level activities is a priority which require a specific focus on customised processing of the EO data, fusion of diverse datasets, modelling capabilities, outreach of EO capabilities to regional actors, etc.
It is also recognized that recent ICT developments are enabling a step-change in the generation of EO-based information services and the fusion of EO derived information with other datasets, using various models and analytic tools. At present, the Copernicus Data and Information Access Systems (DIAS) and the ESA-funded Thematic Exploitation Platforms (TEPs) are supporting wider use of this technology, encouraging also private actors to make extensive use of them in the frame of the Atlantic Regional Initiative, in addition to other commercial and institutional/academic innovative capabilities.
The priority activities for the Atlantic Regional Initiative are based on a road map agreed with stakeholders through dedicated workshops, and in particular the Atlantic from Space workshop (Southampton 23-25 Jan 2019). Regular follow-on workshops will be organised , tentatively every 18 months, in the Atlantic region as the ESA-funded developments progress.
The first workshop aimed at, among others, reviewing and discussing the existing scientific knowledge gaps and priority applications, for the Atlantic region, where EO may contribute. The recommendations of the workshop are available online as a report.