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Concept and project objectives

1. The need for a sustainable coordinated approach in marine research vessels

Fragmentation, together with a lack of cohesion and strategic vision, is still the greatest weakness of European marine research. Despite this, European marine research is still at the forefront. To maintain and possibly strengthen this position, the move towards strategic leadership and an integrated approach to investments and use of large facilities is essential. It will allow Europe to carry on delivering world-class science using facilities which are integrated, networked and accessible to all research teams across Europe. The present crisis period reinforces the essential character of progressing in such a shared cost effective approach. Marine-related knowledge and innovation requires an integrated approach to cope with complexity. Integrated and dynamic European research is required to solve complex issues and to find coherent solutions for exploiting all the economic potential of the seas based on an ecosystemic approach.

Easy access to key infrastructures available to marine research affects directly Europe competitiveness and their performance which is considered as a priority key element from the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) and specifically from the Expert Group on Marine Research Infrastructures ("MRI Expert Group - What we have learned" https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/maritimeforum/node/1544 - Report from the 4th Meeting 9 December 2010).

The development and funding of marine research infrastructures under a common strategic framework is a crucial issue. European research fleets could all together be considered as a unique distributed infrastructure really competitive with its international counterparts as the US one Research vessels represent very expensive assets with high development, investment, operation, maintenance and implementation costs. A continued investment flow is vital to maintain and possibly increase Europe‟s research capacity (European Science Foundation, 2007). Research vessels are necessary for marine science to maintain observation systems (biogeochemistry, physics ...), to monitor oceanographic parameters, to deploy sophisticated equipments in the deep sea, to carry out specific observation missions and to collect rare and sensitive biological samples. Their role is expanding with the development of in-situ operational observation (moorings, floats, gliders, seabed observatories...). They might be particularly useful to respond to some MSFD (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) obligations.

A high availability of oceanographic fleets and associated marine equipment and a coordinated strategy and access to facilities are essential for a high quality of the research at sea.

A pan-European Distributed Research Vessels Infrastructure with a common strategy and development plan is necessary in order to be able to provide European researchers and industries with unique marine research facilities and user services. The objective should be the significant improvement of marine research, related tools and technologies for marine resource observation, exploration and development and the convergence on common scientific and technical standards in marine research. A strong innovation impact could be achieved only by pulling resources and infrastructures, according also with the statements of the EU Integrated Maritime Policy (Aberdeen Declaration, 2007) and the "Innovation Union", one of the seven flagship initiatives of Europe 2020 strategy.

2. EUROFLEETS1 European Infrastructure: a first initiative to coordinate marine RVs

A first step towards reduction of fragmentation has been done with the EUROFLEETS1 project which is progressing since 2009. After a long period of only national approaches in research vessels, this project has started the difficult task of the coordination of European distributed infrastructures.

As a result of this need the EUROFLEETS1 project started in September 2009 aiming at bringing together a lot of existing European Research Fleet owners, to enhance their coordination and promote the cost-effective use of their facilities in order to support the efficient provision of essential research services for monitoring and sustainable management of the Regional Seas and the Oceans and allow access to all European scientists.

EUROFLEETS1 is now in the mid-term of the project duration aiming to:

  • Define a common strategic vision for the European research fleets and so establishing a European fleets infrastructure;
  • Structure and integrate, on a European scale, through an e-platform, the way that research vessels are operated and their interoperability capacities;
  • Use more cost-efficiently the existing European Ocean/Global and Regional fleets;
  • Promote interoperable and standardized tools for research vessels and underwater vehicles;
  • Facilitate a wider sharing of knowledge and technologies across fields and between academia and industry;
  • Promote greener and more sustainable research vessel operations and design;
  • Provide all European researchers and their international partners with full access to high performing research fleets in order to conduct excellent marine research, by establishing a transparent and fair shared evaluation system;
  • Foster the coordinated and joint development of European fleets in terms of capacity and performances;
  • Develop new tools (such as software for transnational access or innovative payloads to enhance interoperability of underwater vehicles).

EUROFLEETS1 is a very ambitious infrastructure initiative involving 5 Ocean/Global and 13 Regional research vessels and their associated equipment (ROV, submersibles, corers, AUV, as well as sensors as echo-sounders, sonars, Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCP) in an open European integrated effort to facilitate homogeneous access to European fleets in a sustainable way to every European scientist on basis of scientific excellence, and prepare the European fleets of the future.

This Transnational Access to research vessels has been provided to the European marine science community through an ambitious transnational process of 3 calls, evaluation and selection of cruises proposals and cooperation for optimizing the funded ship time. The main result at this moment is that 19 EUROFLEETS1 cruises are funded and that 4 took already place to the full satisfaction of their end users.

However despite this first step towards more integration of marine infrastructures EUROFLEETS1 project is not enough to consolidate the network. Long-term perspectives must be adopted when planning and organizing marine research in Europe in order to attain successfully a new strategic vision and coordination of the European marine research vessels. 3. The needs to complete efforts in EUROFLEETS1 marine research fleets initiative

The 4-year EUROFLEETS1 program is permitting to build the foundations of a new European distributed Research Fleets infrastructure organization (a first organization structure, first common tools and the first common cruises) and to launch the transnational access to European research vessels and mobile equipment.

However 4 years are too short to simultaneously consolidate all the initiated mechanisms and the EUROFLEETS consortium intends to further structure cooperation and coordination, to implement wider interoperability, to enlarge access to highly performing RVs to a larger community of researchers, to create links with industry and finally to implement a sustainable European infrastructure.

More time and efforts are needed to:

  • Consolidate the common strategic vision of the infrastructure and the coordination of European research fleets capacities, taking into account both the pan-European and pan-Regional dimensions to address properly the ocean challenge and to foster cooperation at the adequate level. After establishing in EUROFLEETS1 a first structure for coordinating the strategic vision, it is necessary to consolidate this structure and make it acceptable from all over the EU and associated countries, to enlarge the number of its members and provide sustainable and autonomous mechanisms to support and coordinate the member needs;
  • Introduce a common vision strategy for all research vessels. The polar vessels which were not included in EUROFLEETS1 have an important role to play within crucial Arctic ocean issues, because the Arctic waters are increasingly a focus area of science (sciences including global change, environmental concern and economic developments). There is an important need to coordinate also these very expensive vessels and include them in a common European strategic vision;
  • Provide marine researchers with high research vessel access and particular those from countries with limited or no access. The success of EUROFLEETS1 transnational access shows the great interest of European marine researchers to gain access to European research vessels as an important mean to accelerate research results;
  • Implement common procedures and large operational interoperability in marine research tools and equipment. EUROFLEETS1 has already initiated common rules and procedures;
  • Equip a larger number of research vessels with inter operable tools. The next step is to provide examples of operational actions showing more inter operable research vessels;
  • Further to the EUROFLEETS1 software components for streamlining the flow of collected data from research vessels to data centers to users and finally to end users, the next more operational step is to equip a larger number of research vessels with the developed software and to train the end users;
  • Show a deeper integration through more advanced transnational cruises of European fleets that will permit to inaugurate a new type of pan-European experimental tests and missions;
  • Create sustainable mechanisms of easier and larger marine research results transfer to industrials and other stakeholders in order to enlarge the impact of marine research.

Finally, consolidate an autonomous and sustainable distributed infrastructure which could be sustained at European level, recognized as such by ESFRI experts (according to the agreed definition of a distributed infrastructure) and inserted in the ESFRI roadmap.

Figure 1: Towards a better integration and consolidation through the EURFLLETS 2 project.

4. The objectives of EUROFLEETS2

  • Promoting a larger integration of European Global/Ocean and Regional RVs as these two types should be addressed separately for most of the strategic and programming issues. In fact in EUROFLEETS2 a higher participation of RVs is expected: 8 Ocean/Global with 4 new ones;
  • 14 regional RVs with 6 new ones and 6 mobile equipments normally not made accessible on their usual national support vessel;
  • Integrating a common polar vision in the strategic vision of the European marine research fleets;
  • Promoting exchanges of movable equipment on board European RVs and in doing so fostering high operational interoperability within Europe;
  • Further integrating the European RVs by coordinating multi-vessels experiments (super-integration) for larger and ambitious marine research missions;
  • Initiating operational experimental tests demonstrating the higher interoperability of European fleets;
  • Enhancing the impact of research infrastructures on innovation by fostering the involvement of industry with specific activities, both as a user (e.g. development and testing of new equipment or deep-sea exploration for new energy or mineral resources) and as a supplier of such facilities.

The Club of Interest structured in EUROFLEEST1 will be reinforced and multi-activities will be promoted; Making an important step towards a long term sustainable European Marine RVs Infrastructures network and prepare a possible insertion into the ESFRI roadmap.