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Home to more than 160 million people, the Black Sea catchment area has not fared well in the face of increased human activity, least of all from developments along the banks of its tributary rivers.
With these trends set to continue and development remaining unsustainable, it is time to improve the management of vital natural resources in the 2.2 million square kilometre catchment area.
EU-funded project enviroGRIDS ('Building capacity for a Black Sea catchment observation and assessment system supporting sustainable development') has done its part. The project team worked on building up monitoring capacities in the region, developing a new analytical framework for modelling and proposing a number of possible scenarios covering climate change, demographics and land cover.
Once Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, the Black Sea became - at least partially - an EU sea, explains project coordinator Anthony Lehmann of the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
While there had been scientific studies of the environment in the region, knowledge and understanding of how the Black Sea and its catchment work has been lagging behind that of other seas, he says.
With eutrophication a major problem, more information was also needed on the sources of these excess nutrients - such as nitrates and phosphates - which can harm ecosystems.
Key to the enviroGRIDS project was identifying existing data and making it available through a distributed spatial data infrastructure. This data ranges from rainfall and temperature, to water quality and quantity, soil and land use information.
Some of these data were previously private, but are now accessible through simple web services and tools, allowing users to see, distribute, analyse and visualise crucial information on the past, present and future states of the region.
In addition to collating existing information, the enviroGRIDS project also generated new data through the first ever hydrological model of the entire region. This then enabled the team to run certain scenarios, covering climate change, demographic change and land cover - such comprehensive analysis of the entire region had never before been possible.
Together, all of these data provide governments and communities with the information they need to track and respond to environmental trends - and the enviroGRIDS team will continue to maintain the platform now that the project is over.
The data is accessible through the new Grid-enabled Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) - built by the enviroGRIDS team - which is now part of the much larger Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).
GEOSS aims to link Earth observation systems from around the world, promoting common technical standards, interoperability and free and open access to Earth observation data and information. Earth observation data comes from satellites as well as airborne, land-based and marine instruments.
The ultimate goal of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), which coordinates GEOSS, is to benefit the quality of life of people around the world, advancing global sustainability, and preserving the planet. One of enviroGRIDS' key achievements was to bring Georgia into GEO. Discussions between GEO and both Armenia and Bulgaria are now also underway - helping to fill geographic gaps in GEO.
Thanks to workshops and a virtual training centre, the project also built up capacity. "More people know how to use the tools available than before. We should see the results in a few years," says Lehmann.
Coordinating a 30 partner, interdisciplinary team may seem daunting to some, but Lehmann took it in his stride. Cultural gaps between some of the partner countries were larger than many in the team were used to, but this proved to be no obstacle. He describes the collaboration as "very intense and very fruitful".
Lehmann is confident that the work started within the project will continue. Not only will the platform of monitoring tools remain in place, but two new projects (IASON and EOPower) are building on the work of enviroGRIDS. Work on strengthening the network created has started.
He also senses that the younger generation living in the Black Sea region is eager to make very good use of the tools and systems developed within enviroGRIDS.
The enviroGRIDS project received EUR 6.2 million in funding from the EU, and ran from 2009 until March 2013. It was coordinated by the University of Geneva and UNEP/GRID in Switzerland and brought together 30 teams from 15 countries.Cordis
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