Policy and integrated management Environment

Posted November 1998

The ICAMS Initiative: Development and Implementation of an Integrated Coastal Analysis and Monitoring System


prepared by Vardis M. Tsontos and Dale A. Kiefer, of the University of Southern California, USA, and John S. Latham, FAO/SDRN. For futher details, contact john.latham@fao.org


MANAGEMENT AND APPROPRIATE USE of coastal zones is an issue of major importance on both regional and global scales. Coastal areas are important for their high biological productivity and wealth of natural resources and economic activities that they support. However, many such systems world-wide now face significant environmental problems that ultimately threaten the sustainability of the goods and services that they provide. Such problems are often particularly acute within countries of the developing world, and demographic trends coupled with requirements of economic growth suggest that pressures on coastal areas and their associated resources will continue to increase in the future.

The adoption and effectiveness of scientifically based environmental management approaches depends crucially on the quality and extent of the underlying information-base and the robustness and efficiency of associated decision support systems. The dynamic nature of coastal environments and the range and complexity of bio-physical processes and human interactions that occur there pose extensive challenges to the monitoring and management of these ecosystems. Operational monitoring and effective management of coastal environments and associated resources requires spatio-temporal multivariate data series on key water quality parameters and resource dynamics that are coupled with information on coastal zone usage. They also necessitate an efficient information infrastructure, one capitalising upon advanced technologies for data acquisition, integration, dissemination, and analysis.

Earth observation (EO) sensors potentially facilitate operational monitoring of coastal areas and the human activity that is increasingly shaping them by providing quantitative spatio-temporal series on key water quality parameters and information on coastal area usage. Yet despite the utility of EO data and the proliferation of both missions and available imagery, its promise as a tool for monitoring and management of coastal environments has yet to be realised, rendering it predominantly the domain of expert users in research establishments. Reasons for this include poor targeting of users of water quality information, poor access to data, insufficient integration with other data types, and costly, complex and hardware intensive environments for data visualisation and analysis. Recently, however, an initiative bridging the gap between the potential user community and the means of delivering coastal water quality and usage information has begun.

ICAMS is a two-year EU-funded collaborative project. The consortium consists of FAO's Sustainable Development of Natural Resources group (SDRN), the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC, Italy, http://me-www.jrc.it/), Earth Observation Science (EOS, UK, http://www.eos.co.uk/), the National Centre for Marine Research (NCMR, Greece, http://www.ncmr.ariadne-t.gr/), and the Irish Marine Data Centre (ISMARE, Ireland, http://www.marine.ie/datacentre/). The objective of ICAMS is to develop, demonstrate and evaluate an operational system to monitor temperature, sediment, and chlorophyll concentration from multiple EO data sources and coincident standard surface measurements. Resulting validated outputs on water quality will be used in comparison with maps of resource distribution and data on human exploitation within the same waters. Such a comparison provides a decision aid for those end-users managing the often conflicting demands of human activities that impact coastal ecosystems. ICAMS develops the technical protocols required for the routine generation of such high level, integrated or "value-added" output products and provides software tools for the further exploration and analysis of coupled data sets. To be of relevance for operational coastal management, ICAMS has adopted a practical user/application-driven approach. Much emphasis has thus been placed on identifying potential user groups and involving them in decisions about system functionality and the form of required data product outputs. End-to-end operational viability of the ICAMS approach is demonstrated by pilot applications at three European sites that address a range of coastal management issues: monitoring eutrophication in the Po Estuary (Adriatic), a study of fisheries oceanography in the Gulf of Strimonikos (N.Aegean), and risk assessment of red tide events in Bantry Bay (Ireland).

Although ICAMS is very much practically orientated, the need to address constraints that have hindered EO application for coastal monitoring has necessitated several technical innovations. These include:

  1. Component integration for routine and intelligent data selection, ingestion and management from multiple sources.
  2. Specification and development of inexpensive, practical buoy systems providing near real-time surface measurements.
  3. Refinement of EO bio-optical algorithms for estimating water quality parameters for the more difficult case of coastal (Case II) waters,and ensuring that these make use of available high frequency in situ data inputs for local optimisation and calibration.
  4. Development of EASy: a powerful data merging/analysis software environment capable of handling multivariate data of differing time and space scales that has full GIS functionality, the 4-dimensional data representation capabilities required for oceanographic applications, dynamic data visualisation functionality, advanced statistical analysis tools, and spatially explicit process modelling capabilities.

The components of the ICAMS system and flow of information within it are illustrated in Figure 1 below. EO data from a range of sensors (SeaWifs, AVHRR, SAR), providing complementary information on bio-optical, thermal, and surface roughness properties of coastal waters, are obtained frequently for all test sites and transmitted to JRC for processing. In situ measurements at each site (eg. temperature, salinity, O2, dissolved organic and Chlorophyll a concentrations, current fields) are continuously made by surface buoys and transmitted near-real time to EOS for calibration and then disseminated to partners. JRC uses this information to validate its imagery products, the fully corrected EO data being sent out to EOS for distribution, while all sites archive the independent time series of water quality data from buoys within EASy. Site project databases are further enhanced locally by importation of available supporting datasets. Coupling and analysis of multivariate data within EASy gives rise to the routine integrated water quality and resource assessment products that are then made available to end user groups for usage in their applications.

Figure 1. System components and information flow

Development and integration of ICAMS system components is due to be completed by the end of the year. This will ensure a full year's worth of testing and implementation under the pilot application work. A fully functional ICAMS system will be up and running, routinely providing value-added EO products on aspects of water quality and resource usage to end users for operational use in coastal area management applications (Phase 3) early in 1999. Objective evaluation of project performance occurs in phase 4, and will draw heavily upon "logical framework" approaches combined with survey-based user assessments. Further information on the progress and status of the ICAMS project is available online at http://www.eos.co.uk/ICAMS/.

Efforts are also underway to apply the ICAMS paradigm to address Nile Delta and Red Sea coastal management problems in Egypt and Yemen respectively. This work will ensure the general applicability of the methodological framework, adapting ICAMS for use under resource limiting conditions. It will thus ultimately serve as a model for information system implementation in developing world contexts, where the need for operational coastal management is often great but for which the information infrastructure and knowledge-base are frequently lacking.



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