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Seabed Habitats

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Seabed Habitats was initiated in EMODnet Phase I (2009-2013) through the EUSeaMap project. During the current Phase III (2017-2020), Seabed Habitats will extend the work carried out during the preparatory Phases to move from a prototype to an operational service delivering full coverage of a broad-scale map for all European sea-basins, along with the dissemination of maps from surveys.

Seabed Habitats Text

Seabed Habitats was initiated in EMODnet Phase I (2009-2013). During Phase II (2013-2016), Seabed Habitats extended the work carried out during the preparatory Phase I to move from a prototype to an operational service delivering full coverage of a broad-scale physical habitat map for all European sea-basins, along with the dissemination of maps from surveys. In the current Phase III (2017-2020) the broad-scale map will be updated, improved and further extended to cover the Barents Sea and the library of habitat maps will grow. New in phase III is the collation and dissemination of point habitat data from surveys and selected single habitat model outputs from across Europe.

Habitat maps are important as they contain essential information about the seafloor which is required to sustainably manage and develop the economic potential of European sea-basins. European seabed habitat maps serve many purposes including the design of ecologically coherent Marine Protected Area networks, species distribution modelling, establishing monitoring programmes for seabed habitats and informing maritime spatial planning. They are also indispensable for Member States to fulfil their legal obligations under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, where full coverage of benthic broad habitats of all European seas is required.

Unfortunately, habitat maps from surveys are very costly and time consuming to produce. A more time- and cost-efficient way to meet the need for a full coverage habitat map is to use low resolution maps and models to 'predict' seafloor habitat types. These maps of expected seabed-habitat types can be generated by combining a series of proxy measurements such as; water depth, sediment type and light levels amongst others, using statistical analysis and Geographical Information System (GIS) modelling.

Objectives of EMODnet Seabed Habitats

EMODnet Seabed Habitats aims to provide a single access point to European seabed habitat data and products by assembling individual point datasets, maps and models from various sources and publishing them as interoperable data products for assessing the environmental state of ecosystems and sea basins. Furthermore, it continues to update the EMODnet broad-scale seabed habitat map for Europe, known as EUSeaMap.


Key services provided by EMODnet Seabed Habitats

EMODnet Seabed Habitats provides the following key services to users:

  1. Map Viewer: a free, interactive mapping portal (webGIS) for viewing and downloading seabed habitat data as well as secondary input data layers to the broad-scale mapping such as energy and light penetration at the seabed. Users can build a query based on specific criteria such as geographic area, data layer or specific habitat. Alternatively users can simply browse for information using the icons provided.
  2. Downloading: all layers can be exported using the Web Map Service (WMS) to personal desktop GIS applications or to other web mapping portals. Information can also be downloaded as ready-to-use maps, in pdf format or in GIS format to be easily overlaid with users’ datasets.
  3. Search: fully searchable metadata describing the file content is provided with the files following INSPIRE directive standards.


EMODnet Seabed Habitats will update and expand the broad-scale physical habitat map for all European sea-basins by mobilising data capture from various sources. The first step is to acquire the best-available spatial data for several environmental variables. The data are organised and harmonised into raster images divided into classes. These data can be combined by ‘layering’ the data in GIS to create a combined output describing the habitat. The principal input layers are the type of seabed substrate and the biological zones. Depending on the basin, layers of hydrodynamic energy levels, salinity and/or Oxygen regime are also produced. For example the hydrodynamic energy layer at the seabed is divided into ‘Low’, ‘Medium’ and ‘High’ classes as per EUNIS  requirements.

Furthermore ground truthing data will be brought together from national and regional repositories, and from collated sources not currently available in these repositories. Together with the EUSeaMap input data layers, these ground truthing data will be used to refine thresholds used in the seabed habitat model as boundaries between habitats. Consideration will also be given to seabed models created for individual habitats; progress in this area across Europe will be reviewed, available outputs collated and disseminated via the Portal. The library of seabed habitat maps already started under Phase 2 will be expanded, to add over 100 new habitat maps.

Data sources

Input environmental data for the broad-scale habitat mapping comes from a variety of sources including EMODnet Geology and Bathymetry. A full list of data sources can be found in the EUSeaMap Technical Report.

EMODnet Seabed Habitats product development

  • EMODnet Seabed Habitats broad scale habitat map for Europe

Also referred to as EUSeaMap, the broad-scale predictive habitat map of all European seas is currently available to end users at 250m resolution. Its coverage is being extended to the Barents Sea by 2019. This map will aim to be available to end users at a scale of 1:100,000 or better, depending on the resolution of the input data layers. The habitats are classified according to the EUNIS (Version 2007-11) habitats classification, and also as MSFD ‘“Benthic Broad Habitat Types”(as defined in the Commission Decision 17 May 2017). The habitats in the MSFD Benthic Broad Habitat Types map are consistent between basins, whilst the EUNIS EUSeaMap map is region-specific and more detailed than the MSFD broad habitat types map, owing to the specific conditions relevant to each region.

  • Confidence maps:

Combining the data in a meaningful way for the purpose of predictive mapping is a complex process, given that there is variation in the thematic and spatial scale of input data layers and the reliability of threshold values of environmental parameters in producing biologically relevant boundaries. This makes the provision of confidence assessment all the more relevant. The confidence score reflects the level of confidence users can expect in broad-scale maps. Likewise maps from surveys are delivered along with a confidence score based on their metadata which informs users on their level of quality.

Improvements in the current development Phase III

The collation of all types of seabed habitat data (habitat data points from surveys, habitat maps from survey and model outputs of single habitats)  from all over Europe at the best available resolution is the most innovative strand of work during EMODnet Phase III (2017-2019). These datasets, together with the EMODnet broad-scale physical habitat map, will create a multi-resolution digital map of the entire seabed of European waters providing highest resolution possible in areas that have been surveyed.

Seabed Habitats Pic

Seabed habitats DataBox

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Data Available

  • Habitats – various classification systems
  • Broad-scale physical habitat map for Europe
  • Broad-scale habitat map regional case studies
  • Detailed habitat maps from surveys
  • Individual habitat modelling outputs
  • Habitat point data
  • Depth (from EMODnet Bathymetry)
  • Seabed substrate (from EMODnet Geology)
  • Broad scale Biological Zone
  • Oceanographic variables
  • Light at seabed
  • Energy at seabed due to waves & current
  • Wave Exposure Index (Baltic)
  • Halocline probability (Baltic)
  • Salinity regime (Baltic)
  • Oxygen regime (Black Sea)
  • Confidence assessments