MEPA Commences Bathymetric Surveys


Following the 3D terrestrial surveys, the Authority this month started work on the bathymetric surveys of the Maltese coastal waters. This is the first time in recent history that a bathymetric survey is being carried out for all the Maltese coastal waters within this area. Current nautical charts are based on sea depth data which were mostly obtained in the fifties. These bathymetric surveys of the Maltese coastal waters are intended to obtain detailed information regarding sea depths and will cover the Maltese coastal and marine territory within 1 nautical mile from the baseline coast. This survey is expected to last throughout the summer months with initial public information outputs expected by the end of the year.

Dr. Elaine Sciberras, Project Leader for this ERDF project, noted that, “In recent years, various bathymetric surveys were carried out for specific projects and research work, however, the latter were ad hoc, highly localised and based on specific project coastal development projects without any comprehensive methodology adhered to. Therefore, the need was felt to include such surveys within the ERDF156 project in order to be able to carry out research and analysis for environmental purposes.” Following a review of the emerging technologies, the mapping of the seabed topography at high resolutions for such a large area was deemed essential and the results will provide Malta with a comprehensive and updated database on sea depths. This data will also enable the creation of a 3-D model of the sea bottom. Furthermore, besides obtaining information on water depths, this survey will derive information on the type of sea bottom substrate. The latter is intended to provide added value to the bathymetric data.

Dr. Saviour Formosa, Project expert, explained that “Mapping the sea bed topography will provide a base map from which various coastal water studies can be carried out.” He continued that “these studies are aimed to protect more effectively the coastal waters and the marine environment. It will also serve as a tool for impact analysis of underwater development planning, pollution and chemical prediction modeling, climate change monitoring as well as render recognition of features such as wrecks and underwater valleys.” In addition, this survey will allow thematic experts to study, monitor, analyse and protect those areas that are vulnerable to degradation and exposure. Spin-offs from the results include updated nautical charts, viewshed analysis and cross-thematic studies in the physical, social and environmental domains.

The bathymetric survey is being carried out by AquaBioTech Group, a subcontractor for the main contractor Terraimging, a German company who won such contract through an open tender procedure. As part of the same contract, Terraimaging recently also carried out 3-D aerial surveys using innovative Lidar technology. Both the aerial and bathymetric surveys are carried out as part of a €4.6 million project, entitled Developing National Environmental Monitoring Infrastructure and Capacity, which involves monitoring of air, water, soil, radiation and noise and 3D terrestrial and bathymetric surveys. This project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, which provides 85% of the project’s funding and the Government of Malta, which finances the rest under Operational Programme 1 - Cohesion Policy 2007-2013 - Investing in Competitiveness for a Better Quality of Life. 

Following these aerial surveys, users will be able to generate digital terrain 3-D models which can be used for various applications such as urban and transport planning, environmental impact assessments, modeling of runoff water, monitoring of and enforcement of land use activities. All data from this project will be viewable from a web portal, currently being designed, known as a Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS), which will be launched towards the end of the project in June 2013.