Coastal Observing System for Northern and Arctic Seas

Unterwasserknoten im observierenden System Cosyna (Photo: Philipp Fischer)

The coastal areas of the North Sea are densely populated. As a result, changes in the biological diversity and environmental conditions not only impact the unique local ecosystems; they also directly affect the people living there. AWI researchers have taken up the challenge of investigating the status quo and documenting essential changes in coastal systems. Since 2012 the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG), in cooperation with the AWI and further partners, has operated the Coastal Observation System for Northern and Arctic Seas (COSYNA), one goal of which is to develop a new modelling system.

As part of this initiative, the AWI maintains two underwater monitoring systems near Helgoland and Svalbard – referred to as underwater nodes. Each node is essentially like a “data extension cord” on the seafloor, which up to ten measuring units can be plugged into. This approach allows us to e.g. monitor water temperature, algae concentrations and the seafloor live, all year round. The data is then provided directly online.

  • The Helgoland node is located at 59 ° 11'N / 8 ° 52.79E – roughly 600 metres north of the island at a depth of ca. 10 m.
  • The Svalbard node system is located near Ny-Ålesund (AWIPEV) at 78 ° 92'N / 11 ° 9'E – by the “Old Pier” at a depth of 11 m.

The systems are completely remote controlled and are connected to land by fibre optic cables. Here the AWI also employs a FerryBox system, and its research divers attend to the maintenance. Visiting researchers with approved research projects can also install their own equipment – with the help of the research divers. 

Combining Data

COSYNA combines observational data and recordings with remote sensing data and data assimilation models. In addition to the underwater nodes operated by the AWI, measurements are gathered by automatic land-based stations, buoys, gliders and FerryBox systems installed on ferries, as well as by research vessels. This is supplemented by coastal remote sensing using radar and satellites.  

The physical, biogeochemical and biological status of sediments are measured in the water and on the seafloor. COSYNA’s modelling approach uses nested models for the hydrological aspects (salinity, waves and tides), for suspended sediments and for biogeochemical and ecosystem processes.

The findings produced by COSYNA will hopefully allow us to make prognoses concerning key processes in the North Sea and on the coasts of the Arctic. The system provides data and data products intended to help government authorities, businesses and the general public assess ongoing trends and more quickly respond to emergencies. In addition, it generates a great deal of new information on coastal systems, deepening our understanding of our world’s coasts and their regional variants.