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Energy, Climate change, Environment

Seabed Habitats

Information about the communities and physical conditions at the seabed is essential to sustainably manage and develop the economic potential of European sea-basins. Seabed habitat maps and direct observations 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 (MSFD), where full coverage of benthic broad habitats of all European seas is required.

Objectives of EMODnet Seabed Habitats

EMODnet Seabed Habitats provides 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, and makes available the environmental data and models used as inputs to 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. Web services: all layers can be exported using the Web Map Service (WMS) to personal desktop GIS applications or to other web mapping portals.

3. Download: Information can also be freely-downloaded in GIS format to be easily overlaid with users’ datasets.

4. Search: fully searchable metadata describing the file content is provided with the files following INSPIRE directive standards.


EMODnet Seabed Habitat partners collate polygon habitat maps from survey, ground-truthing point data and results from habitat suitability models, typically found in the form of raster data. Maps from surveys are delivered along with a confidence score based on their metadata which informs users on their level of quality.

In addition to data from their own countries, partners are also designated one or more non-partner countries to approach. Habitat maps and points in any classification system are sought out. Data are accepted in all formats, and the original classification is retained in the outputs. However, where possible, these are translated into one or more standard classification systems that are used internationally and regionally, including:


• Habitats Directive Annex I habitats

• RSC lists, such as the OSPAR list of threatened and/or declining habitats, HELCOM Red List, etc.

Data sources

  • National monitoring programmes, typically these data providers that produce habitat maps from surveys and make their datasets available through EMODnet
  • OSPAR: EMODnet Seabed Habitats hosts the top copy of OSPAR’s official data product showing the extent and distribution of OSPAR threatened and/or declining habitats in the Northeast Atlantic  
  • European platforms: through collaboration with EMODnet Biology, EMODnet Seabed Habitats develops data flow and management systems to deal with data that has both a species component and a habitat component. This ensures habitat data managed by the Seabed Habitats portal is able to harvest relevant sample-related metadata from the Biology portal, and vice-versa. EMODnet bathymetry, EMODnet Geology, and the service marine of Copernicus (CMEMS) are also key data providers for the development of the EUSeaMap product
  • Projects: EMODnet Seabed Habitats hosts the products of past European projects such as MESH or MeshAtlantic. Furthermore, current H2020 projects’ remit include making available their data via EMODnet portals

EMODnet Seabed Habitats product development

  • Broad-scale seabed habitat map for Europe: EUSeaMap

    This predictive habitat map of all European seas is updated every 2-3 years. The habitats are classified according to the EUNIS (Version 2007-11) habitat classification, and also as MSFD ‘Benthic Broad Habitat Types” (as defined in the Commission Decision 17 May 2017)

  • Environmental variables that influence the habitat type spatial distribution

         When environmental data is unavailable or inadequate, we produce new datasets to use as inputs into the EUSeaMap model. These are also freely-available, and include Light attenuation and light at the seabed for most of Europe and Kinetic energy          at the seabed due to waves and currents for much of the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

  • Confidence maps

         Together with the EUSeaMap, confidence maps are provided that reflect the level of confidence users can expect.

  • Composite products

    From the existing survey maps that have been collated, composite products have been made that combine harmonised data showing the extent of three Essential Ocean Variables in Europe: Live hard coral cover, Seagrass cover and Macroalgal canopy cover.

Improvements in the current phase

During the September 2019 - September 2021 period the project is improving the flagship product EUSeaMap by integrating the latest updates of the seabed substrate data provided by EMODnet Geology. Should the new version of EUNIS be released at a suitable time for the project, the map will be translated in this new version of the classification.

EMODnet Seabed Habitats is growing the library of habitat maps and the collection of point records of habitats available on the portal. While some records of habitats will continue to be ingested in a local database hosted by the project, it is likely that there will be a growing number of point records of habitats within other thematic assembly centers (TACs) such as OBIS. It is therefore important to be able to extract the relevant data back out of these TACs for display on the EMODnet Seabed Habitats portal. As much as possible the records will be accessed using machine-to-machine connections (for example web map services and web feature services).

The data products showing the extent of three Essential Ocean Variables (namely Live hard coral cover, Seagrass cover and Macroalgal canopy cover) in Europe will be improved. The growing collection of habitat maps and point data will provide a great opportunity to create other data products showing the best-known extent and distribution of important habitats in Europe. The intention is to review the requirements for other products by speaking with stakeholders such as Regional Sea Conventions and working groups of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas. Based on the outcomes of these discussions, new combined, harmonised data products will be produced.