Physical Oceanography Unit coordinating an HF- Radar Project for Sea Surface Currents in the Malta Channel  

Around 20% of global oil transported by sea traverses the Mediterranean, amounting to an annual flux of 350 million tons of crude oil and refined products. Most of this maritime traffic travels across the Malta Channel and includes, besides oil, many other hazardous liquid substances. Hence, the risk of oil from marine spillages beaching on shores and hitting important economic resources and causing irreversible environmental damage is a very realistic menace in the stretch of sea between Malta and Sicily. Especially in a small island state like Malta where economic assets are concentrated in space, the damage would be even more devastating.

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Risks can be highly minimised by using the best tools for surveillance, operational monitoring against pollution threats, as well as a capacity to respond with informed decisions in case of emergency.

The Physical Oceanography Unit of the University of Malta is coordinating a project called CALYPSO which targets to utilise a top-end technology, consisting of an array of HF radars to monitor in real-time marine surface conditions. This project is partly financed by the EU under the Operational Programme Italia-Malta 2007-2013. The HF radar system set-up will consist of installations on the Malta/Gozo northern shoreline and on the southern Sicilian side. The system will be able to provide synoptic maps of currents and waves in real-time every hour and with a high resolution and coverage in space.Data from the HF radars together with outputs from numerical modelling applications that will be also further developed within this project, provide accurate information that allow the monitoring and effective response for the eventuality of an oil spill.

Apart from their application in oil spill response, HF radars also provide an avenue for wider applications including search and rescue, and safer navigation which also limits the occurrence of accidents.

The CALYPSO project is led by the University of Malta under the co-ordination of Prof. Aldo Drago. It brings together 3 other partners from Malta – namely Transport Malta, Civil Protection Department and Armed Forces of Malta – and 4 partners from Sicily – ARPA Sicilia, IAMC-CNR Capo Granitola, Università degli Studi di Palermo and Università di Catania (CUTGANA). The consortium consists of research entities and also public entities with responsibilities for civil and environmental protection, surveillance, security and response to hazards.