Physical Oceanography Unit launches an Atmospheric Alert System for the Central Mediterranean and the Maltese Islands

It is well known that our society is vulnerable to severe weather events, including heavy rainfall, lightning strokes, strong winds and high waves (especially in coastal areas) as well as extreme high and low temperatures, which tend to have an adverse impact on property, resources, humans as well as on a large number of social and economic activities. The Mediterranean is an area notorious for such extreme events, mainly due to the formation of Mediterranean storms in autumn and winter, and the occurrence of high surface temperatures (heat waves) during summer. At sea, extreme meteorological conditions trigger harsh sea conditions that are dangerous for navigation both to crew and cargoes. With climate change such events are becoming more frequent, and are expected to become wilder in the future.

Regional authorities and civil protection agencies are being provided with tools for the protection of life and property from adverse weather conditions.A prototype atmospheric alert system for severe weather events for the Maltese Islands and the Central Mediterranean area has been set up by the Physical Oceanography Unit (PO-Unit) of the International Ocean Institute-Malta Operational Centre (IOI-MOC) at the University of Malta. This work was coordinated by Dr Aldo Drago, Director of this research institute. Through a dedicated website, this system provides alerts to end users well in advance of any extreme weather event, giving responsible authorities the opportunity for timely response and mitigation.

Alert web interface showing a fictitious combination of alerts

The prediction of adverse weather events in advance and the dissemination of alerts to the relevant authorities, mariners, end-users and to the public is an important service, but also a demanding task.

This service is part of a project called Weather Risk Reduction in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean (RISKMED) and is partly financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Interreg III Community Initiative, which forms part of the Structural Funds Programme for Malta (2004-2006). The project is led by the Greek University of Ioannina, and brings together a consortium of eight partners from Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Malta with interests and expertise in the subject. The atmospheric alert system makes extensive use of satellite observations, the optimization of high resolution meteorological forecasting models, the combined use of wave models for forecasting hazardous sea conditions, and also the use of meteo-marine observations targeting to provide useful information in key areas to the end-users. The web interface developed for the alerting system is mainly dedicated to furnish early warnings at sea and allows remote users to view predicted alerts of extreme weather and sea conditions within nine sub-areas within the Central Mediterranean (see Figure below).

The alerts are issued on the basis of high resolution meteorological forecast fields prepared by the MARIA/Eta Atmospheric Model and the wave WAM model, both developed and running operationally at the Physical Oceanography Unit (PO-Unit). Alerts are categorized as yellow, orange or red depending on the severity of the event. The graphical end-user system as well as the thresholds used for the Malta land and surrounding sea areas can be accessed directly by clicking here or from the project website after following the ‘RISKMED MALTA’ link. Similar interfaces developed by the other project partners can be reached through the other links available. The PO-Unit is the local entity engaged in research covering coastal meteorology, hydrography and physical oceanography with a main emphasis on the study of the hydrodynamics of the sea in the vicinity of the Maltese Islands. The Unit promotes activities in operational oceanography by the installation and maintenance of permanent meteo-marine observing systems, and the provision of atmospheric and marine forecasts which can be accessed from the CapeMalta website. One can also download the brochure by clicking here.

A meteo monitoring station on the breakwater of Marsaxlokk provides meteorological observations in real time on, while the Malta MedGLOSS station in PortoMaso provides updates on sea level and temperature on The PO-Unit also specialises in data management and analysis, and participates in international marine research cooperative ventures.