European seas are a hub of human activities that can influence each other. Maritime transport, for one, is so widespread that it inevitably affects sectors working in, on, or with the ocean. Now, for the first time, those responsible for monitoring shipping emissions, identifying the best routes to lay pipelines and cables, assessing the impact of fishing on the seafloor, or planning offshore wind farms can have free and open access to maps and the underlying raster files of vessel activity. The EMODnet Human Activities team has developed a bespoke method for developing vessel density maps, in close consultation with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). The new EMODnet digital vessel density maps allow users to visualise vessel movement patterns and the distribution of maritime traffic in European waters. The service provides access to monthly composite maps by ship type. Information coming from the new EMODnet digital vessel density maps will supplement the thematic and sectoral assessments of the European Environment Agency.
Maps are available free of charge for viewing, downloading, processing, and using for commercial and non-commercial purposes alike from the EMODnet Human Activities portal. "Vessel density maps have been around for quite a while, but this EMODnet data product is different. In addition to being 100% free, it offers comprehensive and regularly updated digital maps that can be used without restriction. That’s great value for (no) money for users,” explained Alessandro Pititto from COGEA, Coordinator of EMODnet Human Activities. Density is expressed as the number of hours spent by ships in a square kilometre over a month. Data are collected from Automatic Identification System (AIS) receivers that track and transmit the location of the ships’ on-board transponders. On the EMODnet vessel density maps, a colour gradient makes it possible to quickly distinguish whether an area is characterised by high or low shipping traffic. Traffic is broken down by ship types: cargo, dredging or underwater operations, high-speed craft, fishing, military and law enforcement, passenger, pleasure craft, sailing, service, tanker, tug and towing, other, unknown.