Oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, are home to 50% of its species and represent 90% of the living environment. And yet they are largely unknown: only 5% of their depths have been explored so far. Deep sea exploration is a challenging endeavour, possibly even more than space exploration. 

No light reaches the depths of the ocean, and the pressure can be up to 1000 times higher than atmospheric pressure. The European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and water column Observatory (EMSO) aims to further explore the oceans, to gain a better understanding of phenomena happening within and below them, and to elucidate the critical role that these phenomena play in the broader Earth systems.

EMSO is a system of observatories distributed in the European seas that provide key data and constant monitoring of marine environments. Eleven key areas have been selected across the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea where facilities are located to screen and study environmental processes. EMSO’s deep-seafloor and water column observatories constantly measure different biogeochemical and physical parameters, such as water temperature and acidity, and ground/water interactions such as during earthquakes and tsunamis. 

The facilities offer scientists new opportunities to study multiple, interrelated natural phenomena over time scales ranging from seconds to decades, from episodic to long term processes. Studying marine environment natural processes is fundamental to face the complexity of climate change (oceans play a fundamental role in the climate and CO2 regulatory cycles), to protect marine eco-systems and to reduce the risks linked to natural hazards (earthquakes, tsunamis, or submarine volcanic eruptions can be monitored from the deep sea). 

 EMSO offers data and services to a large and diverse group of users, going from scientists and industries to institutions and policy makers. It is an extraordinary instrument to provide relevant information for the design of environmental policies based on scientific data. After a preparatory phase financed by the European Commission and coordinated by Italy, the EMSO research consortium was established in September 2016. EMSO is now a European research infrastructure consortium (ERIC).