Developing new maps for the coastal zone

March 29, 2023
For the past three years, the Norwegian Mapping Authority, the Geological Survey of Norway, and the Institute of Marine Research have been at the helm of a pilot project which has developed new map and data products for the coastal zone. These initial results help chart the way for continued seabed mapping along the coast.

By: Gudmund Løvø // Geological Survey of Norway


Top Photo:

The terrain model of the seabed has been edited into a picture from Søre Vaulen in the municipality of Herøy in Sunnmøre. Photo: Eiliv Leren. Depth model: Norwegian Mapping Authority

The pilot project “Marine Base Maps for the Coastal Zone” has involved development of around fifty map and data products in three coastal areas – Stavanger municipality in southwestern Norway, Ålesund/Giske in central Norway, and Skjervøy/Kvænangen in northern Norway. With support from national and local government, the three institutions have obtained comprehensive data on seabed terrain, geology, biology, and pollution, thus enabling politicians and planners to make decisions on the basis of well-founded knowledge.

Experience from the pilot areas has been very positive and the directors of the three institutions are keen to extend the marine base maps pilot to a national programme. In a recent newspaper opinion piece, the directors highlighted the complex nature of sustainable environmental and resource management in the coastal zone. They argued that proper coordination of spatial planning, nature conservation, and development, whilst balancing the needs of industries – such as fishing, aquaculture, mineral extraction, and tourism – relies on good, easily accessible data.


The partners have carried out coastal mapping of three areas by using research vessels such as RV Seisma. Photo: Geir Mogen / Geological Survey of Norway


Feedback from government authorities on the pilot project has been very positive. For instance, the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development said the marine base maps “provide accurate and collated data” and that this is “a model that can be further pursued in a later major initiative”. They also point out that the total cost framework of NOK 84.6 million “is estimated to be far lower than the value of the socioeconomic benefits”.


All three institutions believe that a national mapping programme will contribute towards strengthening blue industries, and will support the development of Norwegian coastal communities, by facilitating value creation and increasing employment.

So what do the fifty or so map and data products developed so far offer?

  • Information on depth and seabed terrain
  • Models of currents, waves, salinity, and temperature
  • Geological maps of the seabed’s physical and chemical properties, as well as a number of applied maps
  • Seabed habitat maps, including maps of vulnerable habitats and habitats of management priority
  • Observations of human impact including litter, trawl marks, and lost fishing gear

Aquaculture, fish processing, offshore wind, and maritime industries are all expected to grow in the years ahead. Bjørnar Skjæran, Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy, has overall responsibility for coastal management in Norway. He notes that the government plans to “ensure good coexistence between the various marine industries, including drawing up business plans for the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea”.

At the same time, the Government is planning for further growth in the aquaculture industry with a view to more jobs, more processing capacity, greater value creation, and increased export revenues.

“The aim is for Norway to lead the way in the development of the world’s most productive and environmentally friendly aquaculture industry with the production of food resources for a growing world population.”

Bjørnar Skjæran, Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy


Feedback on the marine base maps from a broad spectrum of the public has been positive. One professional fisherman uses the maps to find areas where the seabed is dominated by sand and gravel. He describes the maps as “simple, accurate, and intuitive”, and says they are making fishing for cod and haddock more efficient. Crayfish fishermen and kelp farmers are also satisfied with the maps. A researcher on sand eel habitat – which is also an important feeding area for puffins – expresses the need for precise information about sandy seabeds and depths.

The County Governor of Rogaland has said that marine base maps make it easier to assess the environmental impact of salmon farming and to find good locations for sampling and monitoring stations. A first officer in a maritime enterprise in Nordland highlights the potentially dire consequences of errors in the placement of subsea cables, noting an example of wear and tear to a cable that had been placed too close to an underwater reef. He believes that marine base maps will make cable laying easier, faster and cheaper.


The directors of the three institutions involved in the pilot project are convinced that it will be of great value. Left to right: May Britt Myhr, Director of the Geological Survey of Norway, Photo: Geir Mogen / Geological Survey of Norway Johnny Welle, Director of the Norwegian Mapping Authority, Photo: Morten Brun / Norwegian Mapping Authority Nils Gunnar Kvamstø, Director of the Institute of Marine Research, Photo: Eivind Senneset / Institute of Marine Research


The directors of the three institutions involved in the pilot project are convinced that it will be of great value. At the same time, they emphasise that extensive areas along the coast have not yet been mapped. We lack data and hence knowledge on what is below the sea surface. Moreover, the national cartographic infrastructure has not been utilised nor developed to a satisfactory degree.

“We shouldn’t have to guess what is below the surface of the sea anymore,” say directors Johnny Welle, May Britt Myhr, and Nils Gunnar Kvamstø. “We should know. Our work contributes to fact-based development of Norwegian coastal communities, and to decision-making based on knowledge.”


“…my thoughts turned towards the coast of Norway”

Henrik Ibsen


This article was first published in the Fram Forum


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