The EMODnet broad-scale seabed habitat map for Europe

(View or download the map)


Building on the highly successful INTERREG IIIB-funded MESH and BALANCE projects, phase 1 of EMODnet Seabed Habitats (2009-2012) improved and harmonised the broad-scale physical habitat map across the Celtic Seas, Greater North Sea and Baltic Sea, as well as generating the very first broad-scale map of the western Mediterranean. In phase 2 (2013-2016), the coverage of the maps was extended to all European seas and the existing maps were improved. Updates and a further increase in extent to the Barent Sea will take place in the current phase (2017-2019). The map is also known as EUSeaMap.

 MSFD predominant habitats

Overview of the current broad-scale map coverage as of September 2016.


EUSeaMap provides the community with a comprehensive, free and ready-to-use map, harmonising mapping procedures and fostering a common understanding among seabed mappers in Europe. The EUSeaMap broad-scale predictive mapping methods are repeatable and ensure that the predictive maps can continue to be improved in the future. 

Benefits of a broad-scale habitat map

In order to most benefit from the potential offered by the European marine basins in terms of growth and employment, and to protect the marine environment, we need to know more about the seafloor. European Directives, such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), call for a full-coverage seabed habitat map of all European seas. In general, habitat maps are very costly and time consuming to produce from survey. The creation of a detailed habitat map involves surveying the seafloor with sonar equipment and collecting samples or photos of the seabed, before analysing and integrating these data types to generate a map. It can take several years from planning a survey to completing a detailed map. By contrast, broad-scale mapping of seabed substrate at a low resolution combined with using modelling techniques to classify habitats in terms of physical parameters is an efficient way to meet the need for a full coverage habitat map at a reasonable cost and a shorter time frame.

EUSeaMap products have been used for assessing and reporting the status of European seas, designing ecologically coherent Marine Protected Area networks, establishing monitoring programmes for seabed habitats and informing marine planning.

More information and some examples of application of EUSeaMap products is available in the in the documents section. The data layers, confidence maps and thresholds produced by the project partners, are freely available through the EMODnet Seabed Habitas interactive map

Principles behind making broad-scale seabed habitat maps

It is possible to produce a ‘predictive map’ of expected seabed-habitat types by combining a series of proxy measurements, such as water depth and light levels amongst others, using statistical analysis and Geographical Information System modelling.

Principal drivers for seabed habitat distributions include the type of seabed substrate (rock, mud, mixed sediment, etc.), depth, light availability and the energy of water movements. To describe the variation in environmental conditions with depth, EUNIS divides subtidal habitats into zones: Infralittoral, Shallow Circalittoral (or Circalittoral), Deep Circalittoral and Deep Sea. In this project we further subdivide the Deep Sea zone into bathyal and abyssal zones, following scientific literature and recognising the diversity of these huge areas.

Biozones EUSeaMap and MESH Atlantic

The division of marine sublittoral habitats into biological zones (©MESH Atlantic Blue Box, 2013).

Another factor that can be fundamental in driving habitat types is the degree of exposure to wave and water-current energy. For some more enclosed basins other parameters, such as salinity, oxygen levels and temperature of water at the seabed are also considered to be fundamental for habitat mapping.

Generating the maps

During the first phase of EMODnet Seabed Habitats (2009-2012), a consistent method was developed to take into account the diverse range of seabed habitats found in different regions.

The first step is to acquire the best-available spatial data for several environmental variables. This includes data provided by EMODnet Geology and EMODnet Bathymetry. The data are organised and harmonised into pixelated images divided into classes. These data can be combined by ‘layering’ the data in GIS to create a combined output describing the habitat.

The EUSeaMap modelling process
Illustration of how a predictive habitat map can be created by ‘layering’ data in GIS.

The principal input layers are the type of seabed substrate and the biological zones. Depending on the basin, layers of hydrodynamic energy levels, salinity and/or oxygen are also produced. For example the hydrodynamic energy layer is divided into ‘Low’, ‘Medium’ and ‘High’ classes.


EUSeaMap Biozone layer - 3D

Example of an input layer: biological zones. Input layers are also useful per se and are available online through the EMODnet Seabed Habitats interactive map.


The EUSeaMap model was developed in ESRI™ ArcGIS ModelBuilder and can be saved and executed multiple times, which ensures that the systems are repeatable and easily updated when new layers or methods are available.

As well as careful evaluation of contributing data, and refining statistical methods for its interpretation, during the creation of the maps it is necessary to define meaningful thresholds for likely changes in habitats: in each input layer these are used to define the boundaries between classes, where the change in the physical conditions reaches a critical point that defines an expected change in habitat type (at the map-scale adopted in EUSeaMap, 250mx250m blocks). For example, the infralittoral zone is the area of the seabed where photosynthetic algae is able to grow. This is mapped by finding a threshold value of light at the seabed that best fits observations of this limit in the field.

Solan Bank Copyright JNCC


For more details about the methods used to create the broad-scale habitat maps, see the documents page.

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