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Geospatial industry should respond to the needs of maritime users

Geospatial technology is essential to the operation of Portuguese Hydrographic Institute. Its Director General shares his views on marine technology evolution, current trends and how the Institute is keeping up. – See more at:

What is the mission and mandate of Hydrographic Institute? How has it evolved over the years with the continuous evolution of marine technology?

The Hydrographic Institute (IPTH) is an organ of the Portuguese Navy and a National State Laboratory with assignments in the study and research in the field of Marine Sciences, particularly with regard to Hydrography, Oceanography, Chemical Oceanography, Marine Geology and Safety of Maritime Navigation.

The Hydrographic Institute fundamental mission is to ensure most activities related to marine science and technology, offering support to the Portuguese Navy and to pursue the public strategic orientations for the sea, and contribute to the country’s development in the fields of science and protection of the marine environment.

The evolution of marine technology has always been a challenge to the Hydrographic Institute. A major effort is being done on following up with the new techniques and methods and on qualifying personnel with technical courses, master’s and PhD degrees. Technology is the major drive for enhancing the quality and the reliability of our products and services.

Geospatial data is becoming a commodity in our everyday lives. As one of the important geospatial data providers in Portugal, how do you ensure Hydrographic Institute continues to be on top of its game?

The current trend of conducting multidisciplinary research, multi-organisational and multi-national, where the access to technical and scientific data is crucial to the success of many projects stresses the importance and value of data availability. In the particular case of Hydrographic Institute, the availability of data aims to contribute to the mission of the organisations and to the scientific community within the area of Marine Sciences.

IHPT portal is the main tool for data access and data request. This web page provides a metadata catalogue, created under the institutional responsibility of the INSPIRE directive. In addition to free data download, there is also a form for requesting non-standard data. The data transfer policy is also published on the Internet.

How does geospatial technology contribute to the everyday operation of Hydrographic Institute?

Geospatial technology is essential to the operation of the Portuguese Hydrographic Institute. Most of the data acquired in the main activities of this institute needs to have a geographic, temporal and spatial context provided by the geospatial technology. Also, all phases of that data preparation are performed with the support of geospatial technology, such as the planning, acquisition, processing, quality control and data transfer. Moreover, the majority of our most relevant products are based in geo-referenced information such as the nautical charts.

The more relevant geospatial technologies to our mission are: GIS – in supporting projects development (planning hydrographic surveys and production of nautical charts) and GNSS – in all the surveys we use GNSS technology for hydrographic surveys and topography.

Is there any new area within marine science where you think geospatial technology could be of more use?

Besides the traditional technology used in marine sciences, there are emerging technologies, such as the HF radars for measuring surface currents, topo-bathymetric LiDAR and the exploitation of satellite images for deriving shallow water bathymetry. These three examples are part of our research interests at the Hydrographic Institute.

With the advancement of technology, the amount of data being generated has also multiplied. Does Hydrographic Institute face any challenge in managing the overflow of data?

Most of our Hydrographic Offices faced this issue since several years ago. We have started working on the solution and put more investment in spatial databases to manage data. We also try to keep track of the latest technological developments, not only on their application to our activities, but also in terms of their requirements on data processing and management. As a result, recently we purchased both a new scientific cluster, to speed up the several ocean forecast models we run every day; and a new spatial hydrographic database, more appropriate to manage big volume of data acquired in the hydrographic surveys. The challenges now are more related to data migration from the old database to the new one, especially due to the different sources, geodetic reference systems, age and data formats. Additionally, the storage and management of geo-referenced data require careful planning in hardware and software upgrades.

Many geospatial technologies available in the market today are focusing on terrestrial application, compared to the ocean. Do you find this a challenge?

Of course. The marine geospatial technologies have had an evolution such in a way that it is much easier to execute and develop the activities related with our responsibilities. Now that most coastal states are concerned with the blue economy, in my opinion it will be necessary to put ourselves on the users’ shoes in order to identify their needs. For example there are more geospatial technologies to support agriculture than fishery, in terrestrial fleet management than in maritime, etc. So there is a challenge to the industry to respond to the needs of maritime users.

Is Hydrographic Institute involved in skill development or training manpower resources?

Hydrographic Institute assumes its responsibility in contributing to national geo-maritime skills. The Institute has its own training infrastructure, the School of Hydrography and Oceanography, a body dedicated to the training of officers and petty-officers of the Navy and civilian technicians, necessary for the operations of Hydrography and Oceanography, or in connection with these, of interest to the Navy and to the country. Besides the specialised courses, there is modular training to refresh knowledge and to operate new technologies.

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