Picture a ludicrously long cargo train that stretches all the way from Paris to Moscow, fully loaded with munition.
Speakers at the recent Kiel Munition Clearance Week used this illustration to bring to life the sheer scale of how much munition rests on the seafloor of German waters alone. Integrated over all European seas and ocean regions, the amount of unexploded munition and chemical weapons adds up to several million tons. Much of this was dumped after the end of World War II or during the Yugoslav Wars, resulting in these large quantities of munitions in the sea, often close to inhabited coastlines with vivid economic activity.
Many coastal areas in Europe face the presence of munitions in the sea, and as an example, almost 150 former munition-dumping grounds are known in the northeast Atlantic and the North Sea alone. The growing environmental harm and risk from a combination of hazardous corroding munition and intensified blue economic activities, increase the urgency to dispose of these contaminated sites without harming the environment and ecosystem. Technologies for the remediation of the munitions exist but are cost-intensive, time-consuming and require the use and further development of state-of-the-art sensors. A JPI Oceans Knowledge Hub on Munition in the Sea, led by Claus Böttcher from the State Ministry of Energy Transition, Agriculture, Environment, Nature and Digitalisation of Schleswig-Holstein has formed to address such issues through trans-national pan-European collaboration.
On 6-10 September 2021, JPI Oceans took part in the Munition Clearance Week in Kiel. Panel debates, technology showcases and roundtables addressed topics like the state of research, environmental and societal impacts, legal aspects, detection and identification technologies, remediation solutions, and the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders from industry, military, politics, and research and innovation.
Speakers from JPI Oceans included Joachim Harms, Vice Chair of the Management Committee, Thorsten Kiefer, Executive Director, and experts from the Knowledge Hub. Jens Greinert, coordinator of the EU funded project BASTA (Boost Applied munition detection through Smart data integration and AI workflows) discussed methodologies to detect and identify munition on the sea floor and assess their risk. Furthermore, Edmund Maser, Director of the Institute of Toxicology and Pharmacology for Natural Scientists at the University Medical School Schleswig-Holstein and senior scientist with INTERREG-North Sea funded North Sea Wrecks, provided insights into toxicology aspects through leakage of chemical pollutants and heavy metals from munitions into the seawater.
The Knowledge Hub on Munition in the Sea constitutes a multi-national expert group at the core of a dedicated JPI Oceans Joint Action. The Action involves many EU countries, is lead by Italy, Germany and Norway, and aims to coordinate research and innovation to assess risks, define priorities and suggest intervention options concerning munitions in the marine environment. Germany is leading the Knowledge Hub.
Alongside the Kiel Munition Clearance Week, the JPI Oceans Knowledge Hub held a workshop to share scientific and technological expert knowledge and progress towards a knowledge exchange platform that enables participating countries an efficient handling of problematic underwater munitions. To that effect, the experts identified priorities and the capacities that will enable the Knowledge hub to deliver services and products on four different focus topics:
1. Management of underwater munition
2. Mapping and evaluation of underwater munition
3. Environmental pathways, impact and toxicity
4. Remediation methods
The participants reviewed key-statements, assessed shared content and agreed on a thematic layout of the Knowledge Hub with a structure of subsections. Several experts agreed to volunteer as reviewers for materials entering the information exchange platform to ensure a high-quality output of the JPI-Ocean’s Knowledge Hub on Munitions in the Sea.