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Region Summary: Europe

High-level findings on the deep-sea capacity of 26 geographical areas in Europe, divided into four subregions: Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Southern Europe.

Published onSep 12, 2022
Region Summary: Europe

Europe has the smallest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ ) and deep EEZ area of all the regions, not including the EEZ claims of overseas territories and dependencies in other geographic regions. This assessment includes information about the technical and human capacity of 26 GeoAreas in Europe within four subregions, Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Southern Europe (Figure 1) [1]

Figure 1

Europe Subregions
Map of Europe showing the four subregions used in the 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment: Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Southern Europe. Light purple indicates the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Europe. [1][2][3][4]

Eastern Europe claims the largest area of deep ocean within this region, followed by Northern Europe, Southern Europe, and Western Europe, respectively. GeoAreas in Eastern Europe claim the largest EEZ area, 97% of which is under Russian jurisdiction. GeoAreas in Western Europe claim the smallest EEZ area, 73% of which is under French jurisdiction. The Russian Federation, Portugal, Spain, Norway, and Iceland have the largest deep-ocean areas within their EEZs in Europe [2][3][4].

While countries like the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium have significant capacity to explore the deep sea, they were not included in our research because their own EEZ does not include a considerable area of deep-sea waters (>1% 200 m deep). For 16 GeoAreas, we present both survey and research data; for eight GeoAreas, we have only research data; and for two GeoAreas, we have only survey data. A detailed report of Europe’s subregions and their GeoAreas can be found in Region Results: Europe.

Status of Deep Sea Exploration & Research

Survey respondents were asked to assess the status of deep-sea exploration and research in their GeoArea by stating to what extent they agreed with the following statements: (1) deep-sea exploration and research are considered important in their GeoArea, (2) they have in-country deep-sea technology, and (3) they have in-country deep-sea expertise. 

Fifty-two percent of respondents for Europe agreed that exploration and research were important in their GeoArea, and 51% of respondents agreed that they had the in-country technology needed to conduct deep-sea exploration and research. Three-quarters of respondents across Europe agreed they had the in-country expertise to conduct deep-sea exploration and research. In every subregion of Europe, the in-country expertise rating was equal to or higher than the in-country tools and technology rating.

These respondent-assessed reports of in-country importance, technology, and expertise were also used to evaluate respondents’ perceptions of the importance of and existence of in-country resources for deep-sea exploration and research at the subregional level (Table 1). 

Table 1








Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Asia




Northern America, Australia & New Zealand




Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, Western Asia, Northern Africa, South America




Southeastern Asia, Western Africa




Southern Asia, Eastern Africa, Melanesia, Micronesia




Middle Africa, Southern Africa, Polynesia, Central America, Caribbean

Western Europe and Northern Europe had high rates of agreement that deep-sea exploration and research were considered important in respondents’ GeoAreas and that they had in-country deep-sea technology and expertise. In Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, respondents had a low agreement about the importance of deep-sea exploration and research in their GeoArea. Respondents for these subregions also had a low agreement that they had in-country deep-sea technology and moderate agreement that they had in-country expertise. 

Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

Conservation & protection, basic science & exploration, and fisheries & aquaculture were the three most important deep-sea issues identified by respondents for Europe. Funding, access to vessels, and access to deep submergence vehicles were the three most important challenges identified by respondents for Europe. Less expensive data collection technology, training opportunities, and more precise data collection technology were identified as the most exciting opportunities by respondents for Europe.

"It is a shame with Brexit we are potentially losing access to European Vessels and would have to rely solely on UK vessels." --Respondent for United Kingdom, Northern Europe

Deep-Sea Capacity Presence, Accessibility, and Satisfaction

The next part of the assessment recorded the presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology—vessels, deep submergence vehicles (DSVs), sensors, and data tools—based on extensive research, survey respondents’ access to each type of technology, and respondents’ satisfaction with the technology to which they have access. 

Organizations & Industries

Using manual research and survey data, we assessed marine organizations and industries as a proxy for human capacity1

Our research on organizations and industries focused on ocean-based institutions, such as universities, government agencies, and various marine industries. We identified 329 deep-sea and marine organizations in Europe: 139 universities and research laboratories, 124 government agencies and ministries, and 66 other organizations. Eastern Europe had the highest number of organizations per GeoArea; Southern Europe had the lowest. 

The most common marine industries found in Europe were marine construction, marine transportation, safety & surveillance, and tourism. Deep-sea mining was the least present marine industry, currently under development in five GeoAreas. These locations hold exploration contracts and could soon start extraction activities in waters mostly, if not exclusively, outside their own EEZs if allowed to do so. 

We found the most significant differences between research and survey results for safety & surveillance, conservation & protection, and marine construction; researchers found significantly more of these industries than survey respondents said were present in their GeoArea. Conversely, respondents selected renewable energy and offshore oil & gas significantly more than the number of such active industries found through research for Europe. This indicates a possible perception differential between those working in the marine community and the number of actual industries active in this region.


Vessels were the technical capacity with the most diverse presence in Europe, and GeoAreas in Europe had the highest vessel presence compared to the global average. Despite high vessel presence, respondents' access to multiple types of vessels in Europe was low relative to other types of deep-sea technology but comparable to other regions worldwide. Satisfaction with vessels ranged from very low in Eastern Europe to very high in Northern and Western Europe.

Fishing and recreational vessels were the types of vessels most commonly found through research in Europe, followed by navy and research vessels. Cruise ships were the least common. 

Over 90% of respondents for Europe considered ships and vessels important for their work, and 91% had access to at least one kind of vessel. The most accessible types of vessels to respondents in Europe were research vessels, followed by fishing and recreational vessels. Respondents for Europe were most satisfied with vessel capabilities, duration, and size.

Deep Submergence Vehicles

Similar to vessels, presence and access to deep submergence vehicles (DSVs) were generally high throughout Europe and among the highest in the world. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were the most commonly found DSVs in Europe, followed by autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Human-occupied vehicles (HOVs) were the least common type of DSV across Europe.

The DSVs most accessible to respondents for Europe were ROVs, followed by AUVs and benthic landers. Less than 10% of respondents for Europe reported having no access to DSVs. 

Depth rating was also strong for DSVs in Europe, with 80% of DSVs to which respondents had access operating deeper than 200 m. Respondents for Northern, Western, and Southern Europe had access to vehicles that could operate deeper than 4,000 m. In some locations, such as dependencies like Gibraltar and the Faroe Islands, DSVs were only available via foreign capacity,often from other European countries.


Europe's presence of, access to, and satisfaction with sensor systems was generally high compared to other regions worldwide. 

CTD and mapping systems were the most commonly found sensor systems in Europe. Navigation systems were the least common. The most accessible sensor systems in Europe were CTDs, followed by chemical sensors, seafloor mapping systems, and water sampling systems. More than 90% of respondents reported having access to deep-sea sensors.

Two-thirds of respondents for Europe were satisfied with deep-sea sensors in their GeoArea, including all aspects of sensor system operation. Respondents for Eastern Europe were the most satisfied with sensor systems, while respondents for Western Europe were the least. Survey respondents noted the presence of additional sensors, including ADCPs, optical backscatter systems, chemical tracer sensors, and turbidity sensors.

Data Tools

Data tools were the technical capacity with the second highest diversity in Europe after vessels, and Europe had the highest average presence of data tools compared to other regions. Europe also had among the highest respondent access to and satisfaction with data tools worldwide.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents for Europe reported data tools as important to very important for their work. Cloud computing was the most commonly found type of data tool in Europe, followed by data storage systems. Data visualization, data management, and sequencing tools were the least common, but 80% of respondents still had access to them.

The most accessible data tool in Europe was geographic information systems (GIS), followed by data storage capacity and data management tools. Eighty-five percent of respondents for Europe reported having access to data tools.

Deep-Sea Capacity Indices

Organizations, industries, vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools were assessed using research to identify the presence of capacity in each GeoArea and survey responses to identify accessibility to and satisfaction of vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools in each subregion. We used this information to group subregions based on similarities concerning the presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology, access to technology, and satisfaction with the technology available, allowing for comparison between locations on a subregional, regional, and global scale (Table 2).

Table 2










Northern Europe, Northern America





Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia, Australia & New Zealand





Eastern Europe, Western Asia, Southern Asia, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, South America





Western Africa, Middle Africa, Eastern Africa, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Central America, Caribbean

Within Europe, Northern Europe had the highest combination of presence of, accessibility to, and satisfaction with marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology, similar to Northern America. In contrast, Eastern Europe had a moderate to high presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology but a low to moderate access to it and satisfaction with it, similar to Western Asia and South America. Western and Southern Europe had a moderate to high presence of, accessibility to, and satisfaction with marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology. Of all the GeoAreas of Europe, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom had the most in-country deep-sea technology, while Gibraltar had the least.

""Often, when looking at research institution websites, the technology and facilities pages were 'under construction' or were only briefly described. There was a lack of information regarding deep-sea studies in Eastern European countries. This could be due to restricted access to information and difficulty searching for information due to language barriers."" --Harriet Baldwin, The Crown Estate, United Kingdom"


Many institutions within Europe have the technology and human capacity for deep-sea exploration and research. Generally, presence, access, and satisfaction with deep-sea research & exploration capacity were high throughout the region. Many European countries have already participated in deep-sea research and are starting to explore more advanced deep-sea technology, including autonomous underwater vehicles.  

There was a gradient, however, from west to east in the amount of information available related to deep-sea studies. Less information was available in Eastern Europe, possibly due to restrictions on access to information (e.g., blocked websites, like Russia and Ukraine). The deep-sea capacity of some countries was also sometimes challenging to define because the country was an overseas territory or a dependency of another country. 

Many European countries have historically invested in deep-sea exploration and research and have thus been global leaders in the field. There is an opportunity now for better-resourced European locations to facilitate the growth of equitable deep-sea capacity both within GeoAreas of Europe with less access to resources and other regions globally.

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