Black Sea Project, PONTOS, Launched
YEREVAN, Armenia – On July 22, 2020, the American University of Armenia (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment in collaboration with partners from Armenia, Georgia, Greece, and Ukraine publicly launched the 30-month Copernicus Assisted Environmental Monitoring Across the Black Sea Basin project, also known as PONTOS. The 1 million euro project, funded mainly by the European Union’s ENI Cross-Border Cooperation Black Sea Basin Programme 2014-2020, commenced on July 1 of this year.
The project will make Black Sea environmental information from the EU Copernicus Earth Observation system accessible to scientists, policymakers, citizens, and other stakeholders. It will utilize information and data science to retrieve Copernicus information and images, couple them with national or regional data, and provide online monitoring services for the Black Sea and the surrounding environment in a transboundary, standardized and homogenized manner. Each of the partner countries will also have pilot sites to showcase the efficacy and credibility of the online services.
The launch event brought together a total of 80 researchers, scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders from partnering countries, as well as international and Black Sea regional bodies. “I want to acknowledge the forward-thinking, cross-border cooperation calls from the European Union,” emphasized AUA President Dr. Karin Markides in her welcome remarks. “The complex challenges of this century need border free, university-public-private partnerships. I want to congratulate the EU for taking on a leadership role in this,” she added.
In her remarks at the launch event, Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Armenia noted that the European Commission “shows great commitment to take on climate and environmental challenges. The European Green Deal is a response to these challenges. But we all know that the environmental ambitions of the Green Deal will not be achieved by Europe acting alone.” She emphasized the key roles of regional cooperation between the Black Sea Basin and Eastern Partnership countries, as well as multi-sectoral cooperation among science, society, government, and industry, in pooling resources to achieve common economic and environmental goals. She also pointed out how initiatives, such as PONTOS, can further support the implementation of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement between Armenia and EU, where there are provisions to align Armenia’s environmental governance with those of the EU.
The PONTOS project is the first EU-funded regional project that AUA will lead. Director of the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment, Alen Amirkhanian states, “The AUA Acopian Center is proud to bring to AUA and Armenia a project with a wide regional significance. EU funding enables us to deepen relationships among our Armenian, Georgian, Greek, and Ukrainian partners, building homogenized local and regional environmental monitoring capacity. We are also committed to incorporating past and ongoing environmental initiatives of relevance, funded by the EU and others, looking for synergies and greater results.”
Aghavni Harutyunyan, PONTOS Project Manager at the AUA Acopian Center, points out the multidisciplinary aspect of the project. “PONTOS will bring together environmental science and field monitoring, data science, IT, mapping and remote sensing, and more to offer an online platform that provides on-demand data and analysis on multiple countries. The challenge is complex and the solutions require collaboration across disciplines. Our partners have shown eagerness to tackle this complex challenge,” she comments.
The project’s six partners comprise the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment (lead partner), the Environmental Protection and Mining Inspection Body of the Republic of Armenia, Green Alternative (Georgia), Centre for Research and Technology Hellas (Greece), Democritus University of Thrace (Greece), and Odessa National I.I. Mechnikov University (Ukraine). Of the total EUR 999,967 project budget, 92% is funded by the EU ENI Cross-Border Cooperation Black Sea Basin Programme 2014-2020 with the remaining balance being co-funded by the project partners.
The AUA Acopian Center for the Environment, a research center of the American University of Armenia, promotes the protection and restoration of the natural environment through research, education, and community outreach. The AUA Acopian Center’s focus areas include sustainable natural resource management, biodiversity and conservation, greening the built environment, clean energy, and energy efficiency, as well as information technology and the environment.