The Portuguese Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere (IPMA) conducts operations in Oeiras through a centre dedicated to research in the area of the sea. Miguel Miranda, President of the IPMA, explains what work has been done in this area and what the ambitions are for the future.
The IPMA is an institution engaged in a broad range of activities at national level, and which pervades the daily lives of the Portuguese people. It has responsibilities in areas ranging from meteorology and climate to seafood security and fisheries research. Much of the work focusing on matters related to the sea is done in Oeiras, where the institute has a hub equipped with research laboratories that are highly respected in the field.
In an interview with Oeiras Valley, Miguel Miranda, president of the IPMA, explains what the main areas of operation are and the distinguishing features of the work developed at this hub, and also emphasises the advantages of being based in Oeiras and the goals that are being pursued, also in partnership with the Municipality.
What are the strengths of the IPMA?
Today, the IPMA is an institution found throughout the country – both on the mainland and in the two autonomous regions – and which has responsibilities in the area of meteorology, climate, the sea, marine geology, aeronautical meteorology, seafood security and fisheries research. Therefore, all natural processes that take place in the atmosphere or the ocean, and many of those that take place on terra firma – in particular earthquakes – are followed by the IPMA, in conjunction with the various worldwide surveillance networks of the terrestrial system. We have a team of between five and six hundred people – just under 100 of whom are researchers – and in all these areas we are able to do research, conduct operations and perform surveillance.
What is the added value of the work carried out by the IPMA, and how is it measured?
We are an institution with a very particular characteristic: we touch the lives of everyone every day, when they think about the weather, but also when an earthquake occurs in any area of the territory, or when, for example, they buy a seafood product from a supermarket. From the standpoint of day-to-day life, we do some things that are apparently reasonably simple, which involve observing the earth, identifying the phenomena that are taking place and using our capacities to predict their future development.
To do this, we have a human infrastructure consisting of highly qualified researchers and technicians, a material infrastructure – ships, radars, observation stations – an information technology infrastructure – computers, large file systems – and we are connected to global organisations such as the World Meteorological Organisation, world seismology organisations, or the NAFO, which manages fisheries in the North Atlantic.
We also have one of the most visited pages on the internet in Portugal. It is a service where you can fetch data freely, and which any citizen or any company can use both in their everyday lives and for the businesses they want to set up. Therefore, we are here to support the economic sector, to support the general public and to support public policies, insofar as they need to know, for example, weather forecasts or ocean forecasts.
What are you doing specifically here at this Algés hub?
If you arrive quite early in the morning, colleagues will be leaving to go to auctions to sample the fish that were caught that day, for example, in order to enable us to follow the evolution of the different species of commercial value in Portugal. You will see people leaving here to fetch samples of bivalves at any site or production area from Minho to the Algarve, to find out, for example, if there are quantities of faecal coliforms above the level that is permissible for human consumption, or if there are volumes of toxic algae that have generated biotoxins that can cause paralysis, diarrhoea or have other effects.
Over the course of the day, producers who have agreements with us bring samples here. In the laboratories, they take these samples, process them, analyse them, look at the results, and from there we regularly issue classifications saying: “here, you can eat”, “there, you cannot eat” or “there, we have to wait”.
At the same time, we have colleagues who are in their laboratories trying to predict the most significant problem we are going to face in the near future, for example with regard to neurotoxins, which have not yet had much of an effect here in Portugal, but which are clearly increasing. How are we going to prepare in order to be able to detect them before they have significant effects on the population?
All the work carried out at the IPMA involves means and, therefore, one can arrive here one morning and see research teams setting off for the sea, in one of our boats, teams that are conducting research that may involve marine geology, to find out what the climate was like 10,000 years ago, or to find out the state of sardine stocks. These questions are answered by the IPMA.
We are therefore talking about a very broad spectrum of activity…
The fact is that the Ocean is unique and the Earth is unique, and today it is difficult to distinguish whether what is being observed in the ocean is an effect of the climate, if what is being observed in the climate is an effect of the ocean, and if what is being observed on dry land has anything to do with the variation in sea level. Therefore, the terrestrial system is a complex system, where we have to be increasingly multidisciplinary. We have to understand the various interactions, and our role is this: to be here trying to understand the interactions, but not on our own. We are strongly rooted in the national scientific community, because we work within a network with all universities and all groups in the country that have scientific significance.
“We have been here for many years, practically since the 1960s. But here we have important synergies with the Quinta do Marquês hub, where the INIAV is based.”
What are the advantages for IPMA of being in Oeiras, taking into account the fact that there is an ecosystem with entities linked to the scientific area?
We have been here for many years, practically since the 1960s. But here we have important synergies with the Quinta do Marquês hub, where the INIAV is based – an institution with which we have very close relations – where the ITQB is, where the iBET is. We also work with the New University of Lisbon, which is also based here in Oeiras, in the area of fishery economics, where we have several initiatives; we work with the University of Lisbon in the areas of technology, geophysics and ocean engineering.
Can you give examples of synergies and specific partnerships you have with entities in Oeiras?
With INIAV, which is a “cousin” of ours, we share the food and food security programme, with common initiatives – which will surely grow over time.
We share interests with the ITQB in the area of biotechnology, essentially in what for us is simply called “valuation”. In other words, we have a seafood product, but in order for it to have a more significant economic value, it has to be regulated: we have to create derived products that are more in line with the publics’ food interests. We also share interests in the field of bioprospecting, because we have a great capacity to operate at sea, as a result of which the existence of active ingredients that are collected during campaigns, and the possibility of identifying in them ingredients that are economically important for biotechnology, is also a growing area.
We have a connection that we now wish to consolidate with the operation of our ship Mário Ruivo with the Escola Náutica Infante D. Henrique maritime college, in which our main objective is a kind of ENIDH training ship. We have a very interesting partnership with the Vasco da Gama Aquarium to carry out tests on aquatic organisms for research and development purposes. And we intend to forge closer links with the other scientific organisations that we know intend to move close to the river and set up operations here in this continuum, which stretches from the Museu dos Combatentes museum, and which will probably only end near Oeiras, or rather in Jamor.
The whole future relies on knowledge, knowledge management and quality. And what allows us to launch these new initiatives that are going to emerge rapidly, particularly in partnership with Oeiras City Council, is exactly this idea that knowledge has to be at the forefront of the transformations that will occur in the coming years. And that is where we find our points of cooperation, which will surely quickly bear fruit.
And how does this partnership with the Municipality of Oeiras operate?
We have reached a time when we have to defragment the small groups that exist – university A, university B and another university C – and we have to be able to combine sufficiently competitive capacity to go into the international arena and take our place as a relevant actor in the technological change that is taking place. And, in our area of the sea, we aim to bring together here on this campus – and in the neighbouring areas – the scientific capacity that is currently spread across the Greater Lisbon area and to create a cosmopolitan international research environment that absolutely puts this area, Greater Lisbon and Oeiras, on the map.
“We aim to bring together here on this campus – and in the neighbouring areas – the scientific capacity that is currently spread across the Greater Lisbon area and to create a cosmopolitan international research environment that absolutely puts this area, Greater Lisbon and Oeiras, on the map.”
And “putting it on the map” means being able to have the world’s best here: young people with the interest, ability and willingness to do things differently. And we have to attract them here and make them feel good. It is within our reach to offer good scientific instruments, good laboratories, a good working environment, to be a platform for bringing together the various international communities that, when passing through here, swap experiences, ambitions, dreams.
Looking ahead, what would you like this hub to be like in three or ten years from now?
In three years from now, I want to see a technological structure next to this building where research groups and young people from universities in the Greater Lisbon area are developing equipment, testing it at sea, having access to the water and to technology. In ten years’ time, I want to see a community here with a significant percentage of young people from other countries — almost 50% — and we are able to have people who go from here to Barcelona and from Barcelona to here. And to have the capability to be one of the points where novelty is created.
“In ten years’ time, I want to see a community here with a significant percentage of young people from other countries — almost 50%.”
We expect great novelties from California, we now expect novelties from the area around London because of vaccines, we expect it from areas around the great new industrial cities in China, the area of the Paris valley. But we also need to have them here – on this riverfront, which we are all conceptualising – this ability to be an area from which things appear.
And for that, we need to have multiculturalism, competitiveness, an open mind and the ability to take risks here. And that requires components that are scientific and technological, but it also requires components of venture capital. Capital that is available for new initiatives, for the creation of young companies, for the maturation of ideas, for the creation of synergies and agreement. Therefore, it is very important, for example, to attract actors from other European countries, particularly those that have greater similarities with us in the Atlantic area, such as Norway, France, England and Spain.