Ocean Information

ILIAD Embarks on an Epic Quest to Create


The ILIAD consortium was recently granted €17 million from the EU to develop and launch a Digital Twin of the Ocean (DTO). Professor Georgios Sylaios, the RTD Manager, and Bente Lilja Bye, Innovation Manager, ILIAD discuss the project and the challenges ahead.

By Greg Trauthwein


The ILIAD consortium includes 56 partners from 18 European countries that aim to develop virtual, enhanced representations of the sea. To this end, it was recently granted €17 million by the EU to develop and launch a Digital Twin of the Ocean (DTO).

“The ILIAD project was an answer to the Green Deal call in the European Union's research program,” said Bente Lilja Bye, Innovation Manager, ILIAD. Bye hails from Norway and is the founder and leader of a research and consultancy company called BLB. Her background is in theoretical astrophysics, “but I like to say that I don't discriminate against any planet. So for the last couple of decade, I have focused my attention on planet earth.”

To effectively build, operate and maintain an interoperable, data-intensive, and cost-effective DTO, ILIAD will capitalize on the explosion of new data provided by many different Earth observation sources, advanced computing infrastructures in an inclusive, virtual/augmented, and engaging fashion to address Earth data challenges.

Arja Talakar
The development of innovative methods in open frameworks and platforms is needed to enable meaningful and informative model evaluations and comparisons for many large Earth science applications from weather to climate Bente Lilja Bye,
CEO of BLB and the Innovation Manager of ILIAD.

The simultaneous evolutions of sensor technology plus computing power plus integration of data in the cloud are three key factors in the ability to create a digital twin for the ocean.

“The capacity we have now to integrate this data in cloud systems, and high-performance computers that can simulate this data and provide us with forecasts, or give us better understanding and provide high-resolution, high-accuracy insight of what happens within a system, plus the tools to analyze this data” is critical, said Professor Georgios Sylaios, RTD Manager, ILIAD. “These are called big data, and we analyze them with modern artificial intelligence tools like machine learning, deep learning, and other neural networks.”

Professor Sylaios is charged with operating the pilots of the project over its three-year duration, aiming to showcase the benefits of the digital twin to various maritime industry end users. Sylaios, a professor of oceanography at a small university in Northern Greece, Democritus University of Thrace (DUTH), teaches oceanography, coastal engineering and fluid mechanics, and previously was coordinator of another Horizon 2020 funded project called ODYSSEA.

“We have pilots and partners in the North Sea, the Baltic, the European side of the Atlantic, as well as the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. And in all this area, we will develop a series of pilots to showcase the capacity of digital twin of the ocean.” Iliad Pilots will include:

  • Wind Energy
  • Renewable Energy from the Ocean: Currents, Waves & Floating Solar
  • Fisheries & Aquaculture
  • Marine Traffic & Harbor Safety
  • Pollution
  • Met Ocean Data: Hind, Now & Forecasts
  • Biodiversity Assessments & Monitoring
  • Insurance for Marine & Maritime activities
It is crucial for us to be in a position to deploy our systems and our models for a specific purpose, which is defined by the user. Without the collaboration of the users, this project will fail Professor Georgios Sylaios,
RTD Manager of ILIAD, Professor at the Democritus University of Thrace (DUTH)

Big Data … REALLY Big Data

As much as anything, the ILIAD DTO is a massive data collection, processing and dissemination project. To realize its potential, the ILIAD DTO will follow the System of Systems approach, integrating the plethora of existing EU Earth Observing and Modelling Digital Infrastructures and Facilities.

“I think the primary tool that we need to advance here is the local sensors,” said Sylaios, “the systems that will allow us to collect a lot of data from multiple points constantly and continuously. This will integrate within the other systems and will give us a better knowledge of what happens in the marine environment.”

The other challenge centers on how to transfer this data to a server, whether it be land-based or in the cloud.

“There is a group of partners in our consortium that will develop local systems, and we will try to integrate all this data to the local servers and from there to the platform,” said Sylaios. “At the end, we also need to integrate the data coming from satellites, data coming from the social media, the social networks, the citizen science, and all of this will give us very big data sets that we will analyze with new tools like AI and machine learning tools.”

In the end, Sylaios said that the rapid and ready availability of near real-time date is essential. “It's extremely important to be able to push a button and receive data in real time mode and to be able to process them as soon as possible, and to provide the services and the solutions to the users to reach the decisions based on this data.”

Both Bye and Sylaios contend that strong cooperation among the various partners, both inside ILIAD and those developed outside of the organization, is critical to the project from the outset, as ILIAD includes many partners who eventually will be end-users of the system, and they will participate from the beginning in helping to design.

“It is crucial for us to be in a position to deploy our systems and our models for a specific purpose, which is defined by the user,” said Sylaios. “Without the collaboration of the users, this project will fail. For me, as an operational manager, looking at it from the oceanographic point of view, I think that the collaboration with the users, the capacity to reach their systems and understand the problems on a day-to-day basis is extremely important.”

“I agree that this engagement with the users will be one of the biggest challenges, and a part of that is generally interoperability,” said Bye. “It needs to be interoperable on so many levels, not only sharing the data, but also with existing management systems. So the interactions with the end users and interoperability on the more technical side are a key challenge.”

Creating the digital twin is the first step, refining and maintaining it another animal in itself, as the oceans are obviously dynamic and ever changing. “After the digitization of the system, we need to go back to the physical environment and optimize it,” said Sylaios. “This is a continuous cycle, going from the physical space to the digital space and going back and forth, utilizing the data coming from the system and controlling and adjusting according to the conditions that prevail at its particular time.”

The Marketplace

While the ILIAD project is officially a 3-year project, from the outset there is a plan to build and maintain it continuously, lest it not be so interesting for the partners. With potential to impact all who work in the ‘blue’ space, from offshore energy to aquaculture to harbor management to policy makers … and everyone and everything in between, from the outset partners and potential users of the information are helping to co-design the final deliverables.

To promote additional applications through ILIAD Digital Twin of the Ocean, the partners will create the ILIAD Marketplace, included a market for Geosciences related applications and services. Like an app store, providers will use the ILIAD Marketplace to distribute apps, plug-ins, interfaces, raw data, citizen science data, synthesized information, and value-adding services derived from the ILIAD DTO.

“It will be an open marketplace available for everybody around the globe,” said Bye. It will then depend on the user as to what type of product or service is required. “You can use it as a provider of a service or data, or you can use it as a customer or somebody looking for a tool or a service that you need to solve a problem or challenge you have.”

The Platform

ILIAD’s ambition is to develop an interoperable, fully integrated, and cost-effective multiplatform network of observing and forecasting systems across European seas, addressing both the open sea and the coastal zone.This platform will be designed to have the following characteristics:

  • 1. Users will be able to search, retrieve and visualize data for specific parameters within a certain time and space window using a single command interface, irrespective of the data storage.
  • 2. Users will be able to download archived/forecasted information and receive services through a single system.
  • 3. A set of interactive web tools will be developed for the front-end of the platform to allow the user to visualize both the location of data points (using maps) and the data values (using plots/data visualization layers).
  • 4. Data from numerous observational platforms, systems, and networks will be readily available to end-users through the newly developed platform. Diverse data will enrich the system i.e., with meteorological, hydrological, oceanographical, environmental, underwater heritage and citizen’s science data.
  • 5. Databases will be re-organized, homogenized, and fused to provide data retrieved in a common standard type and format, as well as other types and formats according to end-user requirements.
  • 6. New data will be produced, stored, and exposed through the newly developed system, increasing the spatial and temporal resolution at specific locations (pilots).
  • 7. Novel observation systems (mobile and static) will be developed and tested, and their data will be uploaded to the ILIAD DTO.
  • 8. Operational models will provide forecasts and inform end-users on upcoming changes.
  • 9. Local/regional/national policymakers and end-users will be trained on using the DTO.


ILIAD is an EU-funded project which aims to develop and launch virtual models of the ocean that will provide highly accurate predictions of future developments at global seas. ILIAD develops representations designed to accurately reflect changes and processes accruing at the ocean. For full details visit

Watch the full ILIAD interview here:

February 2022