The European Commission has developed a dedicated strategy to realize the enormous potential of Blue Growth (BG) for Europe. BG is an instrument that could help drive job creation and promote stability in Europe as it represents over five million jobs and a gross added value of nearly €500 billion per year. Relict munitions and UXO on the seafloor are a major impediment to the development and exploitation of off shore resource potential represented by Blue Growth. This threat broadly affects offshore energy, aquaculture, shipping, and tourism.

Coastal European waters are contaminated ubiquitously with unexploded ordnance (UXO) and munitions from intentional disposal (Figure). Coastal waters are particularly impacted by relic munitions resulting from the two World Wars, and the German portions of the North Sea and Baltic Sea alone contain some 1.6 million metric tons of munitions. In addition to the explosion and security risks, these munitions contain cytotoxic, genotoxic, and carcinogenic chemicals (conventional explosives, for example). There is a critical need to clear undersea munitions due to the hazards associated with accidental detonation and leakage of toxic chemicals.

Figure: Sites contaminated by underwater munitions. These maps represent only the known and reported sites, and therefore under-represent the true global coverage. (Compiled by A.J. Beck)

Geophysical techniques relying on acoustic or magnetic imaging are the current state of the art for munition detection. However, it is often difficult to distinguish munitions from rocks and marine litter such as metal anchors or cables. Multiple techniques can improve confidence in detection and identification, but currently available methods remain unable to universally identify munitions on the seafloor.

Underwater munitions are extensively and virtually ubiquitously corroded, and this breaching leads to slow release of a munition chemical plume to the water column. Direct sensing of explosive and CWA compounds would be the most direct approach to identify munitions.

Therefore, the aim of ExPloTect is to develop, optimize, and test a prototype sea-going device for detection of chemicals associated with unexploded ordnance in the marine environment.