A new multi-university center for Mediterranean Sea research is to be established within the next few months to study the economic resources of the sea, including natural gas. The center, to be headed by Haifa University, will be allocated NIS 70 million and will be run in collaboration with the Technion, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the Weizmann Institute.

The need for such a center has become apparent in recent years because of the discovery of gas in the sea, as well as the massive move to desalination, and the establishment of artificial islands, says Dr. Yitzhak Makovsky of Haifa University. "All of these things suddenly directed public attention to the economic resources we have at sea," says Makovsky. "There is an economic region at sea the size of the land in the State of Israel. In essence, we have doubled the size of the state recently and we don't really know or understand this new half.

"On the one hand, the intention is to gain an understanding of what these resources are, and plan policies relating to revenues. On the other hand, we want to understand the risks entailed in the development of such broad [energy] infrastructures."

The establishment of the center, announced this week by the Council of Higher Education's Committee for Planning and Budgets, was prompted by an international committee's recommendations that stressed the "huge challenges posed by the discovery of gas" in the Mediterranean. The committee was established by Israel's Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

The center's resources will include naval observatory posts, research ships and advanced laboratories.

Research will focus on natural gas, desalination, environmental issues and marine biology and geophysics.