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The INFOMAR programme, jointly managed by the Marine Institute and Geological Survey Ireland and funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment held its annual seminar in Cork (15th – 16th November), highlighting the impact and value of Ireland's national seabed mapping programme.

The event, attended by representatives from leading industry, government and research organisations, was held in partnership with National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI) who hosted the conference focused on 'Collaborating for better marine resource management'.

Koen Verbruggen, Director of Geological Survey of Ireland, highlighted a report just published by Indecon International Economic Consultants, 'An Economic Review of the Irish Geoscience Sector', which shows INFOMAR has contributed €24.6 million to the Irish economy in 2016 across four sectors examined.

Michael Gillooly, Director of Ocean Science and Information Services at the Marine Institute underlined the importance of collaboration to optimise delivery of quality science and knowledge to inform decision making. Mr Gillooly said, "INFOMAR data and associated value added programmes, in which INFOMAR plays a central role, will enable delivery of integrated marine data outputs and services, such as the Integrated Digital Ocean which will be used by government, industry, researchers and the general public'

Thomas Furey, Marine Institute joint INFOMAR programme manager noted, "There has been extensive progress and success in mapping, and associated research and innovation, however three specific challenges remain for INFOMAR in the years ahead:

• Dealing with Brexit in the context of our maritime boarders and transboundary issues associated with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive & Marine Spatial Planning;
• Achieving regional scale integrated coastal zone land to sea mapping given the associated technology challenges, and;
• Leveraging Ireland's leading role in seabed & habitat mapping to provide Irish partnership delivered products and services on the global market."

Sean Cullen, Geological Survey of Ireland joint INFOMAR programme manager said, "Ireland is recognised internationally for its leadership role in mapping and marine data management, and increasing our collaboration and knowledge sharing in operations and innovation will provide significant opportunities for growth of Irish industries and jobs, and allow us to deliver the best science and knowledge based resource and risk management decisions into the future."

The event provided an open, informative and engaging platform bringing together Ireland's key marine stakeholders including speakers from the Marine Institute, Geological Survey Ireland; UAV Mapping & Coastal Heritage, National University, Galway; University College, Dublin; University College, Cork; AAIU; IMDO; MaREI; SEAI; GDG; ARUP; and the OPW.

Published in Marine Science

#INFOMAR - This year’s annual seminar for the INFOMAR programme will take place next Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 November at the National Maritime College of Ireland on Cork Harbour.

The Integrated Mapping for the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Marine Resource (INFOMAR) programme is a joint marine science venture between the Marine Institute and Geological Survey Ireland and is funded through Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

‘Collaborating for Better Marine Resource Management’ is the theme of this year’s INFOMAR seminar — held in partnership with the NMCI — which aims to provide an open, informative and engaging platform bringing together Ireland's key marine stakeholders.

The format will include quality presentations, demonstrations and networking opportunities. See the seminar agenda for the two days, and register for the free event via Eventbrite.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - Offshore earthquakes and cold water coral in subsea canyons in Irish waters are among 26 projects awarded €45 million in research investment through the Science Foundation Ireland's Investigators Programme, announced last week by Minister of State for Training and Skills, John Halligan.

“This funding recognises some of Ireland’s top researchers and enables them to advance vital research areas in Ireland,” said the minister. “I am confident that the teams being supported will generate important new scientific breakthroughs.”

The 26 research projects will support 94 research positions over the next five years.

“In addition, today’s investment provides 20 companies with access to invaluable expertise and infrastructure across the country,” said Minister Halligan. “These collaborations between industry and academia are integral to further enhancing Ireland’s reputation for research excellence.”

To strengthen and accelerate research in key strategic areas of national interest, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) collaborates with several funding agencies and public bodies through the SFI Investigators Programme.

Six of the research projects received co-funding worth a total of €3 million from Teagasc, the Geological Survey of Ireland, the Marine Institute, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Marine Institute and the Geological Survey of Ireland are co-funding two marine science awards with SFI to the value of €2.65 million.

Professor Sergei Lebedev of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (DIAS) has been awarded €1,248,989 to investigate the structure, evolution and seismic hazard of Ireland’s offshore territory.

With 90% of Ireland’s territory offshore, it represents vast resources but also hazards, with offshore earthquakes posing the biggest risk with the potential to trigger undersea landslides and tsunamis.

Prof Lebedev’s team will for the first time deploy an array of ocean-bottom, broadband seismometers offshore which, together with existing arrays onshore, will cover the entire Irish territory.

Professor Andy Wheeler of University College Cork has been awarded €874,329 to explore and monitor cold water corals in submarine canyons in the deep ocean and determine their sensitivity to climate change and fisheries and oil industry impacts.

Prof Wheeler’s team will used advanced robotic technology and novel 3D visualisation and will make recommendations for sustainable responsible fisheries and hydrocarbon activity and for effective management during climate change.

Dr Ciaran Kelly, R&D manager at the Marine Institute, said, “The Marine Institute is delighted to partner with SFI again in co-funding these important projects through the investigators programme, together with our INFOMAR programme partners, Geological Survey of Ireland.

“This collaboration will accelerate our knowledge of key processes of the deep ocean bringing longstanding benefits to society.”

For more information on the 26 projects funded through the SFI Investigators Programme see www.sfi.ie.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - A team of scientists have discovered the deepest known occurrence of a cold water coral reef known as Solenosmilia variabilis in Irish waters.

The marine scientists, led by the Marine Institute with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), travelled over 1,000 nautical miles over three weeks along Ireland's Porcupine Bank and continental slope collecting HD video, sample cores and biological specimens from marine wildlife along the shelf edge from 50 locations. 

They also explored the Atlantic Ocean to depths of more than 1,600 metres as part of a multi-agency and university collaboration using video mapping with the Marine Institute’s mini-submarine ROV Holland I.

The SeaRover survey was carried out on the Commissioner of Irish Lights vessel ILV Granuaile, gathering data for marine planning, habitat protection and measuring the effects of climate change.

“Some of the reef ecosystems and habitats we discovered have never been seen before, and discovering S. variabilis at depths greater than 1,600m helps us establish a better understanding of the environmental conditions necessary for this species to thrive,” said INFOMAR chief scientist David O’Sullivan. 

"The deep-sea coral S. variabilis is widespread, normally seen at depths between 1,000 to 1,300m on seamounts or rocky areas deep under the sea but only occasionally forms reefs. 

“Its growth rate is very slow approximately one millimetre per year, so finding the reef structure, which is part of a fragile ecosystem thousands of years old, in deeper parts of the ocean is an important find for marine science.”

Also found in this extreme deep sea environment were sea pens, which visually look like a cross between a feather, a starfish and a fern, but are are actually a form of soft coral.

“With over 300 species currently known around the world, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours — we have seen a wide variety of forms on this survey, and can only give species names to very few as many are likely to be new to science and have yet to be described,” said Dr Yvonne Leahy of the NPWS. 

“There are undoubtedly many more unidentified species out there and we ourselves have observed some specimens that require closer examination to properly identify.”

The team used the ROV Holland 1 to map the distribution and extent of deep water reefs and associated habitats, as well as using high-resolution bathymetric maps produced under the national seabed mapping programme INFOMAR, a joint initiative of the Marine Institute and the Geological Survey of Ireland. 

The bathymetric data, which shows the depths of the ocean, has been key in identifying specific seabed features such as submarine canyons, escarpments and mounds where reef habitats are likely to occur.

The SeaRover (Sensitive Ecosystem Assessment and ROV Exploration of Reef Habitat) survey is jointly funded by the Government and the EU through the European Maritime Fisheries Fund and NPWS to undertake further mapping surveys of offshore reefs, with the aim of evaluating status and review requirements for conservation and management measures consistent with the Habitats Directive.

The project is co-managed by the INFOMAR programme and Fisheries Science and Ecosystem Services at the Marine Institute and NPWS. While the project objectives are primarily policy driven, the collection of data and scientific benefit will also be of immense benefit to the national and international research community.

The ROV robotic arms were also used to collect biological specimens for NUI Galway's SFI funded project ‘Exploiting and Conserving Deep Sea Genetic Resources’, and will also give new information on where sensitive species are found to help research at University of Plymouth’s Deep Sea Conservation Unit to predict where high value ecological areas might be identified offshore of Ireland and the wider North East Atlantic.

“The biological samples will help us understand the connectivity of different cold-water coral reef habitats, which will ultimately help with their future management,” said on-board senior scientist Dr Kerry Howell from Plymouth University.

This latest research mission comes less than two months after a team of university researchers and students on the RV Celtic Explorer explored cold water corals and sponges in the Whittard Canyon on the south-western edge of the continental shelf.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - The Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Voyager returned to Cork Harbour last week after the first of six INFOMAR seabed mapping surveys planned for 2017.

The two-week seabed survey carried out its operations in the Celtic Sea south of the Waterford and Wexford coastlines.

The research team — involving geophysicists, geologists, marine biologists and data processors Kevin Sheehan, David O'Sullivan, Oisin McManus, Nicola O'Brien and Michael Arrigan — were tasked to accurately map the physical, chemical and biological features of the seabed area.

INFOMAR survey operations are conducted by a fleet of research vessels — including the RV Celtic Voyager, which is used for mapping seabed terrain in water depths between 20m and 100m.

The vessels are equipped with advanced mapping technologies including state-of-the-art acoustic sonars, geophysical instrumentation and ground-truthing capabilities, as well as geophysical equipment and precise satellite positioning.

“This helps to ensure data collection is of the highest possible quality across a wide range of water depths, conditions and environments, providing us with full coverage mapping of the shape and type of the seabed below,” says David O'Sullivan.

The INFOMAR survey around Ireland is one of the largest civilian seabed mapping projects in the world and aims to gather high resolution seabed data that contributes to the sustainable development of Ireland's marine resource.

As an island nation, Ireland is responsible for the sustainable management of its marine resources and it is important that accurate seabed maps are created to enable effective governance.

“Gathering up-to-date information about our ocean is cognisant of ensuring we have the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting our ocean, particularly in relation to fisheries management and the development of ocean energy,” added O’Sullivan.

The INtegrated Mapping FOr the Sustainable Development of Ireland's MArine Resource (INFOMAR) programme is a joint venture between the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute, funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Published in Marine Science

#INFOMAR - Galway’s Marine Institute hosts the 2016 Seminar for INFOMAR – Integrated Mapping for the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Marine Resource – next Wednesday 19 October.

With a focus on ‘collectively creating an INFOMAR legacy’, the free day-long event will look back on the development and impact of seabed mapping in Ireland, as well as plans for completion of the coastal and shelf-mapping project, and optimising the use and value of knowledge gained from mapping data.

The morning’s two main sessions include a ‘birds eye view’ of mapping the seas of Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and exploring the latest mapping technology for coastal development and management.

Afternoon presentations will also look at INFOMAR’s role the in energy, infrastructure, environment and education sectors.

The full seminar agenda is online, and free registration is available HERE.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineNotice - The latest Marine Notice from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) has been advised that a hydrographic and geophysical survey operation will be undertaken by INFOMAR for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) off the Mayo coast, in the Celtic Sea and also in the Irish Sea between 21 March and 30 October 2016.

The RV Celtic Voyager (Callsign EIQN), the RV Celtic Explorer (Callsign EIGB), the RV Keary (Callsign EIGO9), the RV Geo (Callsign EIDK6) and the RV Tonn (Callsign: EIPT7) are expected to carry out survey operations and will be listening on VHF Channel 16 throughout the project.

Details of co-ordinates for the survey operations are included in Marine Notice No 11 of 2016, a PDF of which is available to read or download HERE.

Published in Marine Warning

#HistoricBoats - A team of scientists aboard the Marine Institute's research vessel Celtic Voyager has revealed detailed images of World War I shipwrecks in the Irish Sea.

The team, led by Dr Ruth Plets of the School of Environmental Sciences at Ulster University, set out to capture the highest resolution acoustic data possible of WWI shipwrecks lost in the Irish Sea, using a new multi-beam system (EM2040) on board the RV Celtic Voyager to get the best data ever acquired over these wrecks.

"We were able to capture the most detailed images of the entirety of the wrecks ever," said Dr Plets. "Some of the wrecks, which are too deep to be dived on, have not been seen in 100 years. So this is the first time we can examine what has happened to them, during sinking and in the intervening 100 years, and try to predict their future preservation state."

Among the shipwrecks surveyed were the SS Chirripo, which sank in 1917 off Black Head in Co Antrim after she struck a mine; the SS Polwell, which was torpedoed in 1918 northeast of Lambay Island; and the RMS Leinster, which sank in 1918 after being torpedoed off Howth Head, killing over over 500 people - the single greatest loss of live in the Irish Sea.

Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan welcomed the achievements of the survey, supported by the competitive ship-time programme, saying: "The multidisciplinary team is making an important contribution to understanding and protecting our maritime heritage and to our ability to manage our marine resource wisely."

Explaining how the survey was carried out, Dr Plets added: "We moved away from traditional survey strategies by slowing the vessel right down to allow us to get many more data points over the wreck, with millions of sounding per wreck."

"The detail is amazing as we can see things such as handrails, masts, the hawse pipe – where the anchor was stored – and hatches. Some of the vessels have split into sections, and we can even see details of the internal structure. With the visibility conditions in the Irish Sea, no diver or underwater camera could ever get such a great overview of these wrecks."

As well as acoustic imaging, the team collected samples from around the wreck to see what its potential impact is on the seabed ecology. Sediment samples were also taken for chemical analysis to determine if these wrecks cause a concern for pollution.

The project is carried out to coincide with WWI centenary commemorations, noted Dr Plets. "We often forget the battles that were fought in our seas; more emphasis is put on the battles that went on in the trenches. However, at least 2,000 Irishmen lost their lives at sea, but unlike on land, there is no tangible monument or place to commemorate because of the location on the bottom of the sea.

"In the Republic of Ireland there is a blanket protection of all wrecks older than 100 years, so all these will become protected over the next few years. To manage and protect these sites for future generations, we need to know their current preservation state and understand the processes that are affecting the sites."

The next step for the team is to use the data collected to create 3D models which can be used for archaeological research, heritage management and dissemination of these otherwise inaccessible sites to the wider public.

"There is so much data, it will take us many months if not years, to work it all up," said Dr Plets. "Some of the wrecks are in a very dynamic environment and we are planning to survey these vessels again next year to see if there is a change, especially after the winter storms. That will give the heritage managers a better idea if any intervention measures need to be taken to protect them.

"These data could well signal a new era in the field of maritime archaeology. We hope it will inspire a new generation of marine scientists, archaeologists and historians to become involved. Above all, we want to make the general public, young and old, aware of the presence of such wrecks, often located only miles off their local beach."

The research survey was supported by the Marine Institute, through its Ship-Time Programme, funded under the Marine Research Sub-Programme by the Government.

The diverse team included maritime archaeologists Rory McNeary from the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment and Kieran Westley from the University of Southampton; geologists Rory Quinn and Ruth Plets, both Ulster University; biologists Annika Clements from Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and Chris McGonigle from Ulster University; Ulster University marine science student Mekayla Dale; and hydrographer Fabio Sacchetti from the Marine Institute who works on Ireland's national seabed mapping programme INFOMAR, run jointly with the Geological Survey of Ireland.

The team blogged about the seven-day survey at [email protected].

Published in Historic Boats

#MarineScience - Seabed mapping activity and developments during 2014 will be showcased at the annual seminar of Ireland’s national marine mapping initiative, INFOMAR, was opened yesterday (Wednesday 22 October) at the Tower Hotel in Waterford.

The INFOMAR programme, dedicated to increasing awareness of Ireland’s marine landscape, carries out hydrographic and geophysical surveys of Irish territorial waters.

It is a co-operative research programme between the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and the Marine Institute (MI) and is funded by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

This ambitious mapping initiative began in 2006, and in its first 10 years will successfully map 26 priority bays and three priority offshore areas.

Using INFOMAR resources, skilled experts based at the GSI and MI develop data products, primarily hydrographic and geological maps that detail the Irish marine territory. These maps are now available for scrutiny HERE.

Minister of State Joe McHugh TD, who was present at the opening, said: “The Government has been strongly supportive of this project, committing €15 million for the five-year period from 2014 to 2018.

"With this continued funding support, Ireland is at the leading edge of European work in marine mapping and in laying the foundations for the sustainable management of our ocean space."

The minster added that “this year a further €3 million is being invested under the INFOMAR project in surveying the gateways to our ports, mapping our fish spawning grounds, finding routes for marine telecommunications cables and selecting the best sites for ocean energy generation. All rely on accurate seabed mapping capability, which Ireland now possesses.”

The 2014 INFOMAR annual seminar will provide an update on progress and plans, and focus on the downstream value and application of the data to underpin development and growth across the marine sector.

New INFOMAR products and services are continuously evolving, and the event will see the launch of a new education programme, a prototype dive tourism mobile app, and INFOMAR Story Maps.

Welcoming the launch, GSI director Koen Verbruggen said that the long-term benefits to Ireland as a result of INFOMAR’s offshore mapping are significant, and include:

  • Datasets that feed directly into updated nautical charts via the United Kingdom Hydroghaphic Office.
  • Up-to-date advanced mapping facilitates greater awareness of Irish marine opportunities.
  • The data are used in planning of protection and development offshore Ireland.
  • This project is also highlighting data and knowledge gaps for further exploration and research.
  • New international research links have been forged between the surveys and agencies, which is resulting in related projects and employment.

Dr Peter Heffernan, chief executive of the Marine Institute, said: "The Government has prioritised the marine as an area for further growth under the Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth Strategy and the information on Ireland’s vast seabed territory that INFOMAR is capturing and making available will provide a solid platform for sustainable development and growth."

Over 130 attendees are expected to attend the over the day-and-a-half seminar. The work of INFOMAR is also showcased in the latest episode of TV3's maritime documentary series Our Island, broadcast last night and which will be available to stream via the TV3 Player.

Published in Marine Science

#MarineScience - George Hanna, a student of the Benthic Acoustic Mapping and Survey (BEAMS) programme in the USA, recently joined the Irish INFOMAR team on the research vessel RV Celtic Voyager during an inshore survey of Mizen Head, Co Cork.

The INFOMAR team provided fieldwork training on board the RV Celtic Voyager using the newly installed EM2040 state-of-the-art multibeam technology to develop detailed maps of the seafloor, as well as a sub-bottom profiler to identify and characterise layers of sediment and rock and surrounding habitat.

Training support is hugely beneficial in developing academic and career opportunities in bathymetric and seafloor habitat mapping on both sides of the Atlantic.

“With the rapid growth of new technologies used in ocean surveying, it is important that undergraduate students get fieldwork experience which focuses on strengthening their skills that can be used in the workforce,” said Thomas Furey, manager of Advanced Mapping Services at the Marine Institute and joint INFOMAR programme manager with the Geological Survey of Ireland.

Collaboration with the College of Charleston and University of Washington’s BEAMS programme came about after focussed development of international INFOMAR industry and research relations in recent years.

This was instigated following the transatlantic co-operation agreement, the 'Galway Statement', signed at the Marine Institute in 2013.

INFOMAR, which hosts its annual seminar in Waterford next week, also supported the nomination of Jay Calvert, University of Ulster, who was recently awarded a Fulbright-Marine Institute Scholarship to attend three months each at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, and Northeastern University in Boston.

The BEAMS programme is widely recognised internationally for the output of many academically qualified ocean surveyors, however gaining vessel experience can be challenging. 

Volunteering as a survey technician through the programme, George Hanna highlighted the benefits of working with INFOMAR onboard the RV Celtic Voyager, stating: “I was extremely lucky to come to Ireland to get hands on experience on the Voyager and to work with some of the best sonar technology equipment out there.

"Getting real experience during survey operations and deploying numerous ocean-survey related instruments certainly helps support me in expanding my academic opportunities and also getting future work in the area of seabed mapping”.

Published in Marine Science
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