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New Survey Technology Shines Light on Donegal Shipwrecks

26th November 2012
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New Survey Technology Shines Light on Donegal Shipwrecks

#marinescience – A survey by a Marine Robotics Team from University of Limerick (UL) using the UL built Smart ROV Latis has shed new light on two shipwrecks off the coast of Donegal, the S.S. Empire Heritage and the S. S. Empress of Britain.

The survey onboard the RV Celtic Explorer led by Dr. Daniel Toal, University of Limerick (UL) captured photo images as well as multi-beam sonar images at two archaeological sites. The survey planning drew on the knowledge of technical diver Dr Ger Dooley, a member of the survey team who has dived on many wrecks on the northern approaches off the Donegal Coast.

High resolution sonar imaging was used to create new images of the S.S. Empire Heritage, a cargo ship which had been carrying dozens of Sherman Tanks when it was torpedoed and sank in 1944 with the loss of 113 lives. New images of the S. S. Empress of Britain, a passenger liner, thought to have been carrying gold when it sank in 1940 were also created.

The S. S. Empire Heritage now lies at a depth of 70 metres, 15 miles north-west of Malin Head and the survey captured images of the cargo of tanks, originally destined to fight in WWII, now scattered across the seafloor.

High resolution image of the S.S Empress of Britain

The S. S. Empress of Britain, a 42,000 ton, 230 m passenger liner lies at 160 metres, 40 miles north-west of bloody foreland and is believed to be the largest ship sunk by a U-boat. A salvage operation carried out on the wreck in 1995 on suspicion that the ship had been carrying a large cargo of Gold from Africa destined for America reported finding the Empress upside-down in 500 feet of water. The salvagers reported breaking into the strong room only to find a single skeleton and no gold. It was suspected the gold was unloaded while the Empress was on fire and its passengers were being evacuated. However, the high resolution sonar image which was taken during the recent ROV dive shows the wreck listing on its side, not upside-down as reported by the earlier salvage operation.

High Resolution image of the S.S. Empress of Britain

The aim of the survey was to trial ROV technology developed by UL for a variety of marine applications including high resolution sonar imaging of ship wrecks for archaeological records, demonstration of ROV Latis' precision underwater navigation and dynamic positioning capabilities to the Irish Coast Guard for Search and Rescue, as well as trialling a 'daughter ROV' or 'fly-out out mini ROV' for hull penetration and internal inspection where the larger ROV Latis cannot venture.

Dr Toal explained "In order to acquire high resolution sonar images the sonar instruments must be flown close to the ship wreck. Building a composite sonar image of a wreck with large numbers of sonar pings requires precise knowledge of the position and orientation of the ROV platform during the imaging transect. The ROV Latis is equipped with state of the art under water positioning, navigation and auto pilot control systems which makes it an ideal platform for this high resolution survey work."

When poor weather conditions during the six day survey prevented operation of the ROV, the team moved to the sheltered waters of Lough Swilly where they tested a new low cost terrain referenced navigation system for unmanned vehicles developed by the Marine Robotics Research Centre at UL.

The survey was supported by the Marine Institute through the 2012 Ship Time Programme as part of the Sea Change Programme funded under the National Development Plan 2007 -2013. The shipwrecks surveyed were previously mapped from the sea surface by the Geological Survey of Ireland and Marine Institute during the INSS and INFOMAR national seabed mapping programmes.

Further details and information on the shipwrecks are available in the new book published this week by government publications, entitled "Warships, U-Boats & Liners".

Published in Marine Science
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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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