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Irish Marine Scientists Explore Whittard Canyon Deep-Sea Submarine Canyon

13th June 2014
Irish Marine Scientists Explore Whittard Canyon Deep-Sea Submarine Canyon

#deepsea – An international research team, led by scientists from NUI Galway, is currently exploring the Whittard Canyon deep-sea submarine canyon system in the North East Atlantic onboard the Marine Institute's RV Celtic Explorer.

Researchers from Ireland, the UK, the USA and Germany are using the Institute's ROV Holland I to study the diversity of deep-water animals and relate this to geology and ocean currents.

The Whittard Canyon system is at the continental margin approximately 250 miles SW of Cork, covers an area of 2000 square miles, and is home to vulnerable marine ecosystems of cold-water corals, deep-water oysters and file clams. But new research is also revealing a remarkable diversity and abundance of rare black corals, which are protected under international legislation.

"The extreme shape of submarine canyons seems to affect the water flow within them in such a way as to deliver nutrient rich waters to particular parts of the canyon system. This allows diverse ecosystems to flourish. Our research is attempting to understand these processes so that we can predict where the most vulnerable ecosystems are likely to occur and therefore ensure the environment is protected," explained Dr Martin White of NUI Galway's Ryan Institute, and the expedition's chief scientist.

According to Dr Louise Allcock, also of NUI Galway's Ryan Institute, "Black corals are particularly vulnerable to any sort of impact. They grow extremely slowly and dating studies have shown that some species live for thousands of years."

The Whittard Canyon system is huge, with meandering branches extending over an area of more than 80 by 20 miles. Mapping the system, much of which is in depths below 1500m, to detect vulnerable species is difficult. Therefore the team hopes that the new data will reveal the factors that determine which species occur where.

ROV Holland I provides a way of sampling deep-sea animals without impacting the ecosystem. The team is also providing deep-sea sponge samples to scientists searching for novel pharmaceutical compounds. If the chemists find interesting compounds such as antibacterial and other pharmaceutical properties in the sponges, they will aim to work out how to synthesize them in the laboratory. This is the first step in the production of new drugs.

The scientists are blogging about their experiences and discoveries aboard RV Celtic Explorer throughout the survey (June 6th – 21st) on the blog scientistsatsea.blogspot.ie and on twitter via the hashtag #ce14009

The research survey is carried out under the Sea Change strategy with the support of the Marine Institute, funded under the Marine Research Sub-Programme by the Irish Government.

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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