#MarineScience - The national research vessel RV Celtic Explorer has become a ‘floating university’ for 14 postgraduate students from seven countries – including Ireland – who have a unique chance to study cold water coral systems in their living environment in Irish waters.
The Atlantic Summer School, which runs till 17 September, involves a multidisciplinary investigation of cold water coral ecosystems of the Belgica Mound Province, which is a special area of conservation (SAC) some 150km south-west of Ireland.
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the initiative is a collaboration between the Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART) in Ireland and the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Germany.
“Cold water corals live at ocean depths of around 1,000m and build reefs which over millennia can reach up to 300m high," explained Dr Pauhla McGrane, national co-ordinator of SMART Ireland. "These giant coral mounds act as biological “hot-spots” and provide habitats for a variety of marine life.
“The Atlantic Summer School will enable postgraduate students to survey these mounds and collect data that will ultimately increase our understanding of these unique environments," she added.
“It’s not everyday that students get a chance to explore the ocean’s seabed gaining vital skills for exciting careers”, said Prof Andy Wheeler, Head of Geology at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences in University College Cork. “Whenever we get a chance to get out there, we always find something new which changes our perspective on how this planet functions.”
The Atlantic Summer School includes a one-day sea survival training course for marine science students at the National Maritime College of Ireland in Cork, as well as distance learning and pre- and post-survey workshops at UCC and NUI Galway.
“This pooled infrastructure and expertise from Ireland and Germany’s higher education institutes provides an incredible chance for postgraduates to get the necessary practical experience and develop networking opportunities they need early in their careers,” said Prof Karen Wiltshire, vice-president of AWI.
“We are all delighted to be part of this strategic collaboration, which will ultimately develop career pathways and mobility for students between the island of Ireland and Germany and increase multidisciplinary research capacity in Atlantic nations.”
Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan congratulated all involved in the initiative, saying: “It’s essential to learn more about the ocean as it the life support system for our planet. We’re proud to be part of this and to support this unique training opportunity for our future ocean explorers.”
The 2015 Atlantic Summer School will take place onboard the RV Polarstern on an Atlantic meridional transect from Bremerhaven, Germany to Cape Town, South Africa and will provide eight Irish marine science students with the opportunity to conduct research.