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Self Isolating Scientists Head to Sea on Celtic Explorer

26th April 2020
These photos from the previous expedition in 2018 show the scientists going out to lay the sensors which they are now heading out to sea to collect These photos from the previous expedition in 2018 show the scientists going out to lay the sensors which they are now heading out to sea to collect

A team of scientists who have been self-isolating like astronauts for the past fortnight set sail from Galway at the weekend on an unusual mission.

Six researchers from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) and 15 crew on Marine Institute’s Celtic Explorer will retrieve a network of ocean bottom sensors which were deployed across the entire Irish offshore area 18 months ago.

Ireland’s earthquake activity and data on more distant seismic events, along with the movements of migratory whales, were measured by the 18 seismometers, which must now be retrieved from the ocean.

Strict social distancing measures will be applied on the ship, with staggered meal times and no access to the gym or sauna for the first two weeks of the three-week voyage.

The scientists travelled by private bus directly from their individual homes, and will all have separate cabins as part of the protocol to protect against the Covid-19 virus.

sensor marine instituteA sensor being deployed in 2018 - The technology aims to record Irish offshore earthquakes

As Afloat reported at the time, the sensors were deployed from the Marine Institute ship in September 2018 by a team led by Dr Sergei Lebedev, a seismologist with the DIAS.

DIAS school of cosmic physics director Prof Chris Bean says the deployment was “by far the most comprehensive in both Europe and the north-east Atlantic”.

“There are specific seismically-active zones where clusters of these types of instruments have been placed before, but this is a first for Ireland,” Prof Bean said.

The sensors aimed to record Irish offshore earthquakes, and research how the earth’s oceans are pressurising the sea floor in really deep water, with big storms possibly triggering submarine landslides and tsunamis.

“The seismometers also have a pressure sensor which can record sound waves in the water – as in whales, dolphins or industrial sounds,” Prof Bean explained.

The deployment was part of the SEA-SEIS project, which aimed to measure movements on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean and register acoustic waves in the water.

“Ninety per cent of Ireland’s territory is offshore, most of it to the west of Ireland. Hidden beneath the waves, there are spectacular mountains, deep valleys, and many extinct volcanoes, similar to those that formed the Giant’s Causeway,”Dr Lebedev said.

The network of seismometers were deployed across an area spanning over 1,500 kilometres from north to south and over 1,000 kilometres from east to west, with some sensors in British and Icelandic and in Ireland’s offshore territory.

“Our mission with this expedition is to retrieve these hugely valuable seismometers, so we can begin the exciting process of analysing the data they have gathered,” Dr Lebedev said.

“This data will shed light on the nature and history of the ocean floor along Ireland’s coast and on the life and movements of the great baleen whales of the North Atlantic,” Dr Lebedev said.

DIAS and the Geological Survey Ireland run the State’s terrestrial network of seismometers to study ground vibrations, ranging from small movements caused by local activities like quarry blasts to large global earthquakes picked up on the Irish network.

The offshore array is a temporary arrangement, Dr Lebedev said.

“This is the first time ever such a large array was deployed, so the data is quite unique and of huge value and that’s why we have to go now.”

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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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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