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New Seabed Geomorphology Map ‘Will Support Marine Science and Offshore Development’

13th January 2024
The Marine Institute has released a new high-resolution geomorphology map for most of the Irish continental shelf to support ocean science, environment and biodiversity management and offshore renewable energy development
The Marine Institute has released a new high-resolution geomorphology map for most of the Irish continental shelf to support ocean science, environment and biodiversity management and offshore renewable energy development

The Marine Institute has released a new high-resolution geomorphology map on Ireland’s Marine Atlas for most of the Irish continental shelf to support ocean science, environment and biodiversity management and offshore renewable energy development.

Geomorphology is the scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them.

The project, funded via the Marine Institute research grant scheme, has been developed in collaboration with the Marine Geoscience Research Group in UCC and the Geological Survey Ireland.

Through the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications funded Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS 2003-2006) and INFOMAR programmes (2006-2026), over 90% of the seafloor within Ireland’s designated and extended continental shelf area, which is in excess of 714,000 km², has been surveyed in high resolution by Geological Survey Ireland and Marine Institute.

This extensive dataset has enabled numerous research groups to delve into the transformative forces that have shaped our ocean seabed over time, including glaciations, sea level changes, currents and tides.

The combination of high-quality data, the application of advanced semi-automated mapping techniques and the recent development of international classification standards has offered the opportunity to create the most detailed and comprehensive geomorphological map of the Irish continental shelf to date.

Classification of all seabed features has undergone rigorous validation, drawing from an extensive body of scientific literature spanning the past three decades. By applying a consistent approach nationally, the map provides a unique resource to inform on a range of pressing issues within the marine environment.

Seabed mapping plays a pivotal role in addressing future challenges for the development and protection of the Irish offshore region.

Ireland’s Marine Atlas

While bathymetry data (eg water depth) alone provide a fundamental metric for many applications, geoscientists can add significant value by providing further data, analysis, and knowledge to better characterise the seabed.

The Marine Institute says this new geomorphology map is a prime example of how to transform scientific data into an important digital reference for policymakers, marine industries (eg offshore renewables, fisheries and aquaculture) and future marine scientists.

Marine spatial planning and resource management decisions will continue to be informed by the increasing range of digital products produced by the Marine Institute and partners.

Examples of practical application of geomorphology include decision support for the optimal placement of new offshore infrastructure; decommissioning of existing structures with considerations for their potential impacts on marine ecosystems; identification of constraints related to potential offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS); designation of future marine protected areas; and the development of more accurate models for coastal change and resilience.

The primary results of this initiative comprise 10 GIS layers that not only show the extent and location of thousands of seabed features but also detail the geological characteristics and environmental conditions responsible for their formation.

These data are now freely accessible and integrated into Ireland’s Marine Atlas under the Geology theme.

Ireland’s Marine Atlas, developed and maintained by the Marine Institute with funding from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, serves as a comprehensive resource for viewing and downloading marine environmental data relevant to Ireland's reporting obligations under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

A full description of the geomorphology mapping methodologies, the classification scheme and the outputs are available. A scientific peer reviewed article describing the mapping process and outcome has also been published in the Journal of Maps. Team

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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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