Wednesday 28 September 2016

Irish scientists map Atlantic's sea mountains

Claire McCormack

Published 20/03/2016 | 02:30

AMBITIOUS: Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute. Photo: Damien Eagers
AMBITIOUS: Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute. Photo: Damien Eagers

It's said that mankind now knows more about the surface of the Moon and Mars than we know about the deep sea floor but now Irish scientists are playing a key role in unlocking the secrets of the Atlantic Ocean.

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A team of European, Canadian and American ocean exploration experts, led by Thomas Furey of the Marine Institute, have already discovered previously uncharted features of the Atlantic, including a spectacular range of ridges and under-sea mountains taller than our highest mountain, Carrauntoohil.

That mapping project, using the State's research vessel, RV Celtic Explorer, was one of the first to be carried out by the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance. AORA was set up three years ago on foot of the signing of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Co-operation.

The main aim of the marine research resources of Europe, Canada and the US is to better understand the North Atlantic Ocean and promote sustainable management of its resources, particularly in the face of climate change.

And last week, as part of the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington DC, there was a further major step forward in the international co-operation initiative.

At the event, Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute, outlined the achievements so far and the ambitious plans ahead.

He also revealed that two more mapping expeditions will take place in the Atlantic later this year, when it is hoped that the Celtic Explorer will be joined by vessels from other nations.

It is a major undertaking.

During the last coast-to-coast seabed mapping, an international survey team joined the Celtic Explorer in St John's Newfoundland.

The team gathered information on the seafloor, depth, hardness and sediment cover, while at the same time acquiring valuable information on temperature, salinity and fluoresence.

They also surveyed the area of the Atlantic which is known as the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone.

These two parallel valleys and ridges are deep-water passages that provide the only submarine highway for deep-sea marine life between the northeast and northwest Atlantic.

Scientists believe that the zone is central to the mixing of cold nutrient rich southern bound waters and warmer nutrient poor northern bound waters and is home to a diverse array of marine life.

The stakes are particularly high in the search for knowledge of Earth's second-largest ocean.

Mapping the ocean will help define favourable habitats for fishing, key sites for conservation and safe navigation for shipping.

Sunday Independent

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