Marine Institute

Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance launches first trans-Atlantic mapping survey

June 2, 2015


Ireland's research vessel RV Celtic Explorer is the platform for the trans-Atlantic surveyA multi-national team of European, Canadian, and American ocean mapping experts launch the first trans-Atlantic mapping survey under the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (1 June 2015).

The survey is one of the first projects to be launched by the Alliance, formed in May 2013 following the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation, whose goals are to join resources of its three signatories to better understand the North Atlantic Ocean and to promote the sustainable management of its resources.

Under this new era of cooperation on ocean research, Canada’s Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland will use the Irish research vessel, RV Celtic Explorer, to map the seafloor between St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada and Galway, Ireland.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has invested approximately $5 million in RV Celtic Explorer expeditions since 2010 to support fisheries science activities. The vessel has just completed this year’s fisheries survey and is returning to Ireland providing the additional opportunity for this trans-Atlantic mapping survey.

Together, with scientists from Ireland’s national seabed mapping programme, INFOMAR, at the Marine Institute and Geological Survey of Ireland, and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), the team will use multi-beam echo sounders onboard the vessel to collect ocean mapping data during the transect.

The team will gather information on the physical characteristics of the seafloor, such as water depth, hardness, roughness, and the presence of geohazards. The structure and composition of the near subsurface are key considerations for shipping safety, development-related seabed engineering and sustainable fisheries. The survey will broadly follow the great circle route between Ireland and Newfoundland where the first trans-Atlantic cable was deployed in 1857. The team hopes to map the location where the cable was dropped in the mid-Atlantic, which happened to coincide with the most dramatic topographic feature in the North Atlantic, the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone.

“The North Atlantic Ocean is crucial to the ecological, economic, and societal health and resilience of North America, Europe and the Arctic regions and the data we collect will be vital to understanding how we move forward together to ensure its sustainability,” said Glenn Blackwood, vice-president, Marine Institute of Memorial University (Newfoundland). “We are pleased to lend our ocean mapping expertise in this field and contribute in such a meaningful way for our shared benefit.”

“We are happy to see Canadian federal, provincial and academic participation in the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance,” said the Honourable Gail Shea, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. “The contribution of so many Canadian scientific experts in this important international initiative demonstrates Canada’s commitment to the Atlantic Ocean and the Galway Agreement.”

“We are proud to be part of the first trilateral expedition under the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance,” said Kathryn Sullivan, U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “By collaborating fully within this agreement, we will contribute essential scientific knowledge and ensure our shared Atlantic Ocean remains healthy and productive.”

“This is an exciting opportunity to identify some important sites on the Atlantic seabed. It marks the beginning of an Atlantic research mapping collaboration between the US, Canada and Europe. We hope to build on next year in 2016 and subsequent years when Ireland’s RV Celtic Explorer will be joined by research vessels from Norway and the USA”, said Dr. Peter Heffernan, Marine Institute, Ireland.

Speaking at the announcement of the survey in Brussels in April 2015, Simon Coveney, Irish Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, said, “Information from the sea-floor is vital to the sustainable management of the Atlantic as well as to important industries such as fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. Ireland has developed a world-leading reputation for sea-bed mapping and is also very committed to the implementation of the Galway Statement and so I am delighted Ireland's state-of the art research vessel-RV Celtic Explorer is the platform for the survey."

"The collaborative mapping of the Atlantic Ocean by Canada, the US and Europe is an important initiative which, as a provincial government, we are proud to support," said the Honourable Darin King, Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development. "This tangible initiative builds on the work my department has been undertaking to facilitate partnerships and economic opportunities between Newfoundland and Labrador and Ireland and on a broader scale between Canada, the US and Europe."

Planning for the survey began in December 2014 when the first seabed mapping event took place in Dublin, Ireland followed by a second meeting in February 2015 in Brussels, Belgium. 

First Collaborative Atlantic Seabed Mapping by Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance from Marine Institute on Vimeo.

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