“Ireland’s Climate is Driven by the Atlantic,” Committee told.

Marine Science is the Key to Understanding Climate Change

Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security today (8th May) visited Galway for detailed briefings on the Marine Institute’s programme to understand the key drivers of climate change in Ireland by studying forces at work in the Atlantic Ocean. The delegation, which included Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Paudie Coffey, Deputies Simon Coveney, Ciaran Cuffe, Andrew Doyle and Liz McManus, as well as the Committee Chairman Seán Barrett and Clerk Michael McKenna, also spent time at sea during a visit to the ocean energy wave power test site at Spiddal Co. Galway. This site, which is operated jointly by the Institute and Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), is part of the national programme to encourage the exploitation of renewable sources of energy. 

“The behaviour of the Gulf Stream and other important Atlantic currents have a direct impact on our weather,” said Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Institute. “This in turn effects food production, both at sea and on the land, as well as extreme oceanic events, such as high waves and tides. This is why we’re working with key partners in government, the third level sector and industry to develop a major flagship initiative to position Ireland as a global leader in the development and use of new technologies such as Smartbay—which uses wireless aquatic sensor networks to monitor the marine environment—as well as underwater observatory systems to understand and measure the pace and impact of new trends in our ocean environment caused by climate change.”

The Committee also witnessed an example of the application of technology to the challenge of sustainable energy production during its visit to the OE Buoy, a quarter scale prototype designed and built by the Cork-based company Ocean Energy Ltd, currently under test at the Galway Bay site.

Another device, developed by Wavebob Ltd., has also been tested on the site in recent months. This sustainable energy device generates electricity from the rise and fall of a semi-submerged chamber within a floating collar. The Marine Institute has undertaken extensive work on the location for a second, grid-connected test site, off the west coast, where full scale wave energy devices can be trialled.

The Committee will attend a further briefing on other aspects of the Marine Institute’s work on ocean climate change and marine resource management at the Institute’s headquarters and laboratory facilities at Oranmore, Co. Galway tomorrow (9th May).

“Research into the effects of climate change on the North Atlantic is therefore one of the most important work programmes being undertaken by the Marine Institute. “It is only through this kind of collaborative approach that we can ever hope to develop a holistic ecosystem approach to the present and future management of our fisheries and ocean resources,” said Dr. Heffernan.

These projects are all part of the national programme Sea Change – A Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013, which is being co-ordinated by the Institute. Its objective is to apply the tools of research and innovation to boost Ireland’s marine economy from its present value of €3 billion per annum to €4.5 billion within seven years.


Notes to the Editor

Project Partners
The Marine Institute is currently working with the following state agencies to develop new technologies, such as SmartBay, for ocean monitoring:

  • Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food
  • Higher Education Authority
  • Enterprise Ireland
  • Industrial Development Authority
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Science Foundation Ireland
  • Department of Energy Communications and Natural Resources
  • Department of Environment and Local Government
  • Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Climate Change and the Sea

One of the greatest challenges currently facing human populations in the 21st century is climate change brought about by global warming. Regarding the oceans and seas, the potential large-scale impacts of global warming include physical effects such as; an increase in sea-level and sea-surface temperatures, decreases in sea ice cover, and changes in salinity, alkalinity, wave climate and ocean circulation. Consequences of these changes include not only physical effects such as increased storminess and coastal flooding but also changes in the distribution of marine animals and plants. These include invasive species, such as microbes and pathogens, as well as commercially important fish and shellfish, many of which are the backbone of Ireland’s fishing and fish farming industries and the subject of dedicated research programmes within the Marine Institute.

Such programmes include an ambitious project to develop an “Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management”—which is being undertaken by the Institute, along with industry and research partners—as well as SALSEA, an international project to look at the behaviour of salmon at sea, which will be sailing from Killybegs aboard the RV Celtic Explorer on a major scientific mission into the North Atlantic later this month.

Although there can be no certainty regarding the precise nature and rate of changes to Ireland’s marine environment, it is clear that changes brought about by climate change have the potential to cause serious social, economic and environmental impacts.

The vision of Sea Change with regard to climate change is that, by 2020, Ireland will be a key player in European-North Atlantic climate change modelling, predication and scenario development. Also, as part of a pan-European-North Atlantic network, Ireland will be using sophisticated climate prediction models, drawing data from real-time in-situ ocean and coastal monitoring stations, to prepare reliable local climate impact predictions, including warnings on storm surges, coastal inundation and flooding, and species movements and migrations.

This work will enable climate change predictions and scenarios to be used routinely in all large-scale, medium-to-long-term social, economic and environmental development strategies, which will enable Ireland to anticipate and benefit from climatic induced environmental changes, while avoiding the negative aspects of climate change.

To realise this vision, Sea Change has already set concrete objectives to be achieved by 2013. These include; an increased understanding of the drivers and regulators of climate so as to improve the accuracy and reliability of predictive models, and a downscaling of  global climate model predictions to the regional/local level in order to refine local impact scenarios. It is also intended to develop and use both physical indicators such as temperature and salinity readings, as well as biological information such as species shifts as measures of climate change, and to include climate change scenarios in all major social, economic and environmental strategies.

Ireland is already making progress towards these objectives as follows by harnessing the considerable number of long term marine and aquatic data sets already held by the Institute to assess potential rapid climate change effects over time. Those data sets include detailed information on ocean currents, marine chemistry and the distribution of marine species, unique records of salmon and eel migration, along with water temperature and salinity from the Burrishoole river catchment near Newport Co. Mayo.

The Institute is also already involved in a number of international studies on climate change, both in marine and freshwater and has recently embarked on oceanographic studies in the mid-Atlantic at the interface between the warm North Atlantic Drift current and the colder northern seas.


SmartBay is a plan to install a network of environmental and oceanographic sensors in Galway Bay. This initiative aims to create a leading capability in Ireland for novel environmental technologies that provide real-time information by cable and wireless  on a wide range of parameters to scientists, the public and monitoring agencies without the costly and time-consuming sampling missions normally associated with marine environmental monitoring. The data will also be made available on a public access website so that fishermen, sailors, swimmers and anyone with an interest in conditions in the Bay can make more informed decisions. Parameters to be monitored will include, amongst many others, Bay weather, wave heights, temperature, and phytoplankton. 

Energy from the Sea

Ireland’s offshore renewable energy resources, in the form of wave and offshore wind, are considered as being among the best in the world and represent, with the exception of the recently commissioned Arklow offshore wind farm, a resource that is completely unexploited. Sea Change envisages that, given the continuing rise in the price of energy and the rise in demand for cleaner energy, by the year 2020 the commercial prospects for renewable ocean energy will be clearly established.

It suggests that, as a result of  pro-active investment in research, demonstration and development, Ireland could be a world leader in the manufacture and use of ocean energy systems creating over 800 jobs and an annual market for the sale of devices, both at home and overseas, of  €144 million a year, rising to over €400 million a year and the creation of  2,000 jobs by 2025. In addition, Ireland will be generating over 500  Megawatts from ocean energy devices by 2020.

It will create this wealth by developing research and technical support capabilities in the third-level sector, by providing a range of R&D and capital support measures for the developers of ocean energy devices and by establishing open-sea test sites for prototype trials.

As a series of concrete objectives, Sea Change proposes that, by 2013, Ireland will be recognised as a Centre of Excellence in Renewable Ocean Energy research and will have established competence in a number of key areas including model testing and performance validation, mooring design, hydrodynamics and modelling, wave forecasting and power take-off technologies to bring the energy ashore.

Three research groups (approximately 23 researchers), currently funded through a number of mechanisms e.g. Marine NDP and DCMNR Parsons Energy Award, , are already actively involved in wave and tidal energy research at University College Cork, University of Limerick and NUI Maynooth. Between them they are researching such topics as tidal current research, the development of wave energy devices, control and electrical systems for ocean energy systems, physical and numerical modelling and the optimal formation of arrays of wave power devices.

Because of its exposed position in the north-east corner of the Atlantic Ocean, Ireland has one of the most energetic wave climates in the world, matched only by the north-west coast of America. According to a report produced by Ireland and the SEI in 2005 and an atlas of wave energy produced by the Marine Institute and the ESB, up to 59 TerraWatt hours (59 million megawatt hours) per year of electricity are practically accessible from wave energy reaching the west coast of Ireland. This is in excess of predicted All-Ireland gross electrical consumption of 44 TWh per annum for 2010.

On a European scale, up to 20 million homes in Europe could be powered by clean, renewable energy from the sea, according to ocean energy expert Teresa Pontes of Portugal, speaking at the EurOcean marine science and policy event in Galway, hosted by the Marine Institute during Ireland’s EU presidency in 2004. She estimated that, by harnessing energy from waves and ocean currents, Europe could produce around 200 TerraWatt hours per year of electrical power.