Major Conference to Discuss Tsunami Warning Systems

A top-level international conference, to discuss the application of real-time ocean observation networks, to monitor such events as tsunamis and other natural phenomena, is being hosted by the Marine Institute in Dublin Castle from the 8th - 10th February and opened by Marine Minister Mr. Pat “the Cope” Gallagher T.D.

The Scientific Submarine Cable (SSC) ’06 conference brings together world class speakers, including scientists who have explored the deepest points of the ocean in submersibles, examined the magnetic fluctuations of the earth’s crust in the hope of predicting earthquakes and notably, used deep-sea observatories to predict tsunamis - huge tidal waves that can wreck coastlines and cause massive fatalities - just as the south-east Asian tsunami did in December 2004. The SSC’06 Conference is organised by the Marine Institute and the IEEE Ocean Engineering Society and sponsored by a number of bodies including Alcatel, Enterprise Ireland and Maripro.

Speaking at the opening of the event, the Chief Executive of the Marine Institute, Dr. Peter Heffernan said that the choice of Dublin as a venue for this international event was yet another example of Ireland’s growing reputation in the application of high technology to the sustainable management of the oceans. “Ireland has made an incredible leap in the past fifteen years in terms of ocean technology,” he said. “The Irish marine science community can now boast two state-of-the-art research vessels and, coming on stream this year, a world-class laboratory headquarters for the Institute at Oranmore, Co. Galway. These facilities give Ireland the infrastructural foundation upon which to embark on strategic programme of targeted research and innovation, funded under the next NDP, that can lead to a transformation of Ireland’s ability to harness the potential of marine resources in harmony with the ecosystem”

While earthquakes and tidal waves may seem far removed from a seemingly stable environment like Ireland, this country is no stranger to the impact of tidal waves. On November 1st, 1755, a series of tsunamis lasting more than seven hours tore at the south west coast of Ireland, wrecking fishing boats around Kinsale and even damaging coastal buildings as far north as Galway Bay. Indeed, findings from the recent Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS), undertaken by the Marine Institute in partnership with the Geological Survey of Ireland and others, has already revealed a very substantial rockslide in the Atlantic Deeps which would have caused an enormous tsunami in bygone years, the effects of which are clearly visible on the coastlines of Northwest Ireland and Scotland. In more recent times, the condition of the Cumbre Vieja volcano near La Palma in the Azores area is giving scientists cause for concern.

This potential for tsunami formation around the European coastline has already prompted the EU to fast track a number of scientific initiatives aimed at predicting such events as a. component of the European GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) to provide strategic long term monitoring capability in geophysics, geotechnics, chemistry, biochemistry, oceanography, biology and fisheries.

ESONET is a proposed sub sea component of the GMES. To provide representative sampling around Europe, 10 regional networks are proposed in contrasting oceanographic regions. When complete, some 5,000 km of fibre optic sub-sea cables will link land based observatories to similar units on the ocean floor right around the European coast at an estimated cost of 130 - 220 M€.

The ESONIM Project which is a fully EU funded Specific Support Action builds on and brings forward the results of the ESONET Project. ESONIM will produce a practical, flexible business plan to establish a seafloor observatory based on the ESONET Porcupine site. The business plan will include the technical specifications of the observatory components; the observatory architecture that will deliver the best technical solution; a ten year cash flow forecast for the observatory including CAPEX (Capital Expenditure), OPEX (Operating Expenditure) and projected revenue; and draft contracts and partnership agreements that will address the share of financial risk and insurance liability between the private and public sector partners (PPPs) in the observatory. While the plan will be based on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain site, the plan will be implementable at any or all of the other ESONET sites.

The consortium of 9 European bodies and companies, including three Irish companies and the Marine Institute which is the Project Co-ordinator and comprises experts in cabled observatory technology, specialists in building appropriate business models for financing major infrastructure projects (capital expenditure and recurrent revenue streams), legal experts on public private partnerships and large infrastructure procurement and a distinguished body of international research scientists and monitoring agencies to precisely define the required measurements and outputs expected from a European cabled seafloor observatory.

The deliverables from ESONIM will provide a technical/legal/financial basis for European Member States to evaluate and implement a European Seafloor observatory network as a crucial component of the EU GMES Initiative.

The ESONIM project co-ordinator, Mr. Michael Gillooly of the Marine Institute, Ireland notes  ‘At the Eurocean event on 13 May, 2004 the Minister for Marine, Communications and Natural Resources, requested the Institute to lead a proposal for a multinational partnership to establish a sub-sea cabled observatory in the Porcupine area. There are many indications that this type of technical project will be the forerunner for a technology that will become widely used for marine monitoring activities in the future, e.g. Water Framework Directive and the potential exists to create an Irish industrial capability in many of the niche technologies that comprise these systems, especially in the areas of fibre optics components, sensor systems and data management software.’

The Marine Institute is the Irish semi-state body mandated to spearhead all aspects of marine research and development leading to the sustainable development of Ireland’s 220 million acres of underwater territory. Set up under the 1991 Marine Institute Act, the MI has developed into an agency with almost 200 staff, two research vessels - Celtic Voyager and Celtic Explorer - and a purpose-built laboratory / headquarters that will open next month at Oranmore, Co. Galway. The Institute, in wide consultation with all members of the Irish marine science community, has also drafted a comprehensive marine research and development strategy for the next seven years, which it has presented to government.

Among the international experts speaking at SSC’06 are:

Professor Hiroyuki Matsumoto of the Deep-Sea-Research Department at JAMSTEC (the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology) who has experience of deep-sea observatory systems in the prediction of tsunamis. On 5th September 2004, two moderate-to-large earthquakes occurred off central Japan and both generated tsunamis that were successfully detected in advance by underwater sensors. Professor Matsumoto suggests that the probability of a major earthquake taking place in Japan waters in the next 30 years is greater than 50%, which could cause tsunamis along the southern coast of South-Western Japan inflicting thousands of casualties.

Professor John Delaney of the University of Washington and Programme Director of the NEPTUNE project - a futuristic combination of fibre-optic cables, remotely operated robotic systems, satellite communications and thousands of sensing instruments to enable an unprecedented flow of real-time information about conditions on the ocean floor. Using the Internet, NEPTUNE will enable real-time data to flow to land-based laboratories and classrooms around the world, while commands to instruments and underwater robots will flow from the shore to the ocean. Professor Delaney has already dived to the deepest parts of the ocean in the submarine ALVIN and successfully recovered volcanic material from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Professor Alan Chave of the Deep Submergence Laboratory of the Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on the east coast of the United States - the largest academic oceanographic institution in the world. Professor Chave was a visiting professor at the Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo and has spent the last 20 years measuring, analysing and interpreting electromagnetic fields in the ocean with a view to predicting in the mantle of the earth.