Mountains in the Atlantic Ocean mapped by multinational team on Celtic Explorer

Image of a 3D animation of the largest feature mapped in the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone, extending 3708m above the surrounding seabed. The shallowest depth is 979m below sea surface, with depths of 4687m recorded at the base some 20km away.  Note the legend is depth rather than height. The triangle is a single slice (swathe) of multibeam data acquired from the ship on the sea surface, moving along its survey track – the white line.A multi-national team of European, Canadian, and American ocean exploration experts lead by Thomas Furey, Marine Institute, has revealed previously uncharted features on the Atlantic seabed including mountains and ridges taller than Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest mountain.

The survey onboard Ireland's national research vessel, the RV Celtic Explorer, is one of the first projects to be launched by the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance formed following the signing of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation between Canada, the EU and the US in May 2013. Its 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.

The team from Marine Institute and Geological Survey of Ireland (INFOMAR -national seabed mapping programme), the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), used the latest multi-beam echo sounder technology on the Celtic Explorer to create high resolution images of dramatic seabed features.

3D perspective of the ridge, from West to East, overlain on previously available GEBCO data.They uncovered 235km2 of iceberg scarred seabed, ancient glacial moraine features, and buried sediment channels on the Newfoundland and Labrador shelf. They charted a 15km long down-slope channel feature on the western Atlantic continental slope, most likely formed by meltwater run-off associated with ice cap grounding during the last glaciation, approximately 20,000 years ago. They crossed the dramatic Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge creating a 3D visualisation of a 3.7km high underwater mountain. Continuing eastward a straight asymmetric ridge feature came to life standing proud from the flat seabed over 140km long, peaking at 1108m high, taller than Carrauntoohil.

Overview of the Atlantic Transect, numbers correspond to features below, and associated images.The ambitious survey route included an area off Newfoundland and Labrador where cold water corals and sponges are known to occur and crossed the OSPAR designated Marine Protected Area in the dramatic topography of the central Atlantic. It also targeted the drop location for the first trans-Atlantic telecommunications cable laid in 1858 between Ireland and Newfoundland, and set out to groundtruth seafloor features identified through satellite altimetry research in the last two years.

"This survey marks the beginning of an exciting Atlantic research mapping collaboration between the US, Canada and Europe. It shows what can be achieved when we pool our resources, sharing knowledge, infrastructure and technology. And we hope to build on this next year, when Ireland's R.V. Celtic Explorer will be joined by research vessels from Norway and the USA, and in subsequent years", said Dr. Peter Heffernan, Marine Institute, Ireland.

"Seeing dramatic seabed features reveal themselves for the first time was a real highlight of the survey" said Tommy Furey, Chief Scientist, Marine Institute, Ireland. "We need to better understand the features that make up the ocean seabed. With global population and seafood demand spiralling, we need to map our seabed to define favourable habitats for fishing, key sites for conservation, and safe navigation for shipping. Map it, manage it, and mind it."

The survey was part funded by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador which has invested approximately $5 million in RV Celtic Explorer expeditions since 2010 to support fisheries science activities. The vessel had just completed the annual fisheries survey in Newfoundland and Labrador, which provided the opportunity to embark on the trans-Atlantic mapping survey on the return journey to Ireland.

Results from the Atlantic Transect will be presented at the Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth conference July 10-11th, 2015 in Cork, and at the Seabed Mapping Working Group meeting preceding the event on July 9th.

Survey team with Dr Peter Heffernan on Celtic Explorer

 L-R: Kirk Regular, Fisheries & Marine Institute of Memorial University, Tommy Furey, Dr Peter Heffernan, Fabio Sacchetti, Marine Institute, Marcos Miguel Páscoa Parreira Rosa, Instituto Portugues do Mar e da Atmosfera (IPMA)


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

For more information please contact Lisa Fitzpatrick, Communications Manager, Marine Institute 087 2250871 or

Update: 9th June, 17:00hrs updated story with date change of the first trans-Atlantic telecommunications cable laid in 1858 between Ireland and Newfoundland, and not 1857 as stated earlier.

Notes to Editors

Related news releases:

Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance Launch, 24 May 2013:

Announcement of first trans-Atlantic Mapping Survey, Brussels 16 April,2015:

Transatlantic Seabed Mapping Survey launch, St. Johns Newfoundland, Monday 1st June 2015:

Background to the survey
The survey is one of the first projects to be launched by the Alliance, formed in May 2013 following the signing of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation between Canada, the EU and the US. The three signatories agreed a common goal to jointly undertake the challenge to better understand the North Atlantic Ocean, and to promote the sustainable management of its resources.

In February this year, at the first meeting of the newly formed Atlantic Seabed Mapping Working Group, a key component of the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance, plans for a 2016 Pilot Atlantic Seabed Survey were first discussed. Demonstrating intent over aspiration, and facilitated by a longstanding relationship between the Marine Institute and Geological Survey of Ireland and the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, the R.V. Celtic Explorer was made available by Ireland to undertake seabed mapping during its return passage from a Memorial University fisheries research charter in Newfoundland.

While the broad intent was to pave the path to the 2016 seabed survey initiative and future Atlantic projects for better ocean management, the specific aims of the Atlantic Transect survey were to:

• Undertake a collaborative EU, US, & Canadian multibeam echo sounder (MBES) survey.
• Produce seabed terrain data and visualization products, both for science, and the public.
• Identify key recommendations and features for investigation during the forthcoming seabed mapping pilot survey(s).
• Encourage seabed mapping related EU, US, Canadian research, data and operational collaboration.
• Create momentum and interest in mapping a largely unsurveyed Atlantic Ocean.

To undertake the Atlantic Transect coast to coast seabed mapping, a multibeam survey team joined the vessel in St. John's, Newfoundland, representing each of the signatories to the Galway Statement – the Fisheries and Marine Institute for Canada, NOAA for the US, and IPMA (Portugal) and Marine Institute (Ireland) representing the EU. The Irish lead survey is supported by INFOMAR staff, who work on the Geological Survey of Ireland and Marine Institute jointly managed seabed mapping programme (Integrated mapping For the sustainable development of Ireland's Marine Resource), funded by Ireland's Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

The team gathered information on the physical characteristics of the seafloor, such as depth, hardness, and sediment cover, while also acquiring valuable oceanographic data including temperature, salinity, and fluorescence. The Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone surveyed in part by the R.V. Celtic Explorer team, is central to the mixing of cold nutrient rich southern bound waters, and warmer nutrient poor northern bound waters, and is home to complex ecosystems and a diverse array of marine life.

The fracture zone comprises two parallel valleys and ridges, extending from the tops of seamounts at 700-800 m depth, and plunging down to depths of 4500 m along the valley's seafloor. These unique deepwater passages provide the only submarine highway for deep sea marine life between the North-East and North-West Atlantic. They also coincide with an unfortunate drop location selection for the 1858 telecommunications cable deployment, it is little wonder it took several attempts and repairs before the first successful message was transmitted in 1858, and the first truly operational cable was in place in 1866, the 150th anniversary of which will take place next year.

Statements from previous related announcements:
"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, Memorial University (Marine Institute). "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."

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."

Additional Resources:

Seabed Mapping & Multibeam

Satellite Altimetry

Audio Visual Ocean Exploration Links