DIAS launches research project exploring the Atlantic Ocean floor

17 Sep 2018

Atlantic Ocean at Doolin, Co Clare. Image: Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

Researchers at DIAS are leading a project to monitor the mysterious depths of the Atlantic Ocean floor over the next two years.

The town of Cobh in Co Cork was the scene for a major deep-ocean research project launch today (17 September). Researchers from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) will launch and deploy a grand total of 18 state-of-the-art ocean bottom seismometers to measure movement at the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of kilometres from Ireland’s coast.

The network of seismometers will cover the entire Irish offshore area, with several sensors also being placed in Iceland and the UK’s waters. The equipment will remain in place for the next two years, collecting data on the nature and history of the vast and often mysterious floor of Ireland’s coast.

The equipment will be deployed on a mission on the RV Celtic Explorer over the next three weeks from today, with the ship returning to dock in Galway on 7 October 2018. The SEA-SEIS project is led by Dr Sergei Lebedev.

Fascinating mystery of Ireland’s offshore territory

Speaking at today’s launch, Chris Bean, senior professor of geophysics and director of the DIAS School of Cosmic Physics, said: “The geological evolution of Ireland’s offshore territory is fascinating, but there is still so much of it to be explored.

“As originally discovered by DIAS and collaborators in the late 1980s, and subsequently confirmed by the Marine Institute/Geological Survey Ireland, Ireland has an ocean territory 10 times larger than its terrestrial landmass.

“There are geological, oceanographic and biological processes that interact on a daily basis in this vast territory but, until now, have been poorly understood due to a lack of observational equipment. For the first time, through the SEA-SEIS project, we will be able to make long-term direct observations of the interactions between our oceans and solid Earth in this region.”

DIAS says Ireland is well suited to deep-sea research

Lebedev commented: “Ireland is uniquely suited to this type of deep-sea science, as 90pc of the Irish territory is offshore, most of it to the west of Ireland.”

He added that the sensors will record the minuscule vibrations of the Earth caused by seismic waves, earthquakes and ocean waves. “As the waves propagate through the Earth’s interior on their way to the seismic stations, they accumulate information on the structure of the Earth that they encounter,” Lebedev said. “Using this data, the scientists at DIAS can do a 3D scan of the matter beneath the Earth’s surface. We will discover how the structure of the tectonic plates varies and what happens beneath these plates.”

In the run-up to the launch of the SEA-SEIS project, the scientists at DIAS invited suggestions for names for the seismometers from secondary schools across the country. Each seismometer will have a name, proposed by one of the schools from across Ireland, labelled on them, as they reach the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

Through ongoing social media output and ship-to-classroom video links, schools will be able to follow the progress of the RV Celtic Explorer and the deployment of the seismometers over the next three weeks. This project is made possible using the network of ocean bottom seismometers, which will be provided by iMARL (Insitu Marine Laboratory for Geosystems Research) and hosted by DIAS. The SEA-SEIS project is co-funded by Science Foundation Ireland, Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects