Ocean Explorers gather at Marine Institute, Oranmore


Speakers at the Research Vessel Users Conference included (L-R) Mr Aodhan Fitzgerald, Manager, Research Vessels Operations, Marine Institute; Rosemarie Butler, Research Vessel Operations, Marine Institute; Kevin Sheehan, Advanced Mapping Services, Marine Institute; Dr Florian Le Pape, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; Dr Jens Carlsson, UCD and Mekayla Dale, Advanced Mapping Services / Ulster University.The Marine Institute held the second bi-annual research vessel users conference today (28th April) at its headquarters in Oranmore, Galway  to discuss the vast range of capabilities of both the RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager after their 2015 refits, as well as the use of the remotely operated vehicle, ROV Holland 1.

Director Mick Gillooly of Ocean Science and Information Services, Marine Institute, welcomed the attendance of over 70 marine scientists and researchers who will go to sea on the national research vessels this year. He said:  “The demand for survey time on the national research vessels and the quality marine research being carried out across the country shows that Ireland’s scientists are answering the call to better understand our oceans.”

“At a time when we can all see the impacts of climate change, it’s more important than ever to carry out research at sea, including oceanography, fisheries, and environmental monitoring.”

The conference provided information about using high resolution multi-beam mapping, the capabilities of the ROV Holland 1 on surveys as well as key speaker’s experiences using the equipment.

Dr Florian Le Pape of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) spoke about the deployment of an Ocean Bottom Seismometer (OBS) network off the Irish shelf as far as the Rockall Trough. Dr Le Pape recently deployed 10 Broad Band OBSs from the RV Celtic Explorer as part of an innovative research program between DIAS, the Helmholtz Centre GFZ Potsdam, Germany and instruments provided by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany, which uses the noise from ocean waves to generate seismic images of the earth’s crust.

Over 70 marine scientists attended the Research Vessel Users Conference at the Marine Institute.Deep sea mud volcanoes off the gulf of Cadiz and the high resolution multi-beam mapping of World War 1 shipwrecks in the Irish Sea highlighted the advanced capabilities of the research vessels for deep sea exploration.

The workshop was organised by the Marine Institute’s research vessel operations team also highlighted the value of ship time. Mr Aodhan Fitzgerald, Research Vessel Operations Manager, spoke about the future vessel availability, the ship-time competition for 2017, and how to prepare a strong research survey proposal.

The Marine Institute’s ship-time programme will provide €3 million funding in 2016 supporting 256 research days onboard the national research vessels, RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager. The programme gives researchers access to the national research vessels, as well as the remotely operated submarine ROV Holland I to carry out surveys that further our understanding of the ocean, support policy and development, as well as providing essential training to young researchers and undergraduates.

The programme is part of a busy schedule of research vessel programmes that includes statutory fish stock assessment, environmental monitoring, and seabed mapping surveys in Irish Waters and across the Atlantic basin to Newfoundland.

You can follow the surveys of the research vessels on the blog http://scientistsatsea.blogspot.ie where scientist on-board the national research vessels blog about their research at sea

More information is available at www.marine.ie



Dr. Florian Le Pape; DIAS “Deployment of an Ocean Bottom Seismometer (OBS) Network offshore Donegal”

Mekayla Dale; AMS intern/UU student “High resolution multibeam mapping experience: World War 1 shipwrecks in the Irish Sea”

Kevin Sheehan; MI Celtic Explorer’s deepwater multibeam: applications to date”

Robin Raine; NUIG “Chasing Dinophysis”

Hans Gerritsen; MI “New FEAS surveys: purpose & practice”

Paddy Kenny; POMS “Life at sea: The crew’s perspective”

Patrick O’Driscoll; POMS “ROV Holland 1 pilot advice: applications & planning”

Gordon Furey; POMS “Getting the most from the SCS”

Dr. Jens Carlsson; UCD “Deep-links, mud volcanoes in the Gulf of Cadiz”

Pauhla McGrane; GMIT “SMART: Training the next Generation of Ocean Scientists”

Barry Kavanagh; POMS “Safe marine scientific operations”

News Type:

Portraiture at sea


As the expedition is coming to an end and the science part is over, on this stormy day heading back to Galway, I would like to present what has been secretly going on throughout this cruise, namely, portraiture at sea. I am the artist on board, a recent graduate from the Angel Academy of art, in Florence (Italy), a classical painting school, and I was here to do an experiment: portrait the crew and scientists on board. Portraiture has a long historical tradition, it has been done for centuries and it still holds incredible charm for me today. I am fascinated with faces and expressions and here I had great inspiration, also because I know the people in person, talk and interact with them, which makes a great difference. Trying to capture them in a drawing has been challenging for me, as my work is only at its start, and also a great honour because I think the people who represent the soul of this ship should be celebrated; and a portrait is the best way because it is not a photo, it has much more life and depth than a photo, and it connects people.

Above is a group photo during the “exhibition” that was held last night, (the venue was in the sitting room!) and it includes few of the subjects of the portraits. A big thanks to everyone and a special thanks to Raissa for her great support!

Blog by Alice Antoniacomi

Sponge Gardens – Chemistry of the deep

mud volc3

Our control site (non-chemosynthetic) was a deep underwater peninsula at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. This rocky bottom and fast flowing nutrient rich waters provide the perfect habitat for sponges and other filter feeders like corals. These beautiful animals grow in large numbers along the seabeds. Sponges are soft bodied, sessile organisms which lack a physical defence so in order to deter predation they often produce interesting toxins. These toxins are often active against human infections and diseases offering us new treatments for a range of human afflictions such as cancer and MRSA. The active compounds are extracted from the organism and screened in numerous biological assays around Ireland and the world.

Despite the strong underwater currents and uneven surfaces our team of extremely skilled ROV pilots managed to collect several samples so we can return these organisms to our lab to better understand and describe the chemistry of these deep water invertebrates. In addition to looking at the chemistry of the sponge itself we are interested isolating and screening the microbes contained within the three dimensional matrix of the sponge tissue. Should any of these microbes be producing bioactive compounds this will afford us a renewable source of the chemistry without having to return to deep waters of Cadiz.
Blog by – Ryan Young

Chimney Henge – a story of gas escape and chemosynthetic bacteria

The Hesperides mud volcano, Gulf of Cadiz, is a complex structure of three mounds, ~200m high, 2 km x 4km in size and with east-west oriented ridges extending to the east. The mud volcano is flanked to the west and south by a crescent-shaped moat, and to the north by pock marks 500m in diameter. The flanks of the mud volcano are covered in a sticky grey mud with a 10-20cm thick cover of light-brown coloured pelagic foram (plankton skeletons) sand. In places on the flanks there are tongues of fallen cylindrical chimneys of carbonate, up to 1m long and 30cm in diameter. These tongues of fallen chimneys and mud are elongated down the slope of the mud-volcano.

mud volc1
The origin of these carbonate chimneys is thought to be a result of methane and hydrogen sulphide gas seeping from deep below the mud volcano (from several kilometres beneath the seafloor) and its interaction with bacteria and seawater. The bacteria live off the methane (CH4) increasing the alkalinity of the sediment pore fluids and anaerobically oxidising the methane to bicarbonate (HCO− 3) and the sulphate to sulphide (HS−) which reacts with calcium ions in the seawater resulting in the precipitation of carbonate (CaCO3) and the generation of hydrogen sulphide (equation 1). The flow of methane up through the sediment causes the chimneys to grow around the methane bubble streams generating the cylindrical structures we call chimneys and the sulphide supports other types of bacteria.

(Eq. 1) CH4 + SO2− 4 →HCO− 3 + HS− + H2O → +Ca+2 → CaCO3 + H2S +H2O

The chimneys we see at Hesperides are mostly fallen, lying on their sides on the flanks of the mud volcano. It has been suggested by other scientists that these chimneys are formed inside the sediment that has since been eroded by strong currents to expose the chimneys which have then then fallen over. But we have discovered at the summit of the Hesperides mud volcano a forest of upright carbonate chimneys, up to 2m tall and 50cm in diameter, embedded in the mud ‘lava’. This we have named ‘Chimney Henge’, because the circular arrangement of the chimneys resembles the famous Stonehenge Neolithic monument in England. The summit of the volcano is also where we see bacterial mats, escaping methane gas and the youngest mud flows.

mud volc2

We propose that the carbonate chimneys grow both in the sediment and in the water column immediately above the seafloor at the summit of the mud volcano where methane flow is focused. These chimneys are then pushed down slope after being incorporated in subsequent eruptions of mud and gas as the mud volcano edifice grows. This process also explains why the fallen chimneys are found on the volcano flanks where they form tongues of chimneys and mud oriented down slope, having been carried there in mud flows erupting at the summit.

The abundance of carbonate chimneys at Heperides mud volcano show that there has been a long history of intense methane gas escape and mud eruptions supporting chemosynthetic life here for many thousands of years.

Blog by – Bramley Murton


ROV Holland I returning from a night dive

ROV Holland I returning from a night dive

Jens and Jeanne and the team have been busy surveying the first sampling site on the Deep-links expedition. Maria Judge, of the INFOMAR programme in the Geological Survey of Ireland, used a multibeam echosounder to create an in-depth map of the terrain. Using this mapping info the crew were able to determine which sites may have the most chemosynthetic activity and be the most interesting to explore.

Multibeam map of Hesperides provided the scientists with a good picture of where to sample.

Multibeam map of Hesperides provided the scientists with a good picture of where to sample.

At the bottom; a deep-sea crab tries to protect its new-found loot.

At the bottom; a deep-sea crab tries to protect its new-found loot.

The depth at the site is over 1000m taking the ROV approximately one hour to reach the sea-floor. At this depth, in total darkness, the marine species have unique and varying adaptations to survive. Sediment samples have been taken using push and gravity cores and water was sampled with a CTD and water sampler at varying depths for biological and chemical analysis. After enjoying many days of fine Spanish weather the ship was forced to retreat further into the bay to wait out some big swells but are now taking the opportunity to sample another mud volcano closer to shore.



Arrival at Cadiz

Arrival in Cadiz with honorary Area 52 members Alice Antaniacomi and Bernie Ball

Arrival in Cadiz with honorary Area 52 members Alice Antaniacomi and Bernie Ball

After a five day steam from Galway on board the R.V. Celtic Explorer, Area 52’s Dr Jens Carlsson and Jeanne Gallagher have arrived with a group of scientists into Cadiz, Spain where they will finalise preparations for an explorative deep-water expedition. The team comprises of biologists, geneticists, chemists and geologists from UCD, NUIG, GMIT, Duke University, Southampton and the Geological Survey Ireland.

On the agenda is investigating deep-water chemosynthetic ecosystems off Spain including, mud volcanoes, cold-water corals and sponge-gardens. Such ecosystems are found down to 1000m depth and are fuelled, without sunlight, by chemosynthetic energy percolating upwards from the Earth’s core.

Dr Jens Carlsson and Jeanne Gallagher from UCD with the ROV Holland I which will survey and sample the biology and geology of these sites.

Dr Jens Carlsson and Jeanne Gallagher from UCD with the ROV Holland I which will survey and sample the biology and geology of these sites.

Little is known about the biodiversity and food webs at these chemosynthetic ecosystems and the Deep-links expedition aims to sample and survey the biology, chemistry and geology of these sites to begin to build a picture of how these ecosystems work, and their role in carbon cycling.

The research survey is supported by the Marine Institute and is funded under the Marine Research Programme by the Irish Government.


Area 52 at Sea


The RV Celtic Explorer left Galway on Friday night with two members, Jens and Jeanne, and two honorary members, Bernie and Alice, of Area 52. They are headed for the Gulf of Cadiz with the Marine Institute’s ROV Holland I to explore mud volcanoes, sponge gardens and cold-water coral reefs of the deep ocean. The survey called ‘Deep-Links: Ecosystem services of deep-sea biotopes‘ runs until the 12th November and is being led by Jens, who is chief scientist.  The survey team will post regular updates of their exciting findings on this blog. To track the vessel in real time click on the map below.

explorer position