An ambitious survey of the Irish sea bed - an area 10 times the country’s land area - is already yielding acres of information for students of the world’s oceans.
The current study began in 1999, at an estimated cost of more than €27.1m and, as one of the largest to be undertaken internationally, will take another five years to complete.
It was initiated by the Government in recognition of the need to make the most of commercial opportunities available through Ireland’s natural resources and to ensure protection of the marine environment in the most effective way.
At the same time, the exercise is throwing up data that is already proving vital for government agencies and universities and other third-level education colleges.
So far, all but 10% of the deeper-water parts of off-shore Ireland - those areas where depths often exceed 200 metres - have been covered by the survey, and the rest of that region should have been completely covered by the end of the year.
A spokesman for the team carrying out the project reported this weekend: ‘‘The information we have gathered up to now has been of great interest to the oceanographic world - in both a commercial and an academic sense.
Enda Gallagher, of the Geological Survey of Ireland, who are overseeing the survey, added: ‘‘This will have benefits for many facets of Irish life.
‘‘The maps will serve the extractive sector in its search for mineral deposits, like sands, gravel and hydrates. The results will be available to ocean engineering projects, such as cable and pipeline-laying as well as the siting of offshore installations.’’
Findings brought up from the depths are also being passed onto Met Eireann and the Fisheries Board.
Many of the conclusions are reached after the study of data provided by state-of-the-art high-technology equipment, much of it among the most sophisticated that can be found.
It’s all a far cry from the first time any attempt was made to survey the Irish sea bed, back in the 1970s.
At that time some GSI staff dived from a small boat; others hung from the gunwhales of the same craft, holding microphones to pick up the sounds of the sea beneath the waves.