Atlas explores hidden depths of Irish seabed

RAVINES and canyons that plunge two kilometres in depth, colourful flora and corals – just some of the features of Ireland’s seabed, as shown in a new atlas showing the Ireland beneath the ocean.

The new Atlas of the Deep Water Seabed, Ireland has been compiled by University College Cork.

The contents of the atlas charting Ireland’s underwater fathoms comes from data gathered as part of the Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS) and INFOMAR inshore seabed survey undertaken by the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI), the Marine Institute and others.

Its pages give a detailed compilation of stunning three-dimensional imagery featuring the submarine canyons, underwater mountains and abyssal plains that make up Ireland’s seabed territory – an area ten times that of Ireland’s land mass.

According to one of the researchers involved in the compilation of the Atlas, the aim was to “visualise what is out there – often if something is under the water, it is out of sight”.

Boris Dorschel of the School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences in UCC said the atlas was targeted at a lay readership and would be a suitable study aid for those in second and third-level. As for the content, he said it showed the wild variations on Ireland’s sea floor, from sea basins 3,500km below sea level at its lowest point to the cold water coral which thrives on rocks untouched by sunlight.

“One of the many surprising facts that is that Ireland has coral reefs,” he said. “Most of the seabed is soft and muddy, but where there are rocks and cliffs, animals can attach themselves.”

Photos showing sea fans and squat lobsters on the Whittard Canyon – itself a dramatic range of peaks and troughs off the south-west coast – look like ferns but are not actually plants.

Instead they are unique features of Ireland’s sea mounds, among ravines equal in size in parts to the Grand Canyon.

The Atlas, which maps the designated seabed of Ireland, also takes in portions of the 400km Rockall Bank – but not the area directly around Rockall itself.

Ireland has lodged its claim to part of this with the UN, and in recent years agreement has been reached with Britain on boundaries, although Britain still has a claim of sovereignty not recognised by the Irish Government, while Iceland and the Faroe Islands are still claiming other areas surrounding the rock.

A two-day conference on the Geoscience Sector, which opens in Dublin Castle tomorrow will feature a number of speakers, including a talk on a Landslide Susceptibility Mapping Project and Ireland’s National Groundwater Vulnerability Mapping Programme.

The Atlas will be unveiled by Minster of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Conor Lenihan at this Geoscience 2010 conference.

More in this section