Chilly Water Corals on Eire’s Continental Edge with the Marine Geology Analysis Group

An observer’s impressions of CE19008 

I am John Boyd and I joined the expedition on the invitation of Andy Wheeler head of the Marine Geology Analysis Group at UCC and Aaron Lim Expedition Chief Scientist, from the thirteenth to twenty third Could.  These are my impressions of this voyage of discovery, the concepts behind it and the good younger scientists forging their careers in ocean exploration.  The cruise report for CE19008 might be accessed at

70% Water

We are saying that 70% of the earth is roofed by water which should imply that many of the lives lived on earth are lived below water. We additionally say issues like that is the age of ocean exploration which ought to ship a shiver down the spines of all these underwater lives. After all of the final age of exploration tailed off within the early twentieth century when the final reaches of the amazon had been reached and the poles had been conquered and the decks had been cleared for the ransacking to start in earnest.  100 or so years later we stay in an age of extinction so I’ve to ask what it may imply to stay in an age of extinction and an age of exploration.

Stepping again from that what are the modifications that this good and devoted workforce of younger researchers are getting down to monitor? Nicely I take it in the event you’re studying this you understand the shelf edge west of Eire is serrated with canyons that plunge right down to the abyssal plain which contains the vast majority of the 70%.  You most likely additionally know that the invention of chilly water coral reefs on the rims of those canyons has added a complete new raft of biodiversity to the planetary stock of dwelling issues and that human understanding of those ecosystems remains to be in its infancy.  What you won’t find out about are the inroads being made by researchers at Irish Universities into this Grand Canyon dimension data hole of deep ocean processes.  The modifications the Marine Geology Analysis Group need to monitor are within the coral communities on the fringe of a canyon over 200 nautical miles from the Irish coast and from this to know the drivers of modifications noticed over the past decade after which to position these discoveries on the disposal of the worldwide analysis neighborhood and on the core of the insurance policies wanted to preserve the corals and the items they create.  The instruments at their disposal  are the RV Celtic Explorer , its deepwater ROV Holland 1,and eight landers that might be strategically positioned across the research website to gather knowledge on currents, temperature and sediment transport over a interval of two months.  

The Approach That We Went. 
At 400km west of Galway the canyon rim begins at about 600m and bottoms out at greater than 4000m on the abyssal plain.  Chilly water corals fringe the perimeters of canyons on the continental edge all alongside the EEZ of Eire at depths of between 600 and 1200m. Solely a fraction have been visited and a nonetheless smaller fraction mapped intimately. The Marine Geology Analysis Group at UCC have been on the forefront of this exploration.

Across the World

Chilly water corals so lengthy in the dead of night at the moment are recognized to be globally distributed.  The findings of this expedition will strengthen the fashions for increasing the worldwide distribution map by revealing extra in regards to the necessities of reef constructing corals in chilly waters. What we do know is that biogenic reefs in Irish and European North Atlantic Waters have been badly broken by fishing actions and that they’re susceptible to growing ocean temperatures and ocean acidification.  Deep water exploration of this sort is massively costly so with the ability to predict the prevalence and extent of reefs might be extremely essential in managing human actions in areas the place they’re more likely to happen.  

Evil Twins

Mapping the capability of carbon sinks to human manufacturing of CO2 is on the coronary heart of the worldwide technique for forestall international local weather catastrophe.  Rising ranges of atmospheric carbon dioxide aren’t nearly growing temperatures, additionally they drive its evil twin, ocean acidification.  On this situation chilly water corals are on the hinge of an existential catch 22, we’d like thriving coral to take the CO2 from the environment however this received’t occur if ocean acidification prevents corals from changing CO2 into the calcium carbonate reefs are made from.  As to how they do that, distant and deep as they’re the reefs are fed by major manufacturing within the solar lit floor layers of the ocean which on the finish of the manufacturing cycle transports CO2 right down to the reef depths as marine snow.  Take away the coral and a portion of this C02 cycles again to the floor and into the environment.  How large a portion isn’t recognized however given the biomass and biodiversity contained within the small fraction of reefs already situated it appears precautionary to suppose it is perhaps important.  Simply how important received’t be obvious till the chilly water reef programs are higher understood.  
Celtic Explorer and Calm Seas
Calm seas performed an infinite position within the success of the expedition.  You fill the information assortment schedule however you possibly can’t assure you’re going to get all the things you need.  This time we did.  The climate was good for all our days over the canyon.  The strict is the operational finish of the vessel and filled with cranes, winches and the ROV Shack, A body and drum.  Navigation and the availability of a secure working platform for scientific operations is the duty of the vessel crew.  The success of this expedition attests to the professionalism and experience of the crew of the Celtic Explorer. Thanks 1,000,000 Grasp Anthony Hobin et al. !

Strolling on the Moon

Dr Aaron Lim is the chief of this expedition.  He wrote the appliance to get the funding and will need to have executed a superb job as a result of it takes quite a lot of convincing to get the cash and assets for a mission this bold.  Prof Andy Wheeler, UCC’s head of geology, opened the house for this multi-staged journey with UCC’s first go to to the reefs over a decade in the past and stays the hand on the tiller of what has turn out to be a globally acknowledged analysis initiative. To push it ahead he’s introduced good minds to bear on the challenges that deep water knowledge assortment presents.  That is the place the frequent comparisons between lunar missions and deep ocean exploration truly begin to get a bit of bit apt. At depths ranging between 600 and 2200 meters the distances under the floor on this expedition are clearly not corresponding to these travelled by spacecraft however the close to impenetrability of a layer of water this thick makes the ground of the deep sea un-walkable in a means that the moon demonstrably shouldn’t be.  Perhaps it’s time to revise that previous cliche in regards to the earth being 70% water to 70% uninhabitable (by us) which you’d suppose ought to make us kinder to the lower than 30% we will stroll, burn diesel and make plastic on.  Consider it one other means. Think about if in reply to an extra-terrestrial we stated we had been making an attempt to make the earth look extra just like the moon.  The ET would most likely say “Sure I see that” whereas conjuring with the abysmal stupidity he had encountered.

Analysis Vessel GNSS and Dynamic Positioning DP
Seabed mapping on the Celtic Exploration wants a state-of-the-art World Navigation Satellite tv for pc System or GNSS.  A constellation of satellites stream positioning and timing knowledge to the Explorer’s GNSS receivers to precisely georeference acoustic knowledge to the required diploma of precision.  DP is an automatic system the place the vessel’s thrusters reply to directions from GNSS to maintain the vessel from drifting off place for deployments of the ROV and different sensor packages.  GNSS and DP are simply two examples of the various onboard programs that underwrite scientific knowledge assortment.  Sustaining these programs is a labour of affection for the ship’s technical officers Mark and Tim, teckies to the Nth diploma!


The focus of this expedition are the landers that Luke O’Reilly, a PhD pupil on the Marine Analysis Centre, needs to placed on the seafloor.  UCC have mapped the realm intimately and Luke’s thought is to make use of lander knowledge to find how sediment is transported by the currents and relate that to the terrain and the coral within the area of every lander. Every lander homes {a magazine} of sediment traps programmed to entice water and the particles suspended in it at two day intervals.  The Acoustic Doppler Present Profiler on every lander is there to find the speed and course of the water carrying the sediments.  Relating the ADCP vectors and the supplies collected within the traps can produce a sediment transport mannequin for the canyon rim and assist clarify variability within the development and distribution of the corals across the canyon rim. Finishing the sediment assortment cycle will take two months after which the landers might be retrieved and the sediments analysed to find out their properties, provenance and relationship to the corals noticed at every location.  In 2018 Luke collected sediment cores of as much as two meters in size to assemble paleo histories of coral mounds and reefs at related shelf areas so this new knowledge can present comparative knowledge on up to date ocean and coral situations.  By putting what is going on now within the context of what occurred within the geological previous a clearer image can emerge of what lies within the retailer for the reefs and the implications of this for us in our age, the anthropocene.    

Landers are seafloor observatories  
On this case observations are water velocity and course, and their capability to hold sediment.The ROV engineers make the lander prepared for deployment.  An Acoustic Doppler Present Profiler collects water velocity and course knowledge. This ADCP has three transducer heads which transmit pulses of excessive frequency sound at set angles via the water column.  Mirrored sound from particles suspended within the water are digitized as velocity and course. Doppler due to the frequency shift as the space between the particles and the transducer modifications. Sediment knowledge comes from the traps arrayed in {a magazine} housed within the base of lander. Water enters the lander via a gap within the prime with the opening of every entice managed by the journal rotation programme.  Previous to mobilization lander stability was examined within the flume tank on the MaREI centre in Cork. 

Superior Acoustics

Acoustic applied sciences are a close to common utility for investigating ocean processes.  Within the ocean the place all the things is transported by water acoustic applied sciences are more and more being utilised to quantify what’s being transported and the place it’s being transported to.  Sound displays off the seabed, and inside that mirrored sound which hydrologists name backscatter might be discovered not simply the bodily properties of the seabed but in addition the properties of fabric suspended within the water that blankets it.  That’s what Ger Summers is doing with superior acoustics.  Superior on this case being multibeam echosounders the place relatively than only one beam or pulse, an array of pulses are propagated in a large swathe throughout the seafloor to return a swathe of depth and backscatter knowledge from which Ger Summers plans to characterise the particles in suspension. 

That is the self-discipline of hydrography, first utilized to measuring water depth and now encompassing all of the properties of the water column detectable with sound.  For this expedition Ger is operating two multibeams at totally different frequencies in a collection of parallel transects over the canyon and utilizing the distinction in alerts to attain better decision of the particles entrained within the water.  Visualising how sediment strikes can say rather a lot in regards to the situations wanted by the coral to thrive and likewise in regards to the formation of the canyons themselves.  Growing this methodology is a part of Ger’s PhD thesis and has the potential for ocean large visualisations of sediment and nutrient transport programs and likewise to ship a framework for housing the localised findings of this expedition.  

Portray an image of the seafloor at 1187m with a Multibeam Echosounder  
The decrease monitor visualizes seafloor terrain whereas  the higher monitor depicts the swathe of sound propagated from the multibeam transducer mounted on the Celtic Explorer’s drop keel. The drop keel is retractable and permits for acoustic propagation beneath the disturbance brought on by the hull of the vessel and leads to cleaner knowledge than a hull mounted transducer.  This picture is taken from the Marine Geology Analysis Teams picture gallery.

Multibeam echosounders are calibrated with Sound Velocity Profiles 
We obtained SVPs by profiling the water column with a Conductivity Temperature and Depth (CTD) probe (prime image).  Sound velocity in water on the floor is round 1500m however slows down barely because the water turns into denser with reducing temperature.  Floor temperatures had been near 12C however dropped to round 6C on the canyon rim and fell to almost 2C at 4500m depth. This was the deepest CTD forged of the expedition and took over three hours utilizing DP to carry the Explorer on station. The body the CTD is mounted on carries NISKIN bottles, hole tubes that may be snapped shut to seize samples of water at totally different factors within the water column.  That is immense!  Be aware that florescence, a proxy for phytoplankton, drops off at 200m. 

Deep = Darkish

With lander deployments on a gradient of depths from 600m to 2200m and canyon flooring ultimately opening out onto an abyssal plain of 5000m in depth the grandeur of the submarine terrain can’t be matched by something on land.  Nevertheless it’s a terrain forged in perpetual darkness. Solar gentle barely penetrates past 200m so till very lately all this has been the earth sight unseen.  Acoustic rating sheets produce digital fashions of what it could seem like if we might see it however other than brief and localised imagery taken from ROVs and different submersibles we by no means will.  

Holland 1 ROV deploying a lander
The lander is held by robotic arms and propulsion and orientation within the water is managed by 4 thrusters, one at every nook straight under the yellow ballast tanks.  Operations are directed from the management shack cleated on to the deck of the Explorer.

Open the shack door and the scene inside is sort of a particular ops surveillance outpost  
A financial institution of screens reveals the water dashing by the descending ROV till the seabed is reached with depth, GPS, altitude from the seabed, heading and velocity all stamped on the pilots display screen.  Beside the pilot, two engineers work the joysticks for the robotic arms that set the lander on the ground, accumulate samples of the corals and cores of the sediments the corals rise from.   Two scientists direct the pilot and engineers to the corals and seabed areas that appear most promising for cores, snap footage of every stage of the operation and hold the logs up to date.  It’s all intense human focus glowing within the dim purple gentle of the shack and appears to be 1,000,000 miles from the solar shine on the deck and the lazy disk of sea.   Paddy O’Driscoll of P&O Maritime, is flying the ROV and leads ROV operations on the Explorer.

Sight and Sound

Think about: we will see with the bare eye gentle from different galaxies however descend a thousand meters into the ocean and this gentle so intrepid in travelling thousands and thousands of sunshine years is gone! However we do have to see.  We aren’t like whales which might assemble the bodily world with sound.  For us for one thing to be actual we have to see it.  Greater than that to know one thing we have to see it and that’s why I believe we spend a lot cash on submersibles that flip the lights on on this world that’s oblivious to it.  And once we do what will we see that makes us perceive it extra?  Nicely all too typically we see that trawls have demolished swathes of reef leaving rubble of their wake and we see that in some components of the canyon the corals are thriving whereas in others they’re in decline.  Our worst concern is that actions like fishing have smothered the coral in particles and that ocean acidification is starting to creep in entrained and activated by deep ocean processes we don’t absolutely perceive.  However we’re scientists and we should take what we see as knowledge for a multidisciplinary mannequin that may make all this amenable to our imaginative and prescient restricted understanding.  

3 D Fashions of Coral Reefs

Aaron Lim and PhD researcher Larissa Macedo have given themselves the duty of turning these sights into knowledge with a really specific mannequin in thoughts.  The Analysis Group has already produced photomosaics of carbonate mounds and reef formations, primarily stitching 1000’s of stills abstracted from ROV video footage right into a single unified picture of the entire.  As Aaron and Larissa see it, it needs to be attainable to combine video footage with acoustic and GIS knowledge to provide three dimensional fashions of the coral protection embedded inside excessive decision seafloor maps of the realm.   Mosaics are good however to supply a construction for the explosive biodiversity that finds alternative inside the interior areas supplied by the coral’s endlessly interwoven branches it’s simple to think about how rather more highly effective imaging the reefs in three dimensional house may very well be.  From my background in fisheries science I also can see that 3D fashions of the reefs might present a strategy for producing  estimates of coral abundance and biomass that may very well be interpolated to the broader predictive fashions for the prevalence of chilly water corals globally.


These corals and the reefs and lumps of calcium carbonate skeletons they construct and develop from are tens of 1000’s of years within the making.  Over the course of their visits to the chilly water corals the Marine Geology Analysis Group have gathered proof that reveals a decline in coral development and protection.  Within the absence of steady monitoring for the 1000’s of chilly water coral reefs and carbonate mounds in Irish waters alone scientists search for proxies that may sign what is going on and about to occur to the corals.  One such proxy is perhaps discovered within the microfauna hosted by the corals.  Marine biologist John Appah hopes to supply acute perception into the responses of the corals to a altering ocean by telescoping in on key micro organism species.  Amassing coral samples from contrasting websites and screening these samples for micro organism recognized to be delicate to modifications within the bodily and chemical properties of the water column will kind the premise of his PhD dissertation.  Leaving apart the current in-feasibility of steady monitoring the complexity of what might be seen by way of species, color, cowl and development is an excessive amount of to definitively perceive.  Whereas we look forward to this image to be higher resolved John’s micro organism proxies can provide instruments and insights for assaying the well being and properly being of a globally distributed ecosystem that has but to be configured within the net of ecosystems that maintain our lives on this planet. 

Coral Gardeners
Giant spider crabs are simply a number of the stand out fauna we noticed on
Lophelia pertusa essentially the most generally noticed coral species on the canyon rim.

Lophelia pertusa calyxes on calcium carbonate skeleton
Every calyx homes a  polyp, the dwelling animals that secretes the calcium carbonate calyx and collectively construct the communal skeleton of the colony.  The pockets of house inside the skeleton and the surfaces of the skeleton present the setting for the massive biodiversity supported by Lophelia reefs. Other than bodily harm brought on by fishing gear the filter feeding corals might be overwhelmed by sediment hundreds raised by towed fishing gear, deep sea mineral extraction and drilling. 
  Additionally please take a look at Michael Viney’s wonderful Irish Time’s article on Eire’s Chilly Water Corals.

Completely different species of coral, cnidarians (anenomes) and echinoderms, the phylum that incorporates starfish, brittlestars, urchins amongst many others give some thought of the multilayered platform Lophelia supplies for biodiversity within the deep ocean.

24 Hour Operations

On a survey like this knowledge assortment continues across the clock. The largest problem in technical phrases was putting the landers on the seafloor and that required the enter of all of the scientific crew and crucially the ability of the engineers who pilot the ROV and manipulate its robotic arms. There’s a log sheet for each operation and these lengthen past the fast actions I’ve tried to explain and contextualise as much as right here.  CTD’s, probes that measure temperature, depth and salinity and seize water samples at specified depths are required principally for calibrating echo sounder depths with sound velocity profiles.  Fixing the coral samples for bacterial proxies requires a manufacturing line to make sure that that is executed shortly, accountably and precisely.  Push cores, brief columns of sediment trapped in Perspex tubes pressed into the sediment by the robotic arms must be taken at every lander website and processed within the ship’s moist laboratory.  To perform all the things tasks are shared and coordination of effort between scientists, ships crew and ROV engineers should be maintained.  Success is underwritten by good communication and good humour.  The information collected turns into the useful resource of the Marine Analysis Group and the researchers and PhD college students with discrete work packages all geared in direction of assembling a holistic understanding of how this deep water world works and the existential threats it faces.  

Workforce Work

They’re not with out assist in finishing their duties.  Kim Harris a analysis assistant on the Analysis Centre stored oversight on all actions, and can little doubt embark on her personal PhD analysis mission drawing on what she has seen and the enviable expertise she gained.  Bebhinn Anders is pursuing a doctorate in terrestrial geology at NUI Galway and immersed herself and her terrestrial experience in all actions to superb impact.  Andrew Shine of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group took the chance to be taught new abilities and apply these he introduced with him.  Orla Killeen a 3rd 12 months geology pupil was eagerly readily available to help and be taught and hustle all people in Texas maintain ‘em on the final night time of the expedition.  Resident artist Martina O’Brien was wowed by all she noticed all and nothing escaped her roving digital camera.   It wasn’t all hipsters and millennials, there was additionally Professor Luis Conti who expanded minds with extemporizations on the true nature of three D that solely these audacious sufficient to grapple with a world of perpetual darkness might hope to observe.  

Remaining Impression

Essentially the most placing side of this expedition was seeing first-hand the emergence of a cohort with the vitality, openness and ingenuity to attach so brilliantly the processes of that invisible world with the world of sunshine we stay in on the land.  As for decoupling extinction from exploration it appears to me {that a} related cohort should deconstruct the processes that must result in our unbalanced relationship with the pure world of which we’re a product.  I’m positive that cohort is there, what appears most troublesome is discovering the proof that they’re being listened to.  

IPES World Assessement of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Companies

As of Could 2019 the Intergovernmental Science-Coverage Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Companies (IPBES) studies that 1,000,000 species are near extinction. With respect to the deep ocean IPBES says that “anthropogenic harm within the deep-sea is lower than in shallow waters and on land however is growing quickly”. Echoing the observations and discoveries of this expedition it warns that “attributable to adaptation to a secure setting most deep-sea organisms are delicate to environmental modifications, particularly to climate-induced shifts in vitality provide, alteration of biogeochemical cycles together with ocean acidification and prey-predator interactions”. To tell your self and others learn the IPES  World Evaluation of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Companies at https://www.ipbes.internet/global-assessment-biodiversity-ecosystem-services


Thanks for studying in the event you acquired this far! And heartfelt because of Andy and Aaron and all on the Marine Analysis Group for inviting me, sharing their data, infecting me with their enthusiasm, and wowing me with their brilliance. Lastly thanks too, to the crew of the Celtic Explorer for offering the absolute best platform for this inspiring expedition. 

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