By @SimonCocking

Describe the PROJECT – the elevator pitch …

INFOMAR is a joint venture between the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and the Marine Institute (MI), funded by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The project aims to map the inshore areas of Ireland’s seabed. These areas include Ireland’s bays and the seabed up to 200m depth. We measure water depth (bathymetry) and also the geophysics of the seabed i.e. the physical characteristics of the seafloor, such as hardness, roughness, sediments and the presence of geohazards (including shipwrecks).

How are you different?

Our data is freely available to view and download online. We are one of the few countries worldwide which provide high resolution bathymetry data for download without charge in a variety of data formats.


Why will the project do well?

A PwC Cost Benefit Analysis report on INFOMAR shows a return of over four times the cost of the project.

Our data is useful across a broad range of areas.

Shipping and navigation. Bathymetric data is important for producing navigation products such as nautical charts. We send all of our data to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) who produce Ireland’s admiralty charts. These charts guide mariners, ensuring safe maritime transportation.

Renewable (wave, wind and tide). Our data can be used to identify suitable sites and also cable and pipeline routes for wind, wave and tidal generators.

Fishing Sector. Our data is incorporated into some fishing navigation systems such as Olex and Sodena. This helps improve fishing efficiency. Useful to reduce gear loss and enable improved confidence in water depth for gear deployment. Reduce fuel consumption with ability to better select sites for gear deployment based on clearly defined seabed types.

Aquaculture. The data helps support decision makers such as fisheries managers, licensing authorities and those carrying out environmental impact assessments. Data feeds into aquaculture modelling for site selection.

Tourism & Marine Leisure. Participation of vessels in outreach; the Tall Ships in Waterford & Dublin, Volvo Ocean Race events, Cork port open day & other maritime festivals. Our Dive App shows Ireland’s Dive sites. Products such as Shipwreck Information Sheets, 3D Maps, Real Maps, Story Maps, Charts and Google kmzs.

Heritage. We provide updates for the national shipwrecks database maintained by National Monuments Service and used by sport fishermen and divers.

Oil and gas exploration. Use of data in pre-drilling site evaluations for Oil & Gas Companies. Useful for Strategic Environmental Assessment.

Research. INFOMAR Applied Research Programme, Partnering on SME and campus company developments, Use of data in non-INFOMAR funded research internationally.

Policy. Accurate bathymetry data is the foundation for much of ocean science and policy. A national asset that has provided Ireland with a data set to underpin present and future economic, environmental, infrastructural, social and policy issues. Our data is a key enabler of national marine policy, European Directive requirements & EU and international legislation such as the EC Habitats Directive, Water Framework Directive & EU Marine Strategy Framework.


Where are you based?

The GSI office is in Dublin and the MI office in Galway. During survey season (March to October) our Research Vessels will be found out in the Irish waters. The GSI vessels the RV Keary, RV Tonn & RV Geo will be found surveying the shallower waters in our bays, harbours and along the coast. Meanwhile the larger MI vessels, the RV Celtic Explorer and the RV Celtic Voyager will be mapping the deeper waters offshore for a couple of weeks at a time.

When was the project launched?

INFOMAR is a successor to the Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS) which mapped Ireland’s deeper offshore waters between the 200m and 5000m depth contours between 1999 and 2005. INFOMAR was launched in 2006 and is scheduled to run until 2026. Phase one, completed in 2015, mapped 26 priority bays and 3 priority areas. Phase two began this year and runs for 10 years. We aim to conclude the mapping of Irish marine territories.

What have been your biggest wins to date?

Continued support by government throughout the recession.

Ireland through INSS and INFOMAR has developed a world-leading reputation for seabed mapping.

Our data has been incorporated into all the major global and European ocean datasets and portals including Google Ocean, ESRI’s Ocean Basemap, NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC), GEBCO, EMODNET Geology, EMODNET BathymetryEMODNET Coastal & OneGeology.

INFOMAR and Esri Ireland won the IRLOGI GIS Ireland Space and Place Award 2014 for Best use of Location Based Application for Mobile or Tablet. Education Outreach Development Programme (EODP).

INFOMAR was nominated for Offshore Ireland Award in the Maritime Industry Awards 2015.


Tell us about your team?

We’ve approximately 30 people working on the project, about half are permanent staff based in the GSI or MI and the other half are contractors. Our team come from various backgrounds such as hydrography, geology, earth science, environmental science, geography, GIS and IT. This number grows during survey season as additional temporary contractors are hired as skippers, surveyors and data processors.

What are you long term plans for your product / project?

Map Ireland’s entire seabed. While seabed data does not date quickly per se, once mapped, certain areas would benefit from being remapped using better technology to increase resolution (detail). Considering the INSS started mapping in 2000 and certain areas off Donegal were mapped as early 2002, technology has advanced significantly since that period. Also, some highly mobile areas, where sediments shift a good deal, such as Rosslare Harbour would benefit from regular surveys.

What are your favourite tech gadgets?

A new Drone (Trimble UX5) which will help map the white ribbon (the area between the land and sea which is generally too shallow for boats to measure and too deep for land-based surveys).

Smartphones to use apps such as our own INFOMAR diving app (Android – coming soon to iOS), marine traffic to track our vessels, Avenza PDF maps allows us to import bathymetry images to view offline with live GPS position on our mobile Use your device’s built-in GPS to track your location on the map. Using Google Streetview to scout out areas for GPS stations and tide gauges. Same with Google Maps and Google Earth, for initial “virtual” fieldwork.

3D Printers. We got two 3D prints of the RMS Lusitania shipwreck on the 100th anniversary of its loss last year. Also, INFOMAR as CARIS Competition 2015/2016 Calendar winners were awarded a 3D print of the SS Polwell shipwreck.

Our Augmented Reality Sandbox, is a scientific educational tool which consists of a computer running simulation and visualisation software, a Kinect 3D camera which detects depth data and a projector which essentially projects the topography to match the real sand topography.

GoPro. Sending a GoPro down with a Sound Velocity Profiler instrument to capture images and video of the seabed.

Mini ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) – easy to set up and deploy, small and light, has a camera and a small grabber. Useful for inspecting the hull and propellers of the survey boat, along with the bottom of mooring chains to see what kind of weight they are attached to on the seabed.

What tech gadgets do you wish you could use to help you?

3D Printer for education and outreach – print areas of seabed that we’ve mapped, along with more shipwrecks.

Laser scanner for making scans of cliffs etc., above the waterline.

Hovercraft for surveying shallow tidal areas.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV)  – could programme it to go off on a predetermined path and carry out mapping on its own.

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?

What is the extent of Ireland’s seabed? The full extent of Ireland’s maritime resources, a seabed area which is the biggest of any nation in the European Union is ten times bigger than the land area of the Ireland on which we live.

How do we map the seabed? The majority of Irish seabed has been mapped using multibeam echosounder (MBES) aboard our research vessels. MBES uses acoustic energy to calculate depth (bathymetry) & strength of signal (or return) from the seabed to calculate backscatter. Differing seabed types such as mud, sand, gravel and rock have different backscatter values depending on the amount of energy they return. To verify results we also collect sediment samples.

Some shallow areas within the bays are not safe to survey using boats so another method of surveying is airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). The basic principle behind this method is to use laser pulses from the airplane to determine the distance from the sea surface and seabed. The difference between the two beams allows the water depth to be calculated. Water depths between 0 and 70 metres can be surveyed but in Ireland the typical depth penetration is 15 metres. This may vary if sediment or biological material is present in the water.

A pilot study using satellite imagery was carried out in 2012 to create satellite-derived bathymetry. Although, some data was obtained it is not considered accurate enough for our standards at this point in time.

We conducted a small test using a drone last year to map the intertidal zone which looks promising. A feasibly study will be carried out this coming year.

How do people get in touch with you?

Email: [email protected]


Twitter: @followtheboats


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