Irish Seabed Mapping

Ireland has undertaken Deep-water hydrographic and geophysical survey operations to designate its maritime territory since 1996. Originally conducted by Ireland’s Petroleum Affairs Division on behalf of the Government of Ireland, the findings reinforced the need for a comprehensive assessment of the entire Irish seabed. The Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) managed Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS, 2000-2006) followed, an ambitious but successful programme to survey Ireland’s entire deep water territory beyond 200m water depth. To further leverage national interests and coastal and shelf based development opportunities, INFOMAR evolved naturally as the follow-on national seabed survey initiative as a joint venture between Geological Survey Ireland and the Marine Institute.

INFOMAR was initiated to survey the remaining shelf and coastal waters between 2006 to 2026 and to deliver a seamless baseline bathymetry data set to underpin the future management of Ireland’s marine resource.  A Cost Benefit Analysis study to investigate the economic impact of the seabed mapping initiative across all marine sectors was conducted in 2008. It concluded that even Taking a conservative approach, seabed maps gave a 4-6 times return on investment. This proved to be a critical assessment in securing future annual programme investment, particularly despite national fiscal challenges from 2008 onwards.

With key recommendations implemented year on year INFOMAR, is now a key cross sectoral enabling action in Ireland’s integrated marine plan, “Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth” (Government of Ireland 2012), with an oversight Board and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) governance structure ensuring its relevance to all key stakeholders nationally. The Government of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan of 2019 lists the completion of the INFOMAR programme as an action for supporting the Development of the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) sector in Ireland.  The primary marine bathymetry dataset derived from full coverage high resolution multibeam echosounder surveying, is critical for the development of Ireland’s marine knowledge, economy, and policy, as well as the protection of its marine environment.

Ireland’s seabed mapping efforts initially began with the aim of developing a marine baseline dataset to underpin national security as well as future economic, environmental, infrastructural and policy decisions for Ireland as set out in the INFOMAR Proposal and Strategy. With over twenty years of seabed mapping undertaken to date, this endeavour is being steadily achieved with over 700,000 km² of the seafloor within the Irish designated area mapped to date in high resolution. As of 2019, the INFOMAR database (>120 terabytes (TB) and growing) comprises a range of geophysical data measurements including multibeam echosounder (MBES) bathymetry and backscatter, shallow seismic profiles, gravity, magnetics, sidescan sonar and oceanographic water column profiles. It also houses information on physical ground-truthing samples and over 420 shipwreck discoveries.

Provision of straightforward access to the data is a key objective. This has been accomplished through the production of web map services (WMS) and availability of embedded data viewers. A simple web-viewer available on the website homepage allows for the visualisation and exploration of Ireland’s marine territory in detail and is capable of displaying multiple layers of seafloor information. INFOMAR’s official data download portal is the Interactive Web Data Delivery System (IWDDS), which is accessible through the INFOMAR website and provides free and open data to programme stakeholders.

Integration of regional marine data from the world’s oceans enhances our understanding of the Earth’s coasts, seas and oceans as a globally connected system. To support the integration of marine knowledge for cross-border, European and international collaborations, Ireland’s seabed mapping datasets are interpreted by INFOMAR staff to produce standardised products and metadata compatible with international initiatives. The European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) is a large scale pan-European marine data initiative. Funded by the European Commission, it aims to implement the EU’s Marine Knowledge 2020 strategy. The INFOMAR seabed mapping programme has contributed data to EMODnet’s Bathymetry, Geology and Seabed Habitats projects. Through these data portals, pan European data products that include Irish data are freely available for global dissemination and usage. INFOMAR Programme data are also distributed through international open access data portals. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) archives, where the NOAA Bathymetric Data Viewer enables users to view and download raw and processed seabed mapping data from the INSS and INFOMAR programmes. Through this well-known facility, Irish seabed data reaches a broad global network of potential ends users. INFOMAR data are also integrated in the Nippon Foundation’s Generalised Bathymetric Chart of the Ocean (GEBCO) compilation and are one of the largest data contributors to the Seabed 2030 initiative. Additionally, through participation in international partnerships such as AORA (Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance), ASMIWG (Atlantic Seabed Mapping International Working Group), CHERISH (Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands and Headlands) Ireland’s seabed mapping results are further distributed to a broad international community of multidisciplinary data end users.

The INFOMAR programme continues to progress our knowledge and understanding of Ireland’s marine territories, with the goal of completing the baseline mapping of Ireland’s seabed by the end of 2026.  The knowledge and skills resulting from this journey are sure to form a solid foundation underpinning future discovery and further understanding of Ireland’s incredible marine resource.