INFOMAR Masters module in remote sensing and seabed mapping

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A new Masters module specialising in remote sensing and the principles of seabed mapping has been successfully delivered in January 2020 by a joint partnership between the Department of Geography at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM), SMART Sea School and INFOMAR, Ireland’s national marine mapping programme which is funded by the Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) and jointly managed by Geological Survey Ireland and Marine Institute.

The level 9 post-graduate module, Marine Remote Sensing – INFOMAR, was run at the start of February as part of NUIM’s Masters Course in GIS and Remote Sensing and teaches students about the science of seabed mapping by providing a combination of class based learning and practical offshore survey experience.

The team describes the shipwreck models

The taught aspect of the module which was run at NUIM, outlines the importance and impact of seabed mapping featuring a range of topics including how seabed data are collected and processed to produce high resolution maps of seafloor depth, type and habitat. Lectures developed illustrate how scientists measure and describe the seafloor in incredible detail, using state of the art acoustic sonar, positioning, and optical instrumentation.  The use of satellite imagery analysis is explained in studying coastal seabed depth and shape, with practical examples utilising images of Dublin Bay acquired on Sentinal-2 satellite’s sensor almost 800km above the Earth’s surface. The taught aspect of the module was further enhanced through the provision of a set of sponsored software licences by QPS (www.qps.nl) for exclusive use in the delivery of the MSc module by the course instructors.  Students were able to receive first-hand experience using industry standard software (Qinsy, Qimera and Flerermaus) for acquiring, processing and visualising seabed mapping data lending real-world authenticity to the learning process. 

QPS Training

The new module also includes a two day offshore practical facilitated through the SMART Sea School programme who provided an operational template for delivering scientific education at sea whereby course participants were given an opportunity to apply theoretical learning outcomes from the module aboard the RV Celtic Voyager.  Onboard, students received exposure to the vessel’s dry and wet/chemical laboratories, as well as  operating an array of scientific equipment including the multibeam sonar and associated oceanographic instrumentation.  Participants boarded the RV Celtic Voyager in the Port of Cork and departed to the outer reaches of Cork Harbour where the offshore element of the module was conducted successfully on February 15th and 16th.

Training activities undertaken onboard included; marine mammal observation, deck watch, use of survey computers and software, benthic ecology, sedimentology classification, sound velocity probe deployment, multibeam echosounder, and sub-bottom profiler data gathering. After exposure to the scientific equipment, workflows and data processing onboard, the students were tasked with the design, planning and implementation of a real-life survey scenario. This enabled participants to apply their newly acquired seabed mapping knowledge as a team of scientists would in real world conditions.

A succesful series

Overall the combined experience of onshore learning and offshore training gave NUIM students an overview of marine remote sensing techniques, helping them to understand bathymetric data products, to recognize data limitations, and to identify key systems and practices used in the field of seafloor surveying. Students also developed a technical grounding in mapping at different resolutions, and the importance of instrumentation calibration, quality control and processing of bathymetry datasets, before product delivery to end users.  In addition, students learned how to source marine data online from INFOMAR’s Interactive Web Data Delivery System and online Webviewers, and via web based portals operated by the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) and the Copernicus Marine Environment Service. Follow on project work from the participants is currently being assessed and the results will further highlight the positive learning achievements of all attendees.

Importantly, the module was taught within the context of end users, stakeholders and the policy framework underpinning ocean science and Ocean Literacy, highlighting both the relevance and importance of mapping the Earth’s seafloor. Participants benefited from the fact that significant parts of the module were delivered directly by the INFOMAR team, who have extensive experience of offshore surveying, and were able to share their own experiences and varied employment backgrounds with the students.