2023 INFOMAR MSc. Module in Collaboration with Maynooth University and SMART Sea School
This year marks the 4th year of the ‘INFOMAR Marine Remote Sensing’ level 9 post-graduate module developed with National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM), for their Masters in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing. The module aims to teach and train post-graduate students in all aspects of seafloor mapping through a series of in-depth lectures, tutorials and offshore training. Classroom component this year included increased career focused sessions between students and established marine scientists to highlight opportunities in Ireland’s growing marine economy. For the first time, the offshore training elements of the module included an immersive overnight survey expedition on Ireland’s all-new state of the art research vessel - The R.V. Tom Crean – facilitated by the Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART) Programme and INFOMAR staff. Students were given a unique opportunity to dive into day-to-day life at sea, gaining first-hand experience across multiple ocean science disciplines such as hydrographic surveying, marine geophysics and oceanography.
INFOMAR (Integrated Mapping for the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Marine Resource) is a twenty-year programme to map the physical, chemical and biological features of Ireland’s seabed. INFOMAR is funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), and delivered by joint management partners Geological Survey Ireland and the Marine Institute.
The classroom module explored a range of marine remote sensing topics including Seafloor Mapping – Ireland & Worldwide, Ocean Geography and Evolution, Marine Data Science & Product Development, Fundamentals of Oceanography, How to Image the Seafloor, Coastal Change, Seafloor Sediments & Processes, Multibeam Technology Focus, Earth Observation, Marine Geophysics, Survey Planning, Geodesy, Marine Habitat Mapping, Seabed Mapping Impacts & the Future of Ocean Science as well as Careers and the Ocean Economy. At tutorials students worked with real survey data acquired for calibrating the multibeam echosounder (MBES). Students undertook data processing, shipwreck reporting and 3D seabed visualisation supported through the provision of industry standard software licences sponsored by QPS. Cloud computing with Satellite Derived Bathymetry data acquired from Sentinel-2 satellite deployed sensors also allowed students to study coastal seabed depth and shape using satellite imagery.
One of the highlights from the classroom this year was the lively Q&A between students from different backgrounds and INFOMAR scientists at the careers focus session on the final day. This allowed students to not only ask the INFOMAR team lots of questions about careers in seabed mapping, but also the sharing of experiences from the team’s different educational and employment backgrounds. The team at INFOMAR recalled the value of the various training schemes they took part in as graduates and their value in opening the doors to further opportunities and work prospects. Training programmes such as the SMART Research Vessel Bursaries run by SMART and the Marine Institute's Foreign Vessel Observer Scheme were among those discussed as being invaluable experiences and a key part of their personal career development.
In the Seafloor Mapping, Multibeam Technology and Survey Planning lectures, students learned how acoustic and optical technologies are applied to image and characterise in detail the seafloor. The Marine Geophysics lecture explored the quantitative methods applied to the analysis of the seafloor and sub-seafloor geology. This theory and much more was put into practice during two-days of ship-based training. This year the training took place on board the R.V. Tom Crean, Ireland’s newest state of the art research vessel with a length of 52.8m, a beam of 14m, and a draught of 5.2m. The vessel can accommodate 12 crew and 14 scientists and is fully equipped for multi-disciplinary scientific research. With additional berths on the new vessel, learners stayed aboard for two nights for a more immersive experience that mirrors actual survey conditions when INFOMAR scientists work and live offshore for up to three weeks at a time. This allowed for a greater insight into the running of a large research vessel, how the vessel is crewed, the shift work required for smooth survey operations and the importance of communication between the science team, crew and deck officers aboard
The offshore training module component was delivered by the SMART Programme and the INFOMAR team and focused on the wide range of marine science disciplines involved in mapping the seafloor. This included the opportunity for students to devise a survey plan for their own hydrographic survey using the MBES technology on board. Students were able to monitor live MBES data acquisition on screens in the dry lab, visualising the depth and morphological characteristics of the seafloor in real-time. Additionally sub-bottom data acquisition provided real-time subsurface imaging to resolves the geology beneath the surface of the seafloor. During post-processing of MBES data, students were taught how to quality control the data to account for potential errors and apply necessary corrections to the raw data. Students used industry standard software including Qinsy, Qimera and Fledermaus for acquiring, processing and visualising seabed mapping data, the use of which was generously sponsored by QPS (www.qps.nl).
Training in other key scientific protocols was also given, including marine mammal observation, CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) sampling of the water column as well as physical and biological sediment sampling with Day grabs. Sediment sampling taught students the methods used to ground-truth acoustic interpretations of the seafloor. Instructors also trained students in the biological descriptors of sediment samples for characterising benthic communities and habitat mapping. This multi-disciplinary approach gave students a comprehensive understanding of the planning and executing of efficient offshore scientific surveys. Students disembarked the R.V. Tom Crean with key technical knowledge of how sound velocity, positioning and acoustic data is used to produce accurate and high resolution maps of the seafloor.
The INFOMAR post-graduate training module was successfully delivered with the aim of educating Ireland’s next generation of marine professionals. Read what the students had to say about the module;
“The 2-day training experience on RV Tom Crean was amazing! From the brilliant team who explained the different testing methods and data processing to the fabulous food and comfortable cabins, there was nothing I could fault. The best part for me as a land surveyor was the dry lab survey planning and learning about different hydrographic processes, would love to get the chance to go back out again!” – Helen Cullen, Maynooth University
“An incredible experience on board the RV Tom Crean in Cork – brilliant opportunity, as part of the MSc in GIS and Remote Sensing, to see marine remote sensing first hand as well as all the other important work that happens on the national research vessels. Huge thanks to everyone involved!” – Emma O’Connor, Maynooth University
Much of the engagement between students and instructors centred on Ireland’s Ocean economy, with particular reference to the latest ‘Ireland’s Ocean Economy, 2022’ report which states an increase in employment within the sector over the past few years:
- “Against the backdrop of the immense challenges that have faced the sector we have seen a rebound in terms of output and employment in 2021. It continues to be a period of transition for Ireland’s ocean economy as the marine industries innovate in the face of new policies and measures aimed at dealing with the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises.”
The INFOMAR module, co-created with the Department of Geography at Maynooth University, marks another milestone in preparing post-graduate students for jobs and further training opportunities in the marine sector in Ireland. The module gives post-graduate students a significant edge in pursuing a career in the marine sector, and aligns closely with the national objectives for our ocean economy. ‘The Climate Action Plan 2023’ for Ireland sets an ambitious goal to:
- “increase the proportion of renewable electricity to up to 80% by 2030 and a target of 9 GW from onshore wind, 8 GW from solar, and at least 5 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030.”
INFOMAR supplies free data to the offshore renewable energy sector which can significantly reduce survey duplication effort and costs and streamline project development. Not only this, but it is clear that an increase in offshore survey expertise is required to reach targets set by government and that significant professional capacity can be built within Ireland through the INFOMAR seabed mapping training module. Since it’s initiation in 2019 some 50 students have joined the module and undertook training in all aspects of seabed mapping and marine remote sensing. The INFOMAR team would like to thank the staff and students at Maynooth University, the SMART Programme and the crew of the R.V. Tom Crean for another successful module delivery. We look forward to inspiring the next students towards a bright future in Ireland’s marine sector.