(Oranmore, Co, Galway, Ireland; 05 Feb.2015)The Marine Institute of Ireland’s RV Celtic Explorer has been fitted with new hydrographic and geophysical sonar systems that will be used to map the deep Atlantic seafloor during the vessel’s return voyage between Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador in April and May of this year. 

The systems were installed over the past five weeks as part of an extensive re-fit at the A&P shipyard in Falmouth, United Kingdom. The main work carried out during the re-fit was the installation of sonar systems for bathymetric mapping in deep and shallow waters and the installation of a deepwater sub-bottom profiler.

Major work included a modification of the Celtic Explorer hull to accomodate the Kongsberg EM302 1×2 degree multibeam system and an IXSEA Echoes 3500 sub-bottom profiler. These systems were will enhance the seabed mapping capabilities of the Celtic Explorer. Specifically the EM302 echosounder will perform accurate, high-resolution mapping to depths of 6,000 m. The 3500 sub-bottom profiler can also operate to depths of 6,000 m, examining and profiling surface bedrock layers and sediments. The vessel’s drop keel was also retrofitted with an EM2040 multibeam system. It will perform high-resolution seabed mapping in shallower waters.

The vessel’s positioning and motion reference systems were also upgraded to the latest Kongsberg Seapath 330+ thus allowing the vessel to operate the new equipment to the required accuracy. The Celtic Explorer will complete sea trials of the new equipment in Irish waters in February 2015. The capability of the new equipment will be tested in the deep waters off Ireland’s West coast under the supervision of scientists from the Marine Institute’s Advanced Mapping Services (AMS) team. 

Once the new systems have been calibrated and tested, they will be used extensively, and will further strengthen the research data collected by the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. In addition to mapping the seabottom between Ireland and the province, CFER will have enhanced capabilities, if desired, to conduct further fisheries acoustic surveys, and take advantage of the new water-column capability to study the behaviour of pelagic fish species. 

The new systems will also be used during two deepwater ROV surveys this year using the Institutes ROV Holland 1, one led by University College Cork, studying cold water coral reefs and another led by University College Dublin studying deepwater thermal vent sites on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Celtic Explorer will deliver an intensive program of activities in 2015 with a packed schedule to 17 December 2015.

Beyond 2015 the systems will be used to map the Celtic Sea, this retrofit will provide valuable data for the sustainable development of Ireland’s fisheries as well as allowing Irish scientists the opportunity to play a pivotal role in future research opportunities in the deeper waters of the Atlantic Ocean.