Launching into the Atlantic: The QuERCi Survey

Hi from the RV Celtic Explorer, my name is Andy Wheeler and I want to tell you about the QuERCi survey (Quantifying EnviRonmental Controls on Cold-water coral reef growth).

We are going to use Ireland’s deep-water remotely-operated vehicle (the Holland I ROV) to explore two of Ireland’s deep-water Special Areas of Conservation where cold-water corals flourish. This blog will be bringing you important updates and never-before-seen imagery from the deep-sea as well as a taste of life on-board the QuERCi survey.

Life on board

The obligatory safety drill with Graham Ryan (GSI) and Eileen McCarthy (UCC) life-jacketed and Kevin Ryan (UCC) mummified in a emersion suit

At 1km below the seas off the west coast of Ireland cold-water corals thrive in the cold and dark forming reefs and giant coral carbonate mounds over 100m tall. The reefs are oases of life in the deep ocean supporting vibrant ecosystems. For these reasons, Ireland has been proactive and protected some of the reef areas from potential physical damage. To manage these areas effectively we need to monitor them and understand how the dynamic seabed environment affects reef sustainably and change. We also need to know what is there. These areas of deep are remote and poorly, and only occasionally, explored.

The Belgica Mounds SAC (120 km from Dingle) contains the Moira Mound reefs (at 1000 m water depth) which will be studied and mapped during QuERCi. The Porcupine Bank Canyon SAC (340 km from Loop Head) contains coral mounds around the head of the canyon (at 700m water depth) which we will study within the context of the canyon environment which we will also study.

Cruise Track

Our planned adventure, the SACs are in red (Belica Mounds SAC to the south and the Porcupine Bank Cayon SAC further out to the west) and the survey areas in yellow. The red dashed lined is out planned cruise track.

QuERCi will be exploring, mapping and sampling within the SACs to gain a better understanding. We will use the newly fitted state-of-the-art multibeam echosounder both on the RV Celtic Explorer and deep-towed on the ROV to give us much improved maps from within the SACs. We will also be using the ROV to groundtruth the maps by video and sample the seabed and fauna. We also plan to collect cores and image into the seabed to understand changes through time as well as study watermass properties.

ROV

The Holland I ROV being recovered near sunset in Galway Bay with Michelin keeping a close eye on operations. The 3m penetration gravity corer is stowed alongside in it craddle.

At present we are running tests with the ROV in Galway Bay before heading out into the big blue ocean tonight. Niamh Connolly, a BSc Earth Science third year student who will use data for her final year project will give a QuERCi team perspective to the upcoming blog entries. We also have Ken O’Sullivan from Sea Fever Productions who will be taking footage for an RTE documentary. Going to be exciting!

Life on board is tense at present as we are all itching to get out there!

Prof. Andy Wheeler – Chief Scientist, University College Cork

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