Stop, Collaborate and Listen for better Ocean Science – Part 1

In July, MaREI researcher Abigail Cronin set sail from Dublin port on the RV Celtic Explorer as part of a scientific crew of nine. The team consisted of three Marine Institute (MI) personnel, two Training Through Research Survey scheme (TTRS scheme) participants, one BEAMS participant, three scientists from the University of New Hampshire (UNH), and the full Celtic Explorer crew. The sixteen day cruise aimed to map a portion of the seabed within Irish waters, approximately 80 nautical miles south of Cork, as part of the INFOMAR project.



While on the cruise, Abi wrote some Marine Institute blogs describing why she was on the cruise and what it consisted of.

Learning on The Job

So, think about it, there you are standing on Dublin port looking up at Ireland’s largest research vessel, the Celtic Explorer. You shuffle up the gangway with your bag slung over your shoulder after a friendly Donegal accent points you in the direction of the dry lab. As you walk into the room, colourful animations and flashing buttons jump out of the dozen or so monitors lining the walls. You hear the buzz of excited marine scientists from around the globe double checking their devices are in working order, as the smell of Tony and Gavin’s freshly made apple pie wafts up the stairs. You are one of two people given the opportunity to learn the skills of seabed mapping from the national experts. But how?

Figure 1 – Left: Oisin McManus from the INFOMAR team in the dry lab. Right: Tony and Gavin – the chefs onboard the Celtic Explorer.


Two applicants, John Skehan and Abi Cronin, were chosen to take part on the INFOMAR survey from July 21st to August 6th 2017 as part of the Training Through Research Surveys (TTRS) scheme. This initiative, collaboratively organised by the Strategic Marine Alliance for Research and Training (SMART) and the Marine Institute (MI), acts as a national capacity building exercise to raise the level of marine science in Ireland, while giving early career researchers the opportunity to network with and learn from experienced marine scientists. Participants gain valuable marine data collection and observation experience on dedicated research surveys with leading Irish and European marine scientists. This programme is designed to provide mentored training for emerging marine scientists on surveys taking place off the western seaboard of Ireland and ranging as far as Newfoundland.


Figure 2 – Abi & John in the dry lab onboard the RV Celtic Explorer


John and Abi come from very different backgrounds with John’s initial degree being in IT. He recently completed an MSc in Geographical Information Systems & Remote Sensing at Maynooth University, and is currently working in the Surveying and Remote Sensing unit at Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI). Abi has an MSc in Coastal and Marine Management from University College Cork, and works in the Earth Observation Group of the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI). Both participants have a strong interest in mapping the seabed, however before this cruise they had very little experience actually collecting the data. This voyage allows them to throw themselves in the deep end and learn on the job.


Figure 3 – Abi & John keeping in contact with the bridge and deck crew


Onboard, Abi and John have undertaken quite an array of tasks, the most obvious being coordination of the three multibeam echosoudners: EM1002, EM302, and EM2040. While in charge of these devices, the scientists must know how to create new transect lines; look out for any anomalies in the data; activate lines for the ship’s autopilot; contact the bridge to inform the skipper of any line turns or change of plan; input Moving Vessel Profiler cast (MVP) data; as well as ensure the multibeam, backscatter and water column data is being stored appropriately.


Figure 4 – John & Abi in the dry lab onboard the Celtic Explorer


The scientists also took charge of communications and logistics for CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor) casts and sediment grab stations, ensuring all data was collected safely and efficiently. To keep the data organised, we log each MVP, multibeam line, grab and CTD both in digital and paper format. This includes keeping a logbook up to date, and working with different navigation and metadata software: QINSY and Multilogger. For more information on INFOMAR’s toolbox you can read the most recent blog here.


Figure 5 – Left: A CTD device coming out of the water. Right: Abi keeping in contact with the bridge and deck crew


The TTRS scheme increases the national marine science research capacity through coordinated use of national infrastructure and facilities. This opportunity has allowed John and Abi to develop their skills, add to their existing seagoing experience, and network with established professionals in seabed mapping and oceanography.


A message from the author:

I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to SMART Sea School for making this all possible through the TTRS scheme. This was a fantastic chance to work with the INFOMAR team Oisin, Kevin & Slava, as well as the scientists from the University of New Hampshire and College of Charleston. It’s been a pleasure learning from people who are enthusiastic about their research. Last, but most certainly not least, a massive thank you to the crew for making this such an enjoyable experience. Always open to questions and happy to share your stories, you took us in and made us feel welcome. All in all, an enjoyable learning experience. I hope to work with you all again in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be putting the knowledge we’ve gained to good use in MaREI.


Figure 6 – Blue skies on the RV Celtic Explorer in July 2017


Anything else you want to know? You can catch me on twitter at: @Abi_Cronin

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MaREI’s Abi Cronin was amongst twenty-five researchers chosen from a pool of five-hundred to take part in the North South Atlantic Training Transect (NoSoAT) 2016. Here she gives us a brief account of her experience…


On the 10th of December applicants from eighteen different countries travelled to Bremerhaven to participate in the opportunity to train in marine research on board a German research vessel. The overall goal of the program is to allow early career professionals to learn more about practical marine science and it’s link to climate change. The educational program focused on different topics including oceanography, remote sensing, ocean law, the ocean’s role in climate change, and scientific art. We were rocked to sleep every night for one month on board the RV Polarstern travelling from Bremerhaven to Capetown, with a brief stop off in Las Palmas.

The multidisciplinary approach allowed for a rich array of weather, climate, atmosphere and ocean research and measurements. This encouraged us to build a network of contacts from several different backgrounds. Various social nights were held to encourage this networking, including a BBQ as a reward for making it through the equator baptism, where we were put through our paces in the name of King Neptune.

nosoat-3 nosoat-2

Participants measured ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll and pH using an XBT (Expendable Bathythermograph), CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth), UCTD (Underway CTD) and various lab analyses including flow cytometry. This enabled us to gain skills in offshore data collection with instruments a lot of us previously had no experience using.


By mapping our measurements along the north-south transect of the Eastern Atlantic we could identify water masses by their characteristic temperatures and salinity. Below we can see three water masses identified along the transect, these include the Mediterranean Outflow Waters (MOW), the Antarctic Intermediate Waters (AAIW), and the North Atlantic Deep Waters (NADW).

This research is key to observing the ocean and atmosphere’s role in climate variations, it allows us to explain weather patterns and build more accurate predictive models. Ultimately, this research helps us to understand climate change.

I would like to thank all the sponsors of the NoSoAT Program for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it has fuelled my ambition to investigate the oceans through offshore measurements.


About the Author:

Abi is a Research Assistant in the Earth Observation Group of MaREI. She graduated from UCC with a MSc in Coastal and Marine Management in February 2016, and joined the MaREI team the same month. At the moment, Abi is working on the ESA funded CINMarS and EODAT projects, as well as the H2020 funded Co-ReSyF project. She is extremely interested in offshore measurements and data.

For more information on Abi, please see her UCC research profile

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