Marine science is the key to understanding climate change


Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security visited Galway for detailed briefings on the Marine Institute’s programme to understand the key drivers of climate change in Ireland by studying forces at work in the Atlantic Ocean.

The delegation - which included Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Paudie Coffey, Deputies Simon Coveney, Ciaran Cuffe, Andrew Doyle and Liz McManus, as well as the Committee Chairman Seán Barrett and Clerk Michael McKenna - also spent time at sea during a visit to the ocean energy wave power test site at Spiddal Co. Galway. This site, which is operated jointly by the Institute and Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), is part of the national programme to encourage the exploitation of renewable sources of energy.

“The behaviour of the Gulf Stream and other important Atlantic currents have a direct impact on our weather” - said Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Institute. “This, in turn, effects food production - both at sea and on the land - as well as extreme oceanic events, such as high waves and tides.

"This is why we’re working with key partners in government, the third-level sector and industry to develop a major flagship initiative to position Ireland as a global leader in the development and use of new technologies such as Smartbay - which uses wireless aquatic sensor networks to monitor the marine environment - as well as underwater observatory systems to understand and measure the pace and impact of new trends in our ocean environment caused by climate change.”

The Committee also witnessed an example of the application of technology to the challenge of sustainable energy production during its visit to the OE Buoy - a quarter-scale prototype designed and built by the Cork-based company Ocean Energy Ltd, currently under test at the Galway Bay site.

Another device, developed by Wavebob Ltd., has also been tested on the site in recent months. This sustainable energy device generates electricity from the rise and fall of a semi-submerged chamber within a floating collar. The Marine Institute has undertaken extensive work on the location for a second, grid-connected test site, off the west coast, where full-scale wave energy devices can be trialled.

The Committee also attended a further briefing on other aspects of the Marine Institute’s work on ocean climate change and marine resource management at the Institute’s headquarters and laboratory facilities at Oranmore, Co. Galway.

“Research into the effects of climate change on the North Atlantic is, therefore, one of the most important work programmes being undertaken by the Marine Institute. It is only through this kind of collaborative approach that we can ever hope to develop a holistic ecosystem approach to the present and future management of our fisheries and ocean resources” - said Dr. Heffernan.

These projects are all part of the national programme Sea Change - A Marine Knowledge, Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013, which is being co-ordinated by the Institute. Its objective is to apply the tools of research and innovation to boost Ireland’s marine economy from its present value of €3 billion per annum to €4.5 billion within seven years.