A team of scientists led by Dr Ruth Plets, School of Environmental Sciences at Ulster University, aboard the Marine Institute’s Celtic Voyager research vessel, RV Celtic Voyager, has revealed detailed images of World War I shipwrecks in the Irish Sea. This data was acquired using a new multi-beam system (EM2040).
Amongst the revealed shipwrecks were the SS Chirripo, which sank in 1917 off Black Head (Co. Antrim) after she struck a mine; the SS Polwell, which was torpedoed in 1918 northeast of Lambay Island; and the RMS Leinster, which sank in 1918 after being torpedoed off Howth Head when over 500 people lost their lives – this was the greatest single loss in the Irish Sea.
Dr. Ruth Plets explained: “We were able to capture the most detailed images of the entirety of the wrecks ever. Some of the wrecks, which are too deep to be dived on, have not been seen in 100 years. So this is the first time we can examine what has happened to them, during sinking and in the intervening 100 years, and try to predict their future preservation state,” adding, “We moved away from traditional survey strategies by slowing the vessel right down to allow us to get many more data points over the wreck, with millions of sounding per wreck.”
“The detail is amazing as we can see things such as handrails, masts, the hawse pipe (where the anchor was stored) and hatches. Some of the vessels have split into sections, and we can even see details of the internal structure. With the visibility conditions in the Irish Sea, no diver or underwater camera could ever get such a great overview of these wrecks.”
The project is carried out to coincide with WWI centenary commemorations, noted Dr Plets, “We often forget the battles that were fought in our seas; more emphasis is put on the battles that went on in the trenches. However, at least 2,000 Irishmen lost their lives at sea, but unlike on land, there is no tangible monument or place to commemorate because of the location on the bottom of the sea.”
The next step for the team is to use the data collected to create 3D models which can be used for archaeological research, heritage management and dissemination of these otherwise inaccessible sites to the wider public.
The team blogged about the seven day survey on http://scientistsatsea.blogspot.ie