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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 09:01 GMT
Unlocking the secrets of the sea
The CMA studys the shifting sands of the seabed
State-of-the art underwater technology is helping researchers to unlock the secrets of the deep blue sea.

The University of Ulster's Centre for Maritime Archaeology has acquired detection equipment which was once the preserve of navy personnel.

The CMA's work at the university's Coleraine campus involves ancient shipwrecks and shifting sands.

Archaeologists record details of the thousands of shipwrecks along the British and Irish coasts.

The ultra modern equipment is aiding the process of recording the ships' location, state of preservation and to predict how long they will last, before the elements destroy them.

"Many old shipwreck sites and archaeological landscapes currently lie in deep water, or in areas where effective diver-investigations are limited by poor visibility," said Dr Rory Quinn, a lecturer at the CMA.

La Surveillante, which was part of a French invasion fleet, went down in a sheltered environment in Bantry Bay in 1797, so its preservation potential is much higher
Dr Rory Quinn
CMA lecturer

"The science of maritime archaeology greatly benefits from the availability of sonar technology to relocate and map these shipwrecks and former occupation sites."

Researchers at the centre are assessing data from recent surveys, including detection work at the site of the Spanish Armada ship Girona which went down off the north Antrim coast in 1588.

Despite the ship containing several artefacts, the harsh effects of the North Channel, and general erosion to an area of the vessel which remains exposed, have severely damaged the ship's contents.

"There is very little of the Girona left. It has basically disappeared at this stage," said Dr Quinn.

Other projects to benefit from the new equipment include research into the La Surveillante which sank in Bantry Bay in 1797.

The warship with 32 guns - twenty-six 12-pounders and six-6 pounders - sank with a crew of 200.

It has yielded more success for the centre.

'Marine resources'

"La Surveillante, which was part of a French invasion fleet, went down in a sheltered environment in Bantry Bay in 1797," said Dr Quinn.

"Its preservation potential is much higher. It lies in 34 metres of water and is not exposed to big Atlantic storms.

"When it went down, it sank into mud, which preserves wood."

The CMA is also assessing information on a project for the Irish Heritage agency, Duchas, on a shipwreck thought to date to the Cromwellian era in Waterford harbour.

It is also assessing data from a survey on a site in Clew Bay, County Mayo, which involved working alongside researchers from Queen's University Belfast and National University of Ireland, Galway.

"The application of sonar systems can provide data allowing archaeologists to reconstruct palaeo-landscapes," said maritime archaeology lecturer Colin Breen.

"It also allows us to use predictive modelling techniques to highlight areas on the seafloor where man may have lived and exploited marine resources such as fish, shellfish, seaweed in the past.

"Furthermore, an understanding of past sea-level changes can aid environmental scientists to predict the scale and possible consequences of future sea-level changes using knowledge of the past to predict the future."

Among British wrecks which CMA has worked on are the Mary Rose and Invincible, as well as in East Africa where the wrecks have included 16th century Portuguese vessels.

Ships' logs uncover past climate
29 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Research boost for university
01 Feb 02  |  Northern Ireland

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