The National Geoscience Programme, published jointly in February with the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), sets the agenda for the geoscience sector over the period of the National Development Plan (NDP), 2007-2013. Funding of €43million was subsequently provided to support priority research and services in geoscience.
A framework on scientific cooperation between GSI and the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) was signed by the respective Directors and the Executive Director of the British Geological Survey in November. This is intended to increase N-S and E-W cooperation between the adhering organisations. Work on its practical implementation had started by the end of the year.
The Griffith Geoscience Research Awards were established by Government to strengthen the research capacity of the geoscience sector. They offer early-career researchers contracts of up to seven years in duration and are expected to attract considerable international attention. Following a successful Call for Proposals and a rigorous evaluation process, 9 contracts valued at €9.2million were awarded to third level institutes in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
It was decided in early 2007 that henceforth GSI data would be made available free of charge to all users and that, as soon as possible, it would be provided in digital format and on a web-enabled basis. By year-end most seabed data and part of the land-based data had been made accessible in this way. The aim of this new policy is to maximise the use made of GSI data and to provide significant support to the knowledge economy.
Work on the Groundwater Protection Schemes (GWPs) for Counties Cavan and Galway was undertaken. Both were completed in draft form by the end of 2007 and that for County Galway had been signed off by Galway County Council. Source protection studies in County Louth have progressed and will be completed next year. In order to fast-track national databases in groundwater protection, a four year NDP-funded national mapping programme for subsoil permeability, thickness and groundwater vulnerability was commenced in October. The work of GSI on groundwater will be supported by research results emerging from at least two contracts under the Griffith Geoscience Research Awards.
INFOMAR, the nearshore seabed survey being undertaken jointly with the Marine Institute, had a successful second season of surveying. Data acquisition was completed in the southwest (offshore Dingle), Bantry and Dunmanus Bays, while Galway Bay was 90% finished and work had commenced off both Waterford and Cork. Initial results indicated a variety of newly-discovered geological features, many with implications for ecosystems, and these features were covered extensively in local media.
Energy projects have become a key priority of GSI's mission. A particular emphasis has been placed on the national reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere through carbon storage in geological formations. During 2007 GSI was involved in initiating a desk study led by Sustainable Energy Ireland on the potential for such storage both offshore and onshore in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is scheduled for completion in mid-2008. GSI also acted as the lead technical partner in another carbon storage project, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is designed to assess the prospects for carbon storage in the neighbourhood of the coal-fired Moneypoint Power Station. This work will be complemented by research in three contracts under the Griffith Geoscience Research Awards.
The provision of training services continues to represent a key contribution by GSI to building the national skills pool. GSI, in cooperation with FÁS and the EPA, contributed to another successful offering of the course on site suitability assessment for installation of on-site waste water treatment systems. This course took place over two weeks and to date an estimated 800 participants have now completed it. An entirely new two-day course, on groundwater source protection zone delineation, was run in conjunction with the EPA and the Institute of Geologists of Ireland. This was a valuable opportunity to disseminate information on the GSI methodology of source protection. In the seabed area, another course on seabed classification, an essential interpretive tool for applications as diverse as fish habitats and aggregate resource delineation, was successfully run. In addition practical training for geography teachers in geological aspects of the Leaving Certificate Geography Syllabus was provided.
Geological mapping continues to play a key role in underpinning project work across GSI programmes. Bedrock mapping was completed on 1:50,000 scale Sheet 28a (Monaghan) and on a special Burren sheet, and was significantly advanced on Sheets 46 and 52. Combined Bedrock and Quaternary mapping continued on Sheet 50 (Dublin region). This mapping was supported by geophysical research in the Midlands, in cooperation with NUI Maynooth, and by drilling. During 2007 a total of 237 boreholes were drilled for a cumulative depth of 2582.4m, in support of land based programmes. A digital version of the 1:500,000 scale Bedrock Geological Map of Ireland was prepared.
Support for policy and regulation remains a priority for GSI. Work on River Basin District (RBD) projects continued under the EU Water Framework Directive: project meetings were attended and consultants provided with groundwater data. GSI responded to 181 notifications on Environmental Impact Statements and planning applications in 2007 (compared to 97 in 2006) and extensive use was made of databases such as Geotechnical and Geological Heritage.
Processing and interpretation continued of the airborne geophysical results from the 2006 pilot surveys. These surveys were carried out in Cavan-Leitrim-Monaghan, Silvermines and Castleisland - Tralee. Modelling of the radiometric data indicates that refinements in radon hazard mapping can be achieved.
In order to comply with the requirements of an EU directive on the management of wastes from the extractive industry, a National Historic Mine Site Inventory is being prepared. This EPA-led study is being managed by GSI. A feasibility study on the management and remediation of the Avoca mine area continued throughout 2007. A public meeting was held to facilitate community input. An Interreg-funded project, led by the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board, continues to examine environmental impacts in the Avoca mine area. GSI is contributing to various aspects of this project, including the tourism potential of Avoca mine heritage.
Landscape tourism projects have been supported by EU funding in the UNESCO- supported Copper Coast Geopark (coastal County Waterford) and the cross-Border Breifne region (Cavan-Fermanagh-Leitrim-Roscommon-Sligo) where GSI (as well as GSNI in the case of Breifne) have worked effectively with local authorities and local communities. GSI provided NDP funding to both projects and the aspirant geopark at Burren-Cliffs of Moher.
The North Atlantic Minerals Symposium (NAMS), organised by GSI under the aegis of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Ireland and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, was held in Dublin in August. As an integral part of the major SGA Conference with over 600 delegates, it effectively promoted Ireland’s minerals potential at a time of enhanced exploration investment.
Next year, 2008, is the International Year of Planet Earth, a year designated by the UN General Assembly to spotlight the important contribution that geoscience makes to society. GSI, with the support of the RIA and in association with a range of partners (including GSNI), has devised an attractive programme of events throughout the country and extending through the year. Visit http://www.planetearth.ie/ for details.
GSI continued to receive considerable media attention in 2007 (up 100% on the previous year) and its website activity has shown an increase of 25% year-on-year.