The Government has a long-term strategy to drive economic development and competitiveness through its investment in research and development. This has the underlying aim of reducing Ireland’s dependence on foreign inward investment in our industry, an area where Ireland is facing serious challenge from emerging economies. Alternatively the Government’s vision is that the future economy will be built on knowledge and innovation. Such an economy can only be built on research, the key mechanism to create new knowledge. Since 2000 the Government has invested significantly in creating the right conditions where research can prosper. Ireland requires an adequate supply of high quality researchers, supported by world class research infrastructure and the Government has indicated its intention to provide continued support in the upcoming National Development Plan (2007-2013).
Geoscience has a key role to play in this exciting research landscape. The geoscience sector, with an industry turnover of €2 billion per year and services valued at €130 million annually, has the capacity to play an increased role in support of the Government’s strategy. The EU at the end of 2005 warned that Ireland’s R&D spend as a proportion of GDP had slipped in recent years and that it has fallen relative to many other European countries in the area of innovation. More broadly based research, including geoscience, can redress this unwelcome trend and raise Ireland’s research effort (and knowledge economy).
“Geoscience Industry turns over €2 billion annually, it’s services €130 million”
In the past 18 months the geoscience sector in Ireland has developed a set of objectives designed to support key national objectives and which require significant new funding for their implementation. The objectives address important research and services issues in the energy, environment, marine and infrastructure sectors. The estimated total cost over 5 years is €170 million. See “Geoscience Priorities”. Read more about this initiative on the GSI website (www.gsi.ie). The indications are that the National Development Plan (2007-2013) will specifically accommodate competitive applications for funding from the geoscience sector. In the meantime funding has been provided for INFOMAR, a successor to the Irish National Seabed Survey, and there may be opportunities to fund geoscience priorities through the Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Programme.
GSI provides services which underpin the development of economic activities in a number of sectors. The Atlantic Partners initiative (see panel) is an attempt to stimulate serious private sector activity in third countries based on the partnerships of organisations, including GSI, in both Ireland and Canada. On a national level there are tourism enterprise opportunities based on an appreciation of landscape in which GSI has also participated (see “A challenge for rural communities”).
Much of our services are based on systematic databases built up over decades and many heavily rely on data provided by third parties. This is provided on a voluntary basis and GSI fervently appreciates this. The collection and validation of such data remains a key activity, as collaborated by the following trends in data holdings: (numbers of records).
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Geoscience Priorities (2007-2013)
Energy: Secure and diversified supplies
The EU goal is that renewables will contribute 12% of total energy needs by 2010. GSI, in partnership with Sustainable Energy Ireland and the third level and private sectors, can contribute to assessments of geothermal energy, offshore wind, tidal and wave energy sources and land-based wind energy potential. Priority actions include the development of a 3D model of the Irish underground; identification, evaluation and monitoring of zones of high potential for geothermal energy; and identification of potential hydrocarbon resources in offshore basins.
Environment and Health: Addressing emissions to air and water
Economic development, urbanisation and intensive agriculture represent significant pressures on Ireland’s environment. Climate change is a key issue for geoscience; one response highlighted here is the evaluation of underground potential for carbon storage. Implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive is another issue where geoscience can contribute, in this case through groundwater surveys and monitoring, as well as targeted research of the geological environment.
Marine: Developing a unique resource
Ireland’s seabed is ten times that of its land area. The Marine Institute has estimated that this marine resource was worth €3 billion in 2003. Priority geoscience actions, including INFOMAR, a successor to the Irish National Seabed Survey being managed jointly by GSI and the Marine Institute, are data acquisitions, management and interpretation; data integration and exchange, value added services; seabed monitoring; and world-class geoscience research based on participation in the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme.
Infrastructure: Building on sound foundations with quality materials
Geoscience contributes to effective infrastructure development by providing cost-effective information on ground conditions. Priority actions include high resolution monitoring of hazards such as subsidence, landslides and abandoned mines, and assessment of key mineral and rock resources.
When the international magazine Newsweek devotes significant space to seabed mapping, as it did recently, we can be fairly sure that this technology has a significant future. The context for the article was the continuing melting of Arctic ice, rendering this potentially energy-rich region accessible for the first time to governments and the energy sector, and the only route to staking a claim to a portion of this hostile environment is through seabed mapping. This itself is sufficiently significant to make international news, but imperatives are being replicated far beyond the Arctic Circle also, wherever coastal states seek seabed rights under the UN Law of the Sea.
Ireland and Canada, by playing to their complementary strengths, have a remarkable opportunity to jointly capture a significant portion of this international business. On the Irish side, GSI and its partner, The Marine Institute, are in a unique position to build on the experience of the Irish National Seabed Survey since 1999 and to provide an integrated set of skills. A Canadian-Irish consortium* involving them, called the Atlantic Partners initiative aims to stimulate marine and geoscience businesses on both sides of the Atlantic to become leaders in this international market.
The Irish National Seabed Survey represented a €33 million investment by Government in the Irish geoscience and marine sectors, the largest of its kind world-wide and an investment that is widely regarded as both courageous and successful. The established national expertise and capacity can now be exploited to deliver business success, particularly for the private sectors of both countries, in tapping into a global market estimated to be worth perhaps €2 billion up to 2009.
The first steps in this initiative will be a co-funded consultancy study to advise on the development of a business model to harness the commercial opportunities represented by this market. At the end of 2005 the process of appointing consultants was well advanced with the aim of completing the study by mid-2006. At their meeting in September 2005 this was one of the initiatives which was specifically welcomed by the Newfoundland Premier, the Hon. Danny Williams and An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, TD.
*The Irish partners are Enterprise Ireland, Ireland Newfoundland Partnership, Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute; the Canadian partners are the Canadian Center for Marine Communications and the Ireland Business Partnerships Board.
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A good year for minerals information
Mineral resources are essential for the well-being and development of society. Zinc and lead are but two essential commodities and Ireland has recently accounted for 40% and 30% respectively of Western European production of these from its three active mines (Navan, Lisheen, Galmoy).* GSI continues to support the Exploration and Mining Division (EMD) of its parent Department in providing information services and monitoring for the sector.
In July the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources welcomed the donation by Rio Tinto to the GSI of its extensive Irish Geological Archive. One of the world’s major mining companies, it explored in Ireland from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, amassing a veritable treasure trove of information that will add enormously to the GSI databanks. Important material is included on the Keel zinc-lead deposit, County Longford, and the Kilmacoo gold deposit, County Wicklow. The material, once catalogued and archived, will yield new inputs and interpretations on Irish geology for all customers.
* State Mining and Prospecting Facilities and Industry News. 1st November 2005. Exploration and Mining Discussion Ireland. Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.