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The PROMARES-OASIS DEL MAR oceanographic campaign for the study of the large submarine valleys of Catalonia

07 July 2011 Universidad de Barcelona

The unmanned deepwater research vehicle Liropus 2000, operated by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO), will be used for the first time in a study of sea floor relief and the dynamic processes that take place along the continental margin of the Catalan coast, in particular in the submarine canyons of Cap de Creus, Palamós and Blanes. The research will be carried out as part of the oceanographic campaign “Promares-Oasis del Mar”, to be directed by professor Miquel Canals, head of the Marine Geosciences Research Group at the University of Barcelona, on board the research vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa, which is owned by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

The first scientific campaign to use the Liropus 2000, due to run from 30 June to 14 July, will focus mainly on reconnaissance operations to map and analyse the sea floor in the areas in question and to study the sedimentary structures, benthic communities and the impact of human activity in the submarine canyons and slopes of the continental margin along the Catalan coast. The team of experts will study the dynamic processes that take place in submarine canyons and neighbouring slopes, in particular the phenomena linked to extreme storms and dense water cascading along the north-eastern Mediterranean platform, at depths of up to 2000 meters. 

Participating in the campaign will be experts from the UB’s Marine Geosciences Research Group, the Institute of Marine Sciences of Barcelona, the Marine Technology Unit of the CSIC, and the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO). The campaign is also supported by the European Commission, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, the “la Caixa” Welfare Projects initiative “Oasis del Mar”, the General Directorate of Environmental Policies of the Catalan Ministry of Territory and Sustainability, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and the Environment. 

Miquel Canals, head of the Marine Geosciences Research Group at the University of Barcelona and scientific director of the campaign “Promares-Oasis del Mar”, has directed several marine geology projects on large oceanographic research vessels for the study of submarine relief, the sedimentary record and climate change in the Mediterranean Basin, the Atlantic and the Antarctic. He explains that, “the main aim is to explore the deep-lying ecosystems of the underwater valleys found in the northern part of Catalonia, specifically, the submarine canyons of Blanes, La Fonera (Palamós) and Cap de Creus, ecosystems which even today remain largely unexplored. The size of these areas, their proximity to the coast, the depth of the water, the state of preservation of the ecosystem and the fishing resources they provide, these submarine valleys are a unique natural environment of exceptional characteristics that should be studied in greater depth. They are a source of great richness for our country.” 

Eduardo Balguerías, director of the IEO, explains that “the Liropus 2000 is a latest-generation vehicle that enables us to reach greater depths to observe marine ecosystems without perturbing them and to extract samples selectively. It is the only vehicle in Spain capable of reaching depths of 2000 metres and was acquired by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography for the specific requirements of the Indemares project. As well as using it for our own research, the IEO makes the Liropus 2000 available to the wider scientific community in Spain and internationally. This can be seen in the fact that, now the vehicle has been tested and calibrated, its first use is in a campaign led by the UB and on board a research vessel owned by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and operated by the CSIC.” 

A submarine vehicle that records images and gather samples at great depths  

“Promares-Oasis del Mar” is the first campaign to use the Liropus 2000, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) belonging to theIEO, a public research body attached to the Ministry of Science and Innovation that specializes in marine sciences, in particular the study of oceans, the sustainability of fishing resources and the marine environment. The Liporus 2000 is a Super-Mohawk II, one of the most widely sold models produced by the manufacturer Sub-Atlantic. It can operate at depths of up to 2000 metres, although it is equipped to descend to as far as 3000 metres. This new acquisition will extend the research capabilities of oceanography teams and enable non-invasive study of deepwater ecosystems and direct observation of marine habitats and biological communities without altering the natural ecosystem in which they are found. 

The Liropus 2000 has six motors, giving it a high power output and the load capacity to carry six different types of cameras as well as measurement and sampling instruments. It is fitted with CTD equipment to measure temperature, pressure and salinity and a Doppler current meter for analysing the currents at different working depths, and is designed to carry up to 20 kilograms of additional scientific equipment and instrumentation. This advanced ROV is fitted with a powerful lighting system and high-performance cameras (including a high-definition camera and a low-light camera) to guarantee the quality of the images recorded in deepwater areas. The vehicle also has two precision hydraulic arms for gathering objects and a suction system for taking liquid and gas samples. 

The campaign “Promares-Oasis del Mar” will be carried out under the direction of captain Rafael García on board the Sarmiento de Gamboa, which is operated out of Vigo by the CSIC and is the most modern oceanographic vessel in the fleet owned by the Ministry of Science and Innovation. Launched in 2006, the boat is fitted with the latest scientific equipment and technical infrastructures for oceanography, biology and marine geology research and uses advanced navigation systems such as a dynamic positioning. It is also the first Spanish oceanographic vessel with the technical capabilities to operate deepwater remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), and the first boat in its fleet to be equipped with a global broadband satellite communication system.

The Sarmiento de Gamboa belongs to the CSIC and is operated by the Marine Technology Unit (UTM) of the Mediterranean Marine and Environmental Research Centre (CMIMA) in Barcelona. The project is funded by the MCINN (60% ERDF funds), the CSIC (20.5%) and the Autonomous Government of Galicia (19.5%).

Attached files

  • The submarine canyon of La Fonera (image: UB’s Marine Geosciences Research Group).

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