Scientists use robot to uncover secrets of WWI-era wrecks off west coast of Ireland
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Scientists use robot to uncover secrets of WWI-era wrecks off west coast of Ireland

A TEAM from the University of Limerick (UL) have used a submarine robot to investigate WWI-era shipwrecks off the west coast of Ireland.

Led by chief scientist and deep wreck diver Dr Gerard Dooly, the team set off on the Celtic Explorer research vessel and used a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to explore the wrecks.

The ROV, nicknamed Étáin, was developed by UL and used artificial intelligence to explore and evaluate the shipwrecks autonomously, independent of human help.

The technological innovations developed by Dr Doohy and his team made highly-detailed survey of the wreck sites possible for the first time.

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The survey explored a liner – believed to be the SS Canadian that sunk in 1917 – a large cargo vessel and a U-boat.

As well as discovering colonisation by anemones, corals, oysters and brachiopods, the survey also revealed weaponry and debris that provided an insight into the stories behind the wrecks.

The Canadian’s debris, for example, which was not visible on the original map of the wreck, suggested it experienced a violent impact with the seabed.

'Tragedy'

“Near the [U-boat] wreck, we saw pots and pans and unexploded ordinance (shells and primers) scattered on the seafloor reminding us of the human misfortune that occurred at the time of sinking,” said Dr Doohy.

“Every wreck has its own story, so it’s always interesting to locate long forgotten shipwrecks and then try to determine the identity of the wreck and understand something of the circumstances of the tragedy.”

The wrecks were located using the new Wreck Viewer digital service developed by Ireland’s National Monuments Service.

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It lists the locations of more than 4,000 shipwrecks from a total of 18,000 records of potential wrecks in Irish waters.