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Shannon estuary water levels rise

A NUI Maynooth study of water levels in the Shannon estuary has already led to predictions that sea levels in Ireland will increase by 20-88cm over the next 80 years.

Earlier this year, the Heritage map was commissioned as part of the Clare Heritage Plan Programme in association with the Heritage Council, Clare Biodiversity Group and Rural Resource Development. It will cover an area stretching from Ruan to Clooney to Shannon Airport, and will include the greater Ennis area and the River Fergus estuary. The work is being carried out by Mary Tubridy and Associates who were involved in developing an Environmental Education Strategy for the county in 2004. Dr Mary Tubridy and Mieke Muyllaert will gather information for the map from aerial photographs and fieldwork.

Congella McGuire, Heritage Officer, Clare County Council says the new maps will make it possible to learn about the diversity of plants and animals in the areas surveyed.

“It’s hoped that this survey will assist communities to identify areas of biodiversity near their town or village and help with their tidy towns efforts. On farms, habitats may include dry and wet grasslands, scrub, hedgerows and buildings. In towns different types of habitats will be found in gardens and hedges”, Ms. McGuire said.

“A presentation on the work and update of the survey will be made available during Heritage Week from 26th of August to 3rd of September 2006 in Ennis”, she concluded.

In 2003, habitat mapping was undertaken around Kilmurry, Sixmilebridge Bunratty, Newmarket on Fergus and part of the Shannon area. The results were presented to the public in January 2004 while the findings now form the basis of sea level rise and habitat change research being completed by NUI Maynooth.

A recent study undertaken by NASA and the University of Kansas showed that the loss of ice from Greenland doubled between 1996 and 2005, as its glaciers flowed faster into the ocean in response to a generally warmer climate. However, climate change is only one contributory factor to the predicted sea level increases of “20-88cm over the next 80 years”. Seamus Coveney, a PHD researcher based at NUI Maynooth, says the study being undertaken along the Shannon Estuary will enable scientists to predict future sea level rises and in turn assess how the mainland as well as wildlife and plant habitats will be affected.

“All predictions are based on guidelines established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It’s clear that the melting of the icecaps is not the sole reason or, indeed, the main reason for changes in sea levels. One contributory factor is the warming of the atmosphere which has lead to the expansion of seas and oceans”, Mr. Coveney said.

He added, “The impact of the last ice age over 10,000 year ago is also being felt. The north of Ireland was hardest hit by glacial activity and this has resulted in a ‘tipping effect’ whereby this part of the country has continued to rise year on year since the weight of the ice was removed. The south of Ireland is actually sinking up to 1mm each year. These contributory factors have helped us to predict what impact rising sea levels will have on salt marsh environments such as the Shannon Estuary”.

The Shannon Estuary project, which is due to be completed in 2007, is supported by Clare County Council and is funded by the National Centre for Geocomputation.


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