Marine geology expert Professor Andrew Cooper of the University of Ulster has just had a right royal finale to one of the most productive of 25 years spent exploring the secrets of the deep.
Internationally known for pioneering work in maritime mapping and coastal climate change impact, his expertise brought him face to face, by Royal Invitation, with some of the world’s greatest explorers and adventurers at a Buckingham Palace reception.
The December event, marking the centenary of Captain Scott’slast expedition to the South Pole, was also held to recognise accomplishment in exploration and adventure, in pursuit of achievement, research or education.
Hosted by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and attended by other members of the Royal Family, the impressive line-up of guests included adventurer record-holders, ocean-going solo rowers, mountaineers, jungle explorers and other intrepid figures, whose television documentary exploits have helped to make them household names.
They included Sir Richard Attenborough, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Sir Chris Bonnington, Dame Ellen McArthur, Michael Palin and Charlie Boorman.
“On a purely personal level, it was a great honour to be invited to the reception,” Professor Cooper said. “It was tremendous just to rub shoulders with some of the best known explorers and adventurers of our time. They are people whose bravery and ingenuity raises our spirits and our sights.
“Professionally, I would see the invitation as very prestigious recognition of the work of marine geologists and archaeologists here at the University of Ulster and in other institutions.
“Often, the work may not have an obvious public profile but the research that we conduct is of vital importance not just to explorers but to people who work or live close to the sea and to nations striving to deal with threats and opportunities being thrown up in this era of climate change.”
Professor Cooper, who was born and educated in Belfast, has lived in Coleraine for 17 years. He has investigated and reported on the world’s coasts in a research and teaching career that has taken him to more than 50 countries on six continents over the past quarter century.
He received his PhD from the University of Natal in South Africa, where he worked for nine years. At Ulster’s Coleraine campus, he is a member of the Environmental Sciences Research Institute and teaches in the School of Environmental Sciences.
In July, University of California Press published “The World’s Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline” which he co-authored with several other international experts. Just before Christmas, Four Courts Press in Dublin published an extensive study entitled “Lough Swilly, A Living Landscape”, which he edited.
Alongside research projects in the Arctic, South Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, Professor Cooper is also currently leading a major project to locate and map submerged shorelines in the Irish Sea. It is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
“Although it is right on our doorstep, the Irish Sea seabed is among the least known parts of the planet,” he said.
“Just that little covering of water makes it very difficult to explore. Ironically, we have probably explored the surface of Mars in more detail than our own seabed”.