Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry blog

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Progress on DY 008 and information on re-scheduling of SSB research cruises

Communication from SSB Science Coordinator

Congratulation to Henry Ruhl and all those on board RRS Discovery for their many achievements since 18 March on the first Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research cruise, DY 008.   Moorings, gliders and Autosub have been deployed; benthic sites have been surveyed and cored (two stations completed and the 3rd  ‘in progress’); and very many CTD samples taken.  Satellite data (via NEODAAS) and ship-board measurements have both shown that conditions in the Celtic Sea study area are still pre-bloom, as had been hoped for.

The dedication and performance by the younger scientists on DY 008, for whom this is their first experience of a research cruise, have been particularly impressive.  However, there have also been technical problems (primarily involving the winches), due to the fact that not all of the on-board systems had yet been fully commissioned and tested.  As a result of those problems, it has been decided that – for both operational and scientific reasons, and with much reluctance – the current SSB cruise series will end when DY 008 returns to Southampton at the end of this week.  The main, process-based fieldwork programme will be resumed on Discovery in November (the WP1 led cruise, planned as DY 018), to be followed by a full repeat of the spring/summer sequence (5 cruises) in March-August 2015.

This decision was not an easy one, and will inevitably cause great disappointment for those expecting to participate in DY 009 and DY 010 (also DY 012 and DY 013), and who have worked so hard to prepare for them.  Nevertheless, the risks of trying to continue were considered unacceptable, since the severe, and possibly total, limitations in Discovery’s sampling capabilities seriously jeopardises the over-riding SSB science goal ‒ the delivery of an integrated, quantitative understanding of seasonally-driven and interactive processes in the water column and the seafloor, not only in shelf sea waters but also in the adjacent open ocean.

SSB WP leaders and others have given considerable attention to developing contingency plans for the programme since February, when it was realised that the Discovery winch systems might give cause for concern.   Whilst details have yet to be finalised, the research cruise re-scheduling is based on:
  • Obtaining as much data as possible from DY 008, then building on that during 2014 through a continued observation programme, based on servicing of the instrumented moorings, and obtaining time series information from other autonomous sensors
  • SSB involvement in a new, provisionally-scheduled late summer survey/training cruise in the Celtic Sea on Discovery
  • Additional work over the next seven months, to maximise the opportunity now provided to widen the temporal (and spatial?) coverage of the programme, and the linkages between fieldwork, experimental studies and modelling.
Further information is provided in the joint communication from SSB WP 1-3 leaders and myself (below).  The above arrangements have been approved by NERC and Defra, and will be made possible by extensions (of up to 8 months) to the contracts of SSB researchers directly involved in the Discovery research cruises, to enable completion of planned work.  The situation for other individuals significantly affected (and other related additional costs) will be considered on a case-by-case basis, on the principle that priority will be given to safeguarding the career development of young researchers.

Whilst the immediate situation is clearly to be much regretted, there are potential scientific advantages to the re-scheduling.   It is now up to the SSB community to respond to that challenge, developing innovative ways to maximise benefits and minimise impacts.  Further information will be given as soon as it is available.

Phil Williamson
Science Coordinator: UK Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research programme

Further information on re-scheduling of SSB research cruises

Joint communication from Leaders of SSB Work Packages 1-3 and SSB Science Coordinator

Phil Williamson’s email provides the basic information on the decision by NERC and Defra to accept a recommendation to re-schedule the SSB cruise programme on Discovery, with a re-start in November 2014. The recommendation arose from recent meetings and teleconferences between NERC, NMF, the lead PIs for WPs 1-3, and others with direct interests.  It also built on earlier contingency planning.  The decision-making process was not an easy one, involving an assessment of the likely consequences of continuing with the SSB research cruises, whilst also giving careful attention to the impacts and implications of realistic alternatives.

Whilst there was early optimism that Discovery’s winch problems might have been fixed (before and during DY 008), the reality is that underlying reasons for the electronic/electrical system failures have yet to be resolved.  Furthermore, there are also winch-spooling faults constraining deep, clean CTD sampling – essential for WP3.   Since the seasonal sequence of the SSB cruises, and the integration of the component WPs, are both of central scientific importance to the programme (and key features of its funding support), it was concluded that the risks to maintaining a coherent SSB programme had become too great.  Fundamentally, NMF require significant time to work with the winch manufacturers (and the shipyard, if necessary) to properly fix the winch system and complete the commissioning.  That work needs to be done sooner rather than later, for the wider benefit of all future users of Discovery.

Although the re-scheduling will be a temporary set-back, SSB should still be able to fully deliver its science objectives.  Indeed, there is now the opportunity to deliver more, by additional observations that will greatly assist the interpretation of the process-based studies and associated modelling, and thereby substantively increase overall confidence in scientific outcomes.  That will be made possible by additional NERC funding to the programme, to cover the cost of the re-scheduling;  in particular, by contract extensions for those researchers directly affected.

Potential opportunities include:

  1. Widening the Celtic Sea survey area, to characterise a much greater proportion of the shelf.
  2. Extending the time series observations (from moorings, gliders and satellite data); also strengthened linkage to other datasets (e.g. CPR, WCO).
  3. Hence improved  understanding of temporal variability, with detailed comparison of spring bloom events in 2014 (a potentially anomalous year, due to mild and stormy winter) and 2015.
  4. Participation in relevant non-NERC cruises and surveys during 2014, e.g. greater involvement in the shelf-wide WP1 sampling of air-sea carbon fluxes, in collaboration with Cefas, Marine Scotland, AFBI and others.  
  5. Maximising integration by extending interaction between WPs 1-3 and WPs 4-5, improving predictive capabilities and thereby more effectively meeting policy-maker needs.
  6. Additional training for the next generation of technicians and scientists.

These ideas will be developed further in the next few weeks –  when input from the SSB research community would be greatly welcomed.  Further information will follow when available; in the meanwhile, please contact us if you have WP-specific or programme-wide queries.

Jonathan Sharples, Martin Solan, Peter Statham & Phil Williamson

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