Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry blog

Showing posts with label RRS Discovery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RRS Discovery. Show all posts

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Call of Duty - Receiving a distress call

This week we were all reminded that RRS Discovery is more than just a research ship. On the open ocean, every vessel has a responsibility to play their part in the safety of the rest of the sea-going community.

Sampling activities at our first process station; Central Celtic Sea (CCS), were drawing to a close. All on board were starting to get into the swing of things. Most operations had run smoothly so far, including two pre-dawn sampling points, which at this time of year begin at 02.00 am!

At approximately 13.00 pm many scientists and technicians were on deck sampling seawater from the midday CTD; the piece of equipment which is deployed over the side of the ship to collect water from many different depths. Although sampling at CCS was not yet complete we noticed the ships engines rumble to life and the ship beginning to move. Soon after, Captain Jo appeared on deck with some somewhat startling news, at least for those of us who are not seasoned seamen.

RRS Discovery had received a distress call. The hull of an upturned vessel had been sighted from an aircraft, and we were in close vicinity and were required to respond immediately. The steam west to the site of the incident took approximately 3 hours, and it was all eyes on deck to keep a look out for anything unusual. Needless to say the atmosphere was tense, but the crew were incredibly calm and professional.

Cargo Ship and spotter plane look on as the boat from Discovery investigates
upturned hull.

When recovered Goose Barnacles indicate that the rusty old open boat has
clearly been at sea for a considerable time!

At around 16.00 we spotted a tiny brownish speck bobbing in the swell; the hull of a very small upturned boat. A light aircraft from the Irish coast guard was surveying from above, and a large container ship had reached the scene first, but neither had the means to move in for a closer look. 

With a readily deployable rib, RRS Discovery is better prepared than most vessels for the situation. Three brave crew members rose to the challenge of boarding the rib; 2nd Officer Vanessa, 3rd Engineer Angus and Petty Officer Willie. Watched anxiously by the rest of us they motored out to make an inspection, where to everyone’s great relief they found that the boat had clearly been adrift for quite some time, and was not a recent capsize. It was reddish-orange with rust, spattered with white bird poo, and hundreds of barnacles clung to its submerged surfaces. Some skilful manoeuvring by both the crew on the rib and on board the Discovery brought the old wreck alongside, and it was carefully winched aboard, in order that it would not cause an alarm to be raised in the future. The biologists among us ogled the stalked goose barnacles; beautiful yet slightly repulsive as their fleshy parts struggled and groped in vain for cool seawater. Meanwhile, the trace metal group shuddered at the amount of rust on the deck, and gave it a wide berth. 

The boat has been carefully stowed atop Alex and Chris’s container lab. They look forward to the stench of rot that will inevitably ensue if the sun decides to make an appearance.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

An Irish Observer onboard RRS Discovery

By Finn Ni Fhaolain

As an Irish Observer, my role onboard is to see that the scientific work being conducted and that the locations being sampled, are the same as those outlined in the initial report submitted to the Irish Marine Institute before the cruise began. Should the need ever arise, in certain situations, I am also to act as an intermediary between Irish officials and the ship. Irish Observer positions on foreign research vessels in and around Irish waters provide a fantastic opportunity for early career level researchers to gain experience on international projects and they are encouraged to actively participate in the research efforts of the cruise.

Finn (blue hat) onboard RRS Discovery: Image Credit: Torben Stichel

During the initial day of the cruise I found out which areas I was needed most to help with. This involved filtering water samples from the CTD stainless steel rosette for organic and inorganic, dissolved and particulate nutrients and chlorophyll in the water column. These samples were taken and filtered, as part of a small team, and then frozen for later analysis by different research institutes involved in the BSS project. I spent the rest of the time helping with the sediment coring and some species sorting as I’ve some experience in these areas. I tried to lend a hand with as many other activities as possible, like core slicing and Radium sampling which I had never done before. I also enjoyed photographing the deployment of landers, buoys, the Auto Sub and gliders.

Deploying the CTD rosette: Image Credit: Torben Stichel

Having previously sampled for macrofauna in deep sea and freshwater environments, I looked forward to sampling in shelf seas in a variety of substrates. I got to observe very different fauna, those more associated with soft substrates such as starfish and flat fish.

Caught by the trawl! 

It was very interesting to see the deployment of SMART buoys and landers having read so much about them at university and having used their observational data for college projects. I particularly enjoyed learning about the set up of the Auto Sub as autonomous equipment of this kind had not been present on any cruises I have been previously part of.

The cruise not only gave me the opportunity to observe different disciplines of marine science all working together – marine biology, chemical oceanography and biogeochemistry, to name a few – it made me more aware of the division of job types between technical and academic. I felt this was a significant differentiation to become aware of, as it aids early career level scientists in deciding where on the scientific spectrum they wish to work. 

Autosub: Image Credit Richard Cooke

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ship's inbuilt equipment that science uses on the cruise

Jon Seddon, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

I look after the science equipment that is permanently fitted to Discovery. I am also responsible for the storage of all the data that we record and the satellite system that we use for communicating with the shore.

On this cruise we’re using several of the instruments that are permanently fitted to the RRS Discovery. We have a weather station that every second records the air temperature, humidity, air pressure, the intensity of the light coming from the sun, and the wind speed and direction. Every second we also measure the properties of the sea 5 metres under the surface. We record the temperature, salinity, how much the phytoplankton in it fluoresce and also how clear the water is, from which we can work out how much is growing in the water (see picture with measurements below). The whole cruise is looking at how the phytoplankton start to grow in the Celtic Sea in spring. The data from the ship allows us to continuously observe how much phytoplankton there is at the surface throughout all of the sea that we pass through.

A screenshot of the underway data that is continuously logged aboard 24-7.  Since 7 am this morning temperatures have increased and fluorescence (chlorophyll) has decreased.
We’re using the echo sounders on the ship to make a profile of how deep the sea underneath us is. There’s more information about how echo sounders work here. We’re using two types of echo sounder on this cruise. The single beam system sends a single pulse of sound down from the bottom of the ship to measure the water depth directly under the ship. We’re also using the multibeam system, which sends out 400 beams of sound out in a triangular pattern to measure the water depth underneath and out to the side of us. We’re currently on the flat shelf and so the sea bed is uniform and 118 metres deep. When we dropped off the edge of the shelf during the iron transect the water went as deep as 2650 metres. There were lots of canyons flowing from the shelf into deeper water that showed up in the multibeam data. 

Multi-beam data from the iron transect showing increasing depth with colours going from red (shallow) to deep blue (deep). Below the ship is a deep canyon running east to west.

This is the unprocessed multibeam data from the deepest part of the iron transect.  The yellow line is the course that the ship took. The blues show the deepest areas of the sea and the reds are the shallower parts that are on the edge of the shelf. The navigation charts that we have for this part of the sea are not that detailed. The echo sounder data allows us to know how deep to lower the CTD to make sure that we measure all of the sea but that we don’t bump the CTD into the sea bed.

There’s a 2.4 metre wide satellite dish on top of the ship that connects us to the Internet and gives us four phone lines (see picture below). Satellite data is very expensive and so our system only works at 256 KBits per second. This is about one-eighth of the speed of the data on a mobile phone and we have to share this amongst the 50 scientists, crew and technicians onboard. There are nine computers around the ship that we can use to access the Internet. You have to be very patient though – the BBC Sport page takes 30 seconds to load and even longer if all nine computers are in use at once.

Picture of the bridge of the RRS Discovery with satellite dome and lots of other aerials and instruments. Photo: Chata Seguro.

Everyone has a phone in their cabin and the ship has four lines with Aberdeen phone numbers because that’s where our satellite ground station is. Friends and family can call us on these numbers or we can call them using phone cards that we’ve bought in advance. Because of the Aberdeen number it only costs the same as a UK phone call and so is very affordable but there is a bit of delay on the line, which can be confusing if you’re not used to it. 

Friday, 17 April 2015

All change: half time in the Celtic Sea

Alex Poulton, National Oceanography Centre

This morning marked a key placeholder in this cruise: a boat transfer and change of scientists. After half a day's steam we arrived in Falmouth bay, although the ever present sea fog meant that we could have been anywhere from the depths of the South Atlantic to the icy waters of the Arctic. Out of the fog came our three new recruits: Angie Milne, Matthew Fishwick and Elaine Mitchell. 

One of the new arrivals (Matthew Fishwick) climbing up the ladder from the launch. Photo: Chata Seguro.

Like half time in a football match, though without the orange quarters and deep heat, our three new recruits were soon on the pitch – after a brave climb up the ladder and onto the deck of the RRS Discovery. This was a straight like for like substitution for us: two new iron chemists to replace the two leaving and a new bacterial ecologist to replace the departing one. After a quick hello and bye from the new recruits to those getting off, the three leaving climbed down the ladder into the waiting launch and then disappeared off into the mist.

Farewell to those departing. Photo: Chata Seguro.

Before the new team members had a chance of relaxation they were informed that sampling would begin again in 12 hours - they had just half a day to orientate themselves on the ship (i.e. find their bed, their lab coat and the galley) before joining the rest of the team for a full night and day of sampling, firm in the knowledge that there was just over two more weeks to the final whistle.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Mysterious NMF Fellows on DY029

Jon Short, National Marine Facilities Sea Systems, National Oceanography Centre

In other blog posts, both from this cruise and from previous cruises in the SSB programme, there have been references to the National Marine Facilities technicians but few added details. So just who are these mysterious fellows and what do they do?

National Marine Facilities Sea Systems (NMFSS) is the organisation who manage the RRS James Cook and the RRS Discovery and the National Marine Equipment Pool as well as providing technicians and engineers providing specialist support to NERC research cruises on both the NMFSS ships and other vessels.

Jon Short preparing the trace metal rosette and Niskin sampling bottles. Photo: Callum Whyte.

There are seven technicians from NMFSS on board Discovery for DY029; Rob (who looks after the mooring deployments and instrumentation), Alan (our mechanical engineer who looks after equipment ranging from deck winches to the machine that produces liquid nitrogen at -300oC), Jon (our IT expert, who makes sure that all of the vital data, from numerous instruments, is logged and recorded), Sam (who prepares and deploys the autonomous gliders) Robin and Colin (who are learning how to operate and maintain the two CTD systems on board) and me, another Jon (also looking after the CTD systems and, very loosely, in charge of the team).

The NMF team preparing to deploy a mooring. Photo: Alex Poulton.

For each cruise supported by NMFSS the preparation starts at least six months before the sail date when we meet with the senior scientists involved and discuss with them what they want to achieve and which pieces of equipment from the pool are best suited to gather the data. This equipment is then prepared for use on the required research cruise. For DY029 this involved the design of moorings and the procurement of hardware for these moorings, payloads for the autonomous gliders to be identified and fitted, laboratory containers to be fitted out to the specification of the scientists involved and instruments, fitted to the CTD frame and on the moorings, to be calibrated to very precise standards.

The NMF team and deck crew recovering a glider. Photo: Callum Whyte.

Once this is all complete the technical team and the ship's crew "mobilise" the vessel. This involves loading all of the equipment required (including everything the scientists bring), installing it on board and commissioning it for use. After the ship sails we provide 24 hour support, operating, maintaining and deploying equipment and making sure the scientific team have everything they need for a successful cruise.

The NMF team preparing the anchor chains for the moorings. Photo: Callum Whyte.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Shrinking Styrofoam Cups

Louis Byrne, British Oceanographic Data Centre, NOC

We’ve done it!  A day of sampling at CANDYFLOSS was followed by a quick jaunt to the shelf edge to pick up some gilders and do a few CTDs and the data collection phase of the cruise is officially over. The final CTD of the day was performed off the shelf edge to a depth of 1000m, and a few of the scientists decorated polystyrene cups and attached them to the CTD rosette. This is a bit of a tradition on oceanography cruises, as the pressure at 1000m causes the cups to shrink in size, producing quaint miniature decorations like the one pictured.

Polystyrene cups post CTD. Designs by Dicky Deal.

We’re now steaming from the shelf edge back to Southampton, a journey which will take approximately 36 hours. The work doesn’t finish then however, as the data that has been collected during this cruise will need to be processed, analysed and then written up into scientific papers. These papers will then be peer reviewed and published in scientific journals, contributing to the advancement of our understanding of key biogeochemical processes in the shelf edge.

The data meanwhile will be sent to the British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC) where they will be archived along with all of their associated metadata. In doing so the final datasets produced by this project will be preserved for future use, and will eventually be made available to the public free of charge (access to the data will be restricted for a few years to give the researchers responsible for collecting the data the chance to write their papers before the data are made publicly available).

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Some very rare leisure time while heading into the next week at warp speed

Louis Byrne, British Oceanographic Data Centre, NOC

Over the weekend the weather has picked up a bit and we had couple of glorious days of sunshine complete with great sunsets such as the one pictured a few days ago. We have now moved from sampling the muddy and sandy sites A and G to site I which is the muddy sand site.

Helen Smith, Kirsty Morris, Natalie Hicks and Sarah Reynolds pointing at the location of sites I and H.

By Sunday we had managed to successfully complete all of the coring that we needed to do at site I, leaving only a few samples left to collect before we can move on to station H, the final of the four benthic sites (we are still planning on journeying to the shelf edge to a site called CANDYFLOSS, with the PSO (Principle Scientific Officer) Malcolm Woodward currently working hard on designing the TARDIS that will be taking us there).

Unfortunately there is no such thing as a weekend on a research cruise but some scientists have managed to carve out some very rare leisure time away. There is a film room with an extensive DVD collection (and the centre of RRS Discovery yoga), as well as a bar with a satellite TV where a few of us watched comic relief on Friday. The Kitchen-Galley is spacious and the food has been consistently delicious, indeed it will probably be the thing I miss most about the ship – Thank you Mark and Amy!

Mark, head chef on the RRS Discovery
Apart from the coring we also managed to complete most of the trawling that we need to do this trip. Three trawls are conducted per station and Steve Widdicombe of Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) will be analysing the animals that are brought up to try and estimate the biomass of marine animals that live on the sea floor. Some of the colourful creatures that we found in our nets have been photographed by Kirsty Morris (National Oceanography Centre).

A cuttlefish (photo by Kirsty Morris)

A shrimp caught in the trawl (photo by Kirsty Morris)

A spider crab (photo by Kirsty Morris)

We’re now heading into the next week at warp speed and are looking forward to completing the work at site I so that we can move to H and then to CANDYFLOSS, where as well as carrying out our usual coring, water sampling and other data collection tasks we will make a short detour to pick up and drop off some sea gliders (more about them later in the blog). 

The trawl net being brought back in (photo by Kirsty Morris)