Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry blog

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Everyone aboard

Everyone has made it aboard now. We had our safety briefing this afternoon, learning about where to go if there were to be an emergency, how to operate the watertight doors, as well as other practical information such as where the laundry is and what time meals are served.

Snowcatcher Discussion

The scientists have continued getting the gear ready, and then all strapped down so that once we get to sea things don’t start rolling around the deck. We have two enormous "marine snow catchers" on the aft deck. These are used to capture 400 litres of water from key depths, which is then brought back onto the ship and sampled to see what particles are in it. For instance tiny animals (zooplankton), or bits of sediment from the seabed, or – very importanly – bits of zooplankton poo. Particles in the ocean sink, taking with them lots of carbon which ultimately was removed from the atmosphere. It’s what happens to these particles, and the carbon that they carry, that forms the basis of a large component of our work. One of the mooring components was also completed and strapped down, ready to take out into the middle of the Celtic Sea and dropped onto the seabed. This seabed lander has two devices for measuring the water currents using pulses of sound. It will sit on the seabed measuring currents until March next year.

Original post 
adcp bedframe

Friday, 7 November 2014

Preparation continues

Things are gradually finding their place inside the ship. Everything is now aboard, and slowly being put together or stored. Jo Hopkins (from the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool) is putting together the wirewalker mooring. This is a device that uses wave action to crawl up and down a wire between the seabed and the sea surface. As it does this, instruments on it measure the water temperature, saltiness, and the amount of the microbial plants (the phytoplankton) in the water. The wirewalker doesn’t work if the sea is flat calm, which we suspect won’t be a problem on this cruise.

jo assembling wirewalker

 Malcolm Woodward (nutrient chemist from Plymouth Marine Laboratory) has, perhaps a little early, got into the Christmas spirit. His nutrient autoanalyser and its control computer are festooned with flashing coloured lights.
We are all keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast. Looks to be fairly good still for the first day, which will at least allow us to get out to the first sampling site in the middle of the Celtic Sea. After that the wind is forecast to pick up, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be strong enough to worry us for a few days.

Original blog

Well lit autoanalyser

Changes in BODC personnel for SSB

Sean Gaffney from the British Oceanographic Data Centre here. Up until now, I have been the Data Manager for Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry Work Package 1 and Work Package 4. Unfortunately, I am no longer going to be involved with SSB, having just taken on a new role within BODC as the Marine Environmental Data and Information Network (MEDIN) Standards Officer.

I’m saddened that I’m leaving SSB at this time, just as the data collection is beginning to start in earnest, but I know that I leave you in the capable hands of my colleague Louise Darroch, who will be responsible for all five work packages from now on.

I want to wish you all good luck for the remainder of the programme and hope that the science outputs from the research match the enthusiasm of all the SSB participants. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time working with you all and look forward to meeting you all again in the future.

Sean Gaffney,
(Ex) Data Manager for Work Package 1 and Work Package 4

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Loading the ship begins….

The various groups of scientists gradually began to arrive in Falmouth today. People have travelled from Plymouth, Norwich, Oban, Aberdeen, Southampton, and of course Liverpool. Each van load of equipment was loaded onto the ship, and stacked in the ship’s laboratories. Tomorrow the hard work starts, sorting all the boxes of stuff into the correct labs, setting up all of the equipment and beginning to see if it all works OK after the journey here. The plan is to sail 0830 Sunday morning.

Disco Loading

I met the captain to chat about the plans for the next few days. This is her first cruise as captain on this ship. Before this she worked for several years with the British Antarctic Survey on their research vessel. It’s interesting to see how things have changed since my first cruise way back in 1989. Then the crew was entirely male, and the scientists tended to be predominantly male. This is my first cruise where there are more women scientists on board than men, and the ship has several women, including the captain, one of the engineering officers and the head chef.

Disco Laoding

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Next cruise: RRS Discovery, Celtic Sea

My next research cruise is due later next week. I’ll be at sea for 23 days aboard the RRS Discovery, leaving Falmouth on November 9th and returning to Southampton on December 3rd. This cruise is a part of the Shelf Sea Biogeochemistry research programme.
On an earlier cruise, with a collection of meteorological buoys ready for deployment.

The shallow seas around the world’s landmasses, called the shelf seas, cover about 5% of the ocean’s surface area, but they generate somewhere between 15 and 30% of the total amount of biological production in the ocean. We are not entirely sure how they do that. In particular we know that they must receive nutrients from the deep ocean to fuel this biological growth, but we don’t know how that happens. This biological growth supports all of the main commercial fisheries in the sea, and it is also important to our climate. The growth of plankton results in the sea surface absorbing carbon from the atmosphere’s CO2; the shelf sea biological production is thought to remove about one third of the total carbon we put into the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels. So, we want to understand how the plankton do this and, importantly, if they are sensitive to changes in our climate.

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

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

New modelling tool to enhance global understanding

Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Open access model allows scientists to predict climate and other anthropogenically influenced environmental changes.
Today sees the release of the open-source Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry programme-ERSEM model, as a modelling tool for the marine science community.

ERSEM (the European Regional Seas Ecosystem Model) is a numerical representation of an ecological system, studied to gain understanding of the real-life system. It is designed to simulate carbon and nutrient cycling and ecosystem response in European shelf seas and beyond. This enables scientists to make predictions about future conditions and changes within the Earth system under anthropogenic influences andclimate change.

PML was not only part of the original consortium which developed ERSEM, but has since led the development of the original model, finding applications in a number of fields. Working in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the UK Met Office, this version brings together aspects of ERSEM developments made at PML, Cefas and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ).

By making the model open access and freely available to all (including full documentation), the scientists involved hope to foster collaborations within the scientific community, as well as improve transparency and sharing on a global scale. It will also allow PML scientists to monitor ERSEM’s user base, providing adequate and rapid support, whilst enabling them to assess and increase its impact in order to further enhance and refine the model.

The open access model is being made available through the Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry programme, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and theDepartment for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). The aim of the programme is to reduce the uncertainty in our understanding of nutrient and carbon cycling within the shelf seas, and of their overall
role in global biogeochemical cycles.

Further Information

SSB-ERSEM Code download