Last day of the cruise

by Penny Holliday

The view from my cabin window is no longer miles of empty sea and sky, but instead is a giant container ship docking in a neighbouring berth in the port of Immingham. After a short few days of steaming around Scotland and into the North Sea, we have finally reached our end port. On the way we enjoyed some fabulous scenery and also enjoyed a noisy, exuberant party to celebrate the achievements of the cruise.

We have also spent the last few days packing up, finalising our data sets and writing the cruise report. The report will list all the things we have done, the methods we used to do them, and some notes on the quality of our data. It’s never much fun writing a cruise report, but it becomes an invaluable source of information when it comes to analysing data later on. You know you have really finished your work when that has been done and given to the principal scientist!

I think we have every right to be very proud of what we have achieved on this cruise. We have met all of our scientific aims in that we have made a complete CTD section through the North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre, something that has never been done before. And we have done it in style, collecting a full set of chemistry data to go with the physical measurements, and creating a data set that is unique, of the highest quality and will be analysed for many years to come. I cant wait to get started with my plans for the data… well, maybe after I get back from a holiday with my family.

Cruises are more than just collections of data of course; we will all leave the ship with new friends and new memories. Everyone on board has worked really hard to make sure we get the most out of the opportunities that the cruise has presented us with. The ship’s staff have been fantastic in so many ways and we couldn’t have done so well without their hard work and help.

Tomorrow the scientists leave the ship and head home. There may be a slight tinge of sadness about leaving the ship when we have had such an enjoyable cruise, but that cant put much of a dent in the happy feeling of going home.

This is the last daily blog post from me on this cruise, but I will continue to add to the blog by posting photos and movies that we plan to make from the masses of film footage we took during the cruise. There will be more UK OSNAP cruises and so the daily posts will return for those. In the meantime, you can catch our with other OSNAP scientists at sea at

Images: The science party of JR302 (by Sinhue Torres Valdes). Other photos by Penny Holliday: the best views of our approach into Immingham are from the monkey island; Immingham mainly looks very industrial but there is beauty there too; the entrance to our basin is through a lock; the aft deck is covered by our boxes waiting to be unloaded by crane tomorrow.

Tracers in the sea

by Marie-José Messias and Lilo Henke

Hidden away in a separate laboratory container (first photo) latched to the after deck is the Tracers team (second photo). While the other scientists share the UIC and ship’s built-in labs, we have the privilege of having our own little space (or cave, as the night shift likes to call it) from which we get wonderful close views of the sea, with waves sometimes crashing onto the deck against the window (photos 3, 4 and 5).

The team consists of five people from the Geography department of the University of Exeter. Marie-José Messias is in charge of the transient tracers studies for the Ragnarocc project and is the team leader. Pete Mead is a research technician specialised in electronics. Gary Murphy and Lilo Henke are both 2nd year PhD student and volunteers on this cruise. Gary is working on the growth of coral reefs in the Caribbean and Lilo is working on past records of tropical rainfall in the Pacific. Tobia Tudino is working with Marie-José as PhD student on the uptake of anthropogenic (human-released) carbon by the ocean and will be using the data we are collecting on this cruise for his project. Barbarella is an home-made gas machine used to measure the tracers by extracting them from the seawater via a flow of nitrogen gas and trapping them in a very cold bath of liquid nitrogen (at minus 100 celcius ). Then the tracers are separated and quantified by gas chromatography.

CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons banned in the 90s because of their greenhouse gas effect) and SF6 (sulphur hexafluoride) are man-made compounds that are released from aerosols, fridges and electric power plants. These so-called transient tracers have been injected to the atmosphere since the beginning of the 20th century, entering the ocean at the surface and being transported to the deep ocean in areas of deep water formation (mostly high latitudes). As we know the atmospheric concentration, oceanographers can use them to date the water masses and study ventilation, circulation and mixing in the ocean. They can also be used to estimate the uptake/storage of the anthropogenic carbon (Cant) by the ocean.

On this cruise we are particularly interested in the pathways and ventilation times of the North Atlantic Deep Water contributors (Labrador Sea Water, Denmark Strait Overflow Water and Iceland-Scotland Overflow Water) and Cant inventories.

Images (all by the tracer team): The tracers laboratory container, the tracers team, views from the container, the analysis system Barbarella, Pete and Gary measuring samples, Tobia and Lilo taking gas readings.

View from the top: what does a principal scientist do?

by Brian King, Principal Scientist and physical oceanographer

Earlier in our cruise your Chief Blog Correspondent asked me to write something about the View From The Top, or in this case from the PSO’s cabin. By tradition, the leader of the expedition is known as the Principal Scientific Officer, or PSO. You won’t be surprised to hear that a research cruise like this takes years of planning. In our case, a group of scientists got together back in 2011 to discuss what measurements we might make that would help us learn about how the North Atlantic is changing as part of global climate change. We would need a big team to measure all the things that are important: my specialism is the physical properties: temperature tells us about global warming; salinity tells us about changing rainfall patterns. We would also need to measure biological and chemical properties: oxygen tells us about the activity of plants and animals that live in the ocean; the concentration of carbon dioxide tells us the extent to which the ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas, and slowing the rate of increase of what is left in the air. A total of 5 universities and national laboratories were involved and at the end of a detailed description of the scientific questions and methods we would use to address them, was a short sentence saying “and if you give us 6 weeks on a ship to make some of these measurements, Brian will lead the expedition”. The process through initial ideas, writing a detailed funding application, scrutiny by leading scientists within and outside the UK and an eventual funding decision is very thorough, but by the middle of last year we had been told we would have 42 days of scientific time on the James Clark Ross.

Every year the ship operators gather all the scientists who will be ‘PSO’ on a cruise the following year, so I was duly summoned in 2013. Most of the meeting is about technical aspects of planning the cruises, but as an ‘old lag’ I was invited to say a few words to first-timers. I told them that when they arrive at the ship and walk up the gangway as PSO, they should be thrilled and terrified in equal proportions. If they’re not thrilled then they haven’t grasped what an extraordinary privilege it is to be given a chance to lead a research expedition. If they’re not terrified, at least for a moment, then they haven’t grasped the magnitude of their responsibility to make it a success.

On the last day of this trip I will have spent precisely 2 years at sea on research ships, spread over more than 20 expeditions. Quite a big chunk of my 30 years of working life. More than half of that has been as leader or co-leader, but I still get butterflies in my stomach as I walk up the gangway to join a new cruise. For the next 6 weeks 50 people are going to be working to a common goal, and I need to tell them what that goal is and how to achieve it. Thrilled and terrified. But as soon as we get to work unpacking our equipment I know that we’re very thoroughly prepared and the terrified moment passes. Just the thrill remains.

So what does the PSO have to do ? First and foremost I must know the scientific objectives of the trip and how the detailed day-to-day activities will enable us to meet them. Of course we know in general terms that we’re going to travel from Canada to the UK via Greenland and Iceland, and collect water samples along the way. But on a rolling program of a few days at a time I must specify exactly where the ship will go, where it will stop and what water samples we will collect. We have a plan before we set off, but this plan needs to evolve in response to the weather, the speed we travel at, any other holdups, and sometimes in response to what we are observing. In making these decisions I am greatly assisted by two others on board: The Captain, Graham, keeps a careful eye on the evolving weather and advises me when it is likely to deteriorate, and how that will impact on our progress. Bad weather may slow us down, or prevent us using our CTD equipment when we reach a certain place. Early in the trip he would obtain charts of ice coverage around Greenland and interpret them for us. It is imperative that the Captain understands what we’re trying to achieve, and several times we altered our plan in response to his advice. My other close advisor is your chief correspondent Penny, another experienced oceanographer and co-leader of the expedition. I don’t make any major decisions without talking it through with her first, in case there are things I have overlooked. If we make a mistake, we can’t go back and do it again next week. We have just once chance, and we must get it right.

Throughout the trip I have been keeping a careful eye on rate of progress, number of measurements made, distance covered, distance remaining. First and foremost it is my job to ensure we complete everything we are supposed to before the end of the trip. If we have holdups we may need to leave some things out in order to make up time. I must know what can be left out with least impact on the final outcome. I must know how long the remaining work will take, and leave contingency time in case we have bad weather in the final few days.

Next in the PSO’s list of tasks is to ensure that all the measurement teams are running smoothly and getting samples to feed into their analytical equipment. We capture water samples in 10-litre bottles, and every time we bring a bottle back on deck there is a queue of analysts waiting to take some of it for analysis. If every analyst tried to analyse a single sample there wouldn’t be enough to go round, because some of them need several litres for their analysis. So we need a plan that says ‘These measurements from the first bottle, these measurements from the second’, and so on. The analysts on this trip are a fantastic bunch. Friendly, good-humoured, working around one another in a confined space. There’s a strict pecking order for collecting their samples. People measuring dissolved gasses like CFCs and oxygen go first, before water from great depths can become contaminated by gasses in the air. Samples for salinity and nutrients go later, because there’s less risk of contamination. Last in line are biological samples which will be filtered to see what particles are found in the water. Sometimes there just isn’t enough water for everyone’s analysis, so we stay on one site for an extended period, and repeat the water-capturing until we have enough. But that takes time and must be allowed for…

The PSO has a number of housekeeping tasks to take care of. I am the main point of contact between the ship and the scientific party so I have to answer questions that can range from ‘how many people will you have working night shifts and what time of night will they require meals’ through to ‘can you tell us what chemicals you will be offloading when we reach the UK that will require specialist transport and documentation’. The first question I can take care of myself. The second I rapidly delegate to one of our nutrient analysts who has the expertise to answer it correctly.

When I’m not being PSO then I take my place as an ordinary member of the physics team: processing data on our computers, analysing water samples to determine salinity, helping deploy or recover equipment. Six weeks ago there were a lot of things in the physics program that Penny and I were the only people on board who knew how to do. Now we have the tasks distributed around a group of six. I find the chance to pass on knowledge and experience to be profoundly satisfying. To know that in the future things can be done because I helped someone learn how to do them. Just as I learned by going on cruises with scientists from the generation before me. You cannot learn how to be a good field scientist from a book or in a classroom. There is only one way to learn: go on fieldwork and see how its done.

So yesterday was the last day we stopped to collect water samples. But we are still working today: plenty of samples to feed the unending appetite of the analytical equipment. Now we have a couple of days steaming to get to our final destination on the east coast of the UK. The first 24 hours will be a spectacular transit up through the isles off the west coast of Scotland. It will be hard to look away from the scenery to write those final reports. Photographs of Mull or Skye are more likely if the weather is kind to us.

So. Thrilled and Terrified ? Now I’m just elated and exhausted. We’ve done everything we set out to do. Fantastic achievement by all the scientific party. Wonderfully supported by the ship’s personnel. For us it’s the pinnacle of three or four years planning, and for them it’s just another cruise. But they are patient, attentive, careful with our equipment, responsive to our requests. A truly great privilege to lead a group like this working so willingly towards common goals. No two trips are ever the same. The most recent one is always the best ever team and the best achievement. Until the next one.

And in case you were wondering what the view from the top is like, I do get a very nice cabin, with a separate office or ‘day room’, a couple of armchairs, and my own fridge. And yes it is very high up in the ship.

Images: First one is Brian and Stefan (by Felicity Williams), the rest are by Penny Holliday.

Measuring carbon at sea

by Eithne Tynan

My name is Eithne Tynan and I am a chemical oceanographer at the University of Southampton. I am involved in the Ragnarocc project and I’m in charge of the CO2 measurements on this cruise. This is a big task and one that involves a five person team, six different instruments, boxes and boxes of consumables and a large supply of chocolates and haribos! As was explained on an earlier post the measurements on this transect will be combined with those on the subtropics cruise next year to calculate the carbon budget for the North Atlantic. So how do we go about transforming a sample of salty seawater into a number that tells us how much CO2 there is in the ocean? Well, easy, we take last year’s measurements and just adjust them up a little bit. No, just kidding!

I’ll try to keep it simple. Sampling is the first task and a critical part of our job: we are effectively measuring the amount of dissolved CO2 gas in the water, which means we want to minimize any contact with the atmosphere. This is why there is an established protocol around the CTD where samples for gases are drawn before any others. So once we have our sample in the bottle, we ‘kill’ it with poison to stop any biological activity which could change the CO2 concentration. At this stage with the bottle properly sealed, it can be stored in a cool place for several months before analysis. However, by the end of the cruise we will have collected around 2300 samples, so we have brought our instruments to sea to analyse the samples as we go. One great thing about been at sea is that the lab is running for 24hours, seven days a week, and in the seven weeks this cruise lasts we will have analysed what would take one person about 5 months in the lab.

So this brings me to our beloved VINDTA, the main instrument we use for our measurements. We have two of these on board and as Penny said today “it looks like a mad scientist’s machine”. One thing for sure, they definitely make you mad at times….that’s when you reach for the emergency stash of chocolate! We have two of these VINDTAs on board and Becky, one of our team members, renamed them Golden Girl and Princess Precious, you can guess which one has been giving us more trouble on this trip! Basically, on the VINDTA the seawater sample gets stripped of all the CO2 dissolved in it by adding some acid. This released CO2 gas gets pumped into a chemical solution that changes color according to the amount of CO2 injected into it. Using mathematical equations the color change is converted to dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), et voila, that’s the total amount of CO2 that is in that particular sample of the ocean. Chemistry is definitely cool!

We have just reached the coast of Scotland and we don’t have long to go now before we finish science, so perfect timing for a big thank you to the awesome carbon team on this cruise: Becky Garley, Claudia Fry, Jen Clarke and Alex Griffiths. Thanks for the smooth sailing!

Images: The carbon team, by Eithne Tynan

Behind the scenes: making science possible on the James Clark Ross

by Tom Patterson

Hi, I am Tom, a Steward on board the R.R.S. James Clark Ross. Today I thought I would write a post about the officers and crew on the JCR to give a small insight to the huge operations going on to make the science possible. Firstly, I would like to apologise to those of you who have come to read about the science, unfortunately I don’t know a great deal about what research is going on but hope you will enjoy reading about the other roles being carried out on board.

I will start at the top of the ship and work my way down. First you come to Charlie our Radio Officer. He deals with all our communications and is based at the back of the bridge in his radio shack, it looks a little like something from Star Trek, lights and buttons everywhere. Due to the areas the ship visits Charlie has a very hard task keeping us connected to the outside world, we know we are in a radio black spot when the daily newspaper does not arrive and everyone, well maybe not everyone just “The COOKS” are waiting for their crossword!

Moving out of the radio shack you come to the bridge. Now this is the nerve station and personally it is one of my favorite places on board. The view from up here is breathtaking with the chance to spot all sorts of wildlife from polar bears in the distance to a petrel flying less than a metre away alongside the bridge wing. It’s a photographer’s dream.

We have 3 officers of watch who take charge of the bridge under the orders of the Captain, keeping a look out across the horizon for any hazards to keep the ship safe, they also give the green light to any science equipment wanting to be winched over the side for sampling. While the bridge is my favorite place I do feel sorry for the chaps working up there in bad weather, as you can imagine being higher up these are the ones that take the brunt of the weather getting tossed side to side!

Now we come to the department I work in, the catering department. On the next 4 decks below the bridge are the accommodation decks where my department works. I work with a great team of 2 other Stewards, a Senior Steward, two Cooks and the Purser. We have a number of tasks to complete daily from servicing the cabins and serving the meals, to the more important task of stocking the bars.

It’s been a busy trip for the galley now working 24 hours a day providing food to all shifts day and night! We have also had a few birthdays with some fantastic cakes being made, credit to the cooks for squeezing the time in to make these cakes in their busy days work!

Next we move on to the hottest place aboard the ship! No, not my cabin, the engine room of course!! A team of 4 mechanical engineers, 1 electrical engineer and 2 motormen work in tight enclosed spaces in extreme temperatures to keep us on the move. Not only do they run the ship’s engines (four of those plus bow and stern thrusters), but also they keep the ship supplied with fresh drinking water, hot water, electricity, heating and dispose of all waste either by stowing it or burning it in a controlled, safe and even environmentally-friendly, way.

Finally we will move outside from the warm comfort of the ship to the cold arctic weather where we have a strong deck team working. These guys are very important to the science operations we run on board the ship from loading all the equipment for the cruise to deploying and recovering the equipment for sampling. It’s vital to have an experienced deck team when it comes to deploying the equipment to make sure that it is done in a safe way and no scientist or crew gets injured.

I hope this short blog has given you a small idea of the operations going to make the science possible.

I would like to wish the scientists of JR302 Cruise good luck with all your research and hope you are enjoying your time on board!

Images: Views around the ship by Tom Patterson; 3 pictures of the bridge, the engine control room, the galley and the officer’s and scientist’s lounge.

Chemical oceanography part 2: the importance of the team

by Sinhue Torres Valdes

Yesterday I talked a bit about what the work we do involves and today I’m going to tell you about the oxygen and nutrient chemistry team and how we work together.

When you assemble a team to go to sea you are not just looking for an extra pair of hands to help out with stuff, rather, you need extra brains; someone that can contribute with ideas, suggestions and loads of initiative. Above all, you need people good character, since doing the same thing for 12 hours (or more) every day for 6 to 7 weeks as tiredness accumulates can be tedious, so you have to find the spark every day to light the smile.

Having said that, I think I’m very lucky to work alongside great guys! With that many things to look after, several brains work better than only one.

After a week or so at sea, you can more or less assess everything that needs to be done and can thus decide how to best doing to make it more efficient and easier. Rather to having us all doing the same thing, we split tasks so that we all contribute but only one has control of each task.

Hannah (1st year PhD student), always ready with a smile and cool stories to tell, in addition to carrying out sampling and analyses, is in charge of looking after the oxygen data. Processing and assessing data is no easy task. Following analyses (which we all do), Hannah makes sure that all data is up to date and that numbers are of good quality, liaising with the physics team, keeping track of standardisations, corrections if need to be done. She works really hard and provides loads of ideas on how to process data more efficiently. This is her first time at sea and coming from a pure chemistry background, oceanography is relatively new to her, but boy! She is doing an amazing job!!! I hope she is enjoying the expedition and learning loads.

Carolyn (3rd year PhD student); she is faster than the speed of light! Man! I only need to say 3 or 4 words before she figures out what is it that I’m trying to say, what is it that needs to be done or what a problem may be. I have the impression that at some point I would only need to think about something and she will pick it up straight away. She is always on top of things, so there’s no need to explain what is it that we need to do at any given time. In addition to sampling, analysing, and working on her PhD thesis, she is (together with me) in charge of looking after the nutrients data. Again, this involves quality checks, assessing data and liaising with the physics team to further scrutinise the numbers we are producing (we are the first critics of our own work). She always provides ideas and suggestions which help things flow smoothly. Pretty much the same Hannah does with the oxygen data, we do with the nutrients. Hope Carolyn can learn something new out of this expedition too.

Mark; my buddy and colleague for the last 9 years! Somehow, this is the first ever time we get to go to sea together and it’s been great. Mark is an expert on pretty much everything! He has done, I believe 20 or so expeditions and knows lots of analytical techniques. On top of that, he is our expert on hazardous goods (aka, nasty chemicals that sometimes we need for analyses). Again, in addition of carrying out sampling and analyses, Mark is responsible for collecting and processing biological samples for colleagues at NOC and the University of Seville in Spain. Besides, he liaises with the ship’s officers to deal with the paper work needed when handling chemicals at sea (whether hazardous or not), so that these can be handled properly and that any waste resulting from the analyses is disposed of properly once back on land. He’s a really cool guy.

As for me, well, I guess I’m the boring guy, but with such a great team, I can even be funny at times. Work and life at sea is a lot easier and funky when you are surrounded by such great people! So, let’s keep on pushing the boundaries!

Oh dear! I missed my lunch again…..

Images: The JR302 nuts and oxy team, all by Sinhue Torres Valdes

Chemical oceanography and back at Rockall

by Sinhue Torres Valdes

Hi there! My name is Sinhue and I am a Marine Biogeochemist (or chemical oceanographer), very interested (among other things) about how nutrients are distributed in the ocean. In a previous very cool blog post, Mark already talked about why we care about measuring nutrients and dissolved oxygen at sea. So, today I’ll talk a bit about what it involves and tomorrow I will talk about the team.

Leading a chemistry team is a massive responsibility (really cool one though!); first, you need to make sure that the data you obtain is of the best possible quality, and second (equally important), you need to make sure your team works safely, effectively, enjoys the expedition and learns a lot about how the ocean works and about carrying out analyses at sea (if we do not learn new stuff, then what’s the point of doing something kind of thing?!).

Measuring stuff at sea does not only involve collecting samples and putting them in a machine with some chemicals, out of which you get numbers. Collecting a sample may be the easy bit, but it is extremely important that you do it correctly and in a consistent way. If a sample is drawn incorrectly, then no matter how good the analysis is; the resulting number will be wrong!

We have to continuously prepare new chemical reagents and standards to calibrate the analyses, which also require things to be done properly. Even if you collected the sample in a proper way, if the chemical reagents and standards are prepared carelessly, the resulting numbers will be wrong!

Now, the instruments for the analyses; you need to understand how they operate, what can go wrong and how to correct issues you may come across. Understanding the basics of how the instrument works is crucial, since it’s the first step in the process of generating numbers where you can actually see if something is not going ok; whether a sample is contaminated, the chemical reagents are not working or the analytical instrument is malfunctioning……. or whether you forgot to connect a cable, a tube, or misplaced the chemical reagent 😉

Then there are the numbers themselves. How do you know if they are ok? Well, we do lots of quality checks, which involve analysing reference materials (stuff with ‘official numbers’ that we ought to be able to reproduce) and lab-made standards, which help you identify problems. Then, as soon as a single analysis is completed, we have to evaluate whether all the quality checks indicate the analysis was robust (or not).

We work continuously with the physics team because yet a further check involves putting the chemical and physics data (temperature, salinity, pressure) together to visually verify whether all the stuff we measure (what we term ‘variables’) are producing consistent results. Needless to say, it is a very time consuming process, but all the way worth doing as you go along. There’s nothing more satisfying than leaving the ship knowing that the data is ready to use.

Tomorrow you can read more about the team members that carry out all this work.

Images (photos and text by Penny Holliday): We arrived back at Rockall today, so here are more pictures of the rock and it’s present occupier Nick Hancock. Nick is raising money for charity by attempting a record solo stay on Rockall ( I will return to Rockall next summer when I will be leading another survey of the Extended Ellett Line.