The calm before the storm

by Penny Holliday

Yesterday as we made our way northwards through the Celtic Sea we encountered weather that was slightly bumpier than Thursday – and the extra motion was enough for some of us (including me) to feel pretty queasy and tired. But as we passed into the more sheltered Irish Sea the weather has once again been calm and sunny. We have had distant views of the coast at times (with associated mobile phone signals!). Just now the sun is shining weakly through hazy clouds and we have a lovely view of Ailsa Craig as we head briefly to Ayr to collect some spare equipment via a pilot boat.

Meanwhile I am watching the weather forecast with a slight sense of disappointment – our long steam to the start of the CTD section will likely be even longer than we expected because one or two exciting-looking storms are due to arrive exactly where we planned to be in the next day or two. The EEL cruises are well known for having to juggle science plans in response to the weather, which is almost always troublesome here. We exactly cross the path of Atlantic storms as they thrash their way across the ocean, stirring the surface layer and pulling warmth from the sea into the atmosphere. This is one of the things that makes this part of the ocean so interesting, but it also can make life difficult at sea at any time of the year. Everyone who has ever been on an EEL cruise has some bad-weather stories to tell – myself included. This is my 10th cruise for this programme, and I think that of all of those, only a couple have escaped the worst of the North Atlantic weather. These coming storms mean that we will have to either go out of our way to avoid them, or else find shelter behind some islands and let them pass.

But despite the forecast, preparations are continuing for when work does start. In one of the photos here, Karen Wilson is testing a glider that we are going to deploy later in the cruise. The glider is an ocean-going robot that measures temperature and salinity as they glide up and down through the top few hundred metres of the ocean. They are fantastic devices that allows us to collect much more data than a ship could do on its own. SAMS runs several gliders in this region for the UK OSNAP and EEL programmes. You can see live streaming of data from these robots at http://velocity.sams.ac.uk/gliders and read more about them in an earlier post at
https://ukosnap.wordpress.com/2014/7/13/todays-spectator-sport-catching-bellatrix

Photos by Penny Holliday

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Sailing into the sunset

by Penny Holliday

So, after many months of planning, training, purchasing and organising, we have at last left the National Oceanography Centre behind us, and are making our way through sunny skies and calm seas along the south coast of England. Our first day at sea has been a pretty good introduction to this cruise because the weather is calm, and we know that we have a couple of days steaming before we even do our first test CTD station (have a look at our blog post from 8 June 2014 to find out more about CTD stations and what they are).

Our CTD section runs between Iceland and Scotland (the dots on the map below) and I have decided to start the work at the northern end of the line. It will take us until Tuesday to get to that point, and we will do one or two practice stations along the way. The test stations will help remind us “old hands” how we do things, test our equipment, and give us a chance to train new staff and students. Just now we are steaming westward along the south coast and will soon turn north to travel up through the Irish Sea. The test stations will be done later on when we leave the shelf seas and head out into the deep ocean.

During the course of this first day, those of us who have just joined the ship have received quite a bit of safety training. Before we even sailed we were given a comprehensive safety briefing from Ian (the Purser), and later in the afternoon there was a muster and lifeboat drill. Now we all know where to muster in the event of an emergency alarm, where to find our lifejackets, and how to put them on and climb into the lifeboats. All of this takes place just outside my cabin and office which means I might have a very short journey if there is an emergency!

After lunch I called our first science meeting where we talked about our programme of work and the different kinds of instruments we will be using over the course of the cruise. It’s important for us to understand what each other hope to get out of these 3 weeks, and to make sure that everyone’s needs are met when it comes to taking water samples from the bottles around the CTD package. We have been working out the shifts (or watches) that we will do, and making sure there are enough people to cover all our activities through the day and night. We now have a pretty good idea of our watches, and I’m happy because we have an excellent team of people who will work well together.

The sun is setting as I write this, and the view from my office is glorious. I’m still getting a thrill from saying “my office”, which is a privilege reserved for the principal scientist and not one I’ve had before. Its great to write the blog sitting in a large comfy chair next to a corner sofa, rather than a simple small desk in the corner of a cabin. It’ll be back to a normal scientist’s cabin next time I’m at sea so I’m going to make the most of this for now!

Images by Penny Holliday:

Map of planned stations during DY031.
Being waved off from NOC by a small group of friends and colleagues. Sunset over the English Channel on day one.

The UK OSNAP 2015 ship-based fieldwork season starts this week

This post marks the re-activation of the UK OSNAP at sea blog after a long down-time between the field work of 2014 and the start of a new season of cruises in 2015. The last time I wrote was at the end of a North Atlantic cruise on the RRS James Clark Ross in the summer of 2014. Now I am typing this in the main lab of a different ship – the RRS Discovery – docked outside the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK.

Over the course of today and tomorrow we will load our scientific equipment onto the ship, secure it all to the lab benches, and settle ourselves into our cabins which will be our homes for the next 3 weeks at sea. It’s a fairly nerve-wracking time, during which we work hard to coax our equipment and computers to work in their new ship-based environment, try to remember how we do all those familiar but “rusty” at-sea tasks, get used to being on an unfamiliar ship, and meet new colleagues and old friends. There is a level of excitement and anticipation too – this is the start of a new adventure that will bring its own challenges and rewards.

Just like the 2014 cruise described in previous posts here, this cruise (which is called DY031) will be based around days and nights filled with CTD stations. The CTD is our main instrument that is lowered on a cable from the ship to the seafloor, measuring temperature, salinity, pressure and oxygen as it goes. Later on in this blog we will explain why we want these data and the water samples that we collect with them.

Cruise DY031 is part of a programme called the Extended Ellett Line (http://prj.noc.ac.uk/ExtendedEllettLine) that has been making CTD surveys between Scotland and Iceland for 40 years, with the purpose of measuring how the ocean changes over time. There are very few places in the ocean where such repeated records of high quality data exists over several decades, and this makes our programme very special and valuable for marine and climate science. The location of the OSNAP line follows part of the Extended Ellett Line (or “EEL” for short) because of this long history of measurements and analysis, and we carried out the 2014 survey of the EEL on cruise JR302 described earlier in this blog. For more background on OSNAP see our website at http://www.ukosnap.org and earlier posts here.

Our Principal Scientist on the 2014 cruise was Brian King, and I supported him in organising and leading the cruise. For cruise DY031 I am Principal Scientist and this is the first time I have had the role alone on a cruise. This brings extra responsibility which I am finding brings some extra anxiety, but Brian tells me it will bring me extra satisfaction too. I will of course be relying on the team of people that make up the ship’s staff and scientific party of DY031, and I am looking forward to working with them all. If you continue to read this blog you will be hearing from some of them as they describe their work, interests and life at sea on DY031.

We sail from Southampton on Thursday, all being well. Personally I cant wait to get started now. My boxes are on board and partly unpacked and my mind is here on the ship too. The moment the ship leaves the quayside we will all relax a little and work on getting into our regular routines; that can be a quietly reflective moment and I’m looking forward to it.

by Penny Holliday, Principal Scientist

Photos (by Penny Holliday): RRS Discovery tied up at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton at the start of DY031.