Playing with fire hoses during a safety drill #EEL17

It was the perfect day for the first of our safety drills – calm, sunny and warm. Fortunately no-one got wet and we practised how to cool a deck or bulkhead, and how to shield someone from the heat (by expanding the jet of water to fan out and create a wall of water) in case of a fire on the ship.

We’ve been steaming towards our working area since Saturday morning, and we are itching to get started with the main work of CTD stations and mooring operations. That work will start tomorrow morning, and I predict a sizeable audience for the first station at 6am!

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The start of our expedition to do the 2017 Extended Ellett Line and to service UK OSNAP moorings

by Penny Holliday, Principal Scientist

This morning we left the calm of Southampton docks to set out on a new expedition on the Royal Research Ship Discovery: cruise number DY078. Over the course of the next 3 weeks we will collect data from a part of the ocean that we have visited every year since 1975 – a programme named the "Extended Ellett Line" in tribute to David Ellett, the oceanographer who began this work over 40 years ago (pictured below).

Our journey will take us from the inshore waters of Scotland, out into the deep and open North Atlantic ocean to a wild rocky islet called Rockall, and north towards the glaciers and volcanoes of southern Iceland. The aim of DY078 is to measure the temperature, salinity, oxygen and nutrient concentrations of the ocean along a line that runs from Scotland to Rockall to Iceland (which we call the "section"). The repeats of this section tell us how the ocean has changed since 1975, and from that we learn new things about the way the ocean currents work, how and why they change over time, and the implications of those changes for climate and for marine ecosystems.

Over recent years we have been adding to this programme of repeated sections by leaving instruments in the water for a year at a time, attached to very long moorings that are anchored to the seafloor and held upright by buoys. These moorings are part of a relatively new programme called OSNAP that has similar moorings strung out across the whole North Atlantic between Canada, Greenland and Scotland. Together they will tell us for the first time how the vast ocean currents change over time; critical information for understanding the climate system. We will recover the instruments and download their data, and put new ones back in their place.

The people on board the RRS Discovery are a great mix of experienced seagoers and first timers. We hope to share some of our stories about us and our varied work over the coming 3 weeks, and to share our pretty amazing photos of this expedition, so please re-visit this blog to stay in touch with how we are getting on.

Image: David Ellett, the oceanographer who first started making repeated measurements in the deep ocean to the west of Scotland

Home again, with instruments recovered, moorings re-deployed, and data safe and sound

by Penny Holliday

We’re steaming through Southampton Water on a hot, sunny day, and as we near the dockside at NOC we’re reflecting on a successful and enjoyable cruise. We were very lucky with the weather, and that, combined with the work by our highly skilled team of people on board, meant that we have achieved all our scientific objectives. I’m very pleased with the excellent quality of the data that we have collected, and with the new friendships we’ve made.

The OSNAP moorings are now starting a 2-year long period in the deep ocean collecting lots of precious data for us – and some of us will be back to retrieve them in 2018. Meanwhile, we’ll be busy analysing the data we’ve collected on this trip, and looking forward to going to sea again.

Photo by Penny Holliday

Caffeine consumption among the DY054 science team (The Great Caffeine Experiment)

by Ryan Peabody

Scientists and marine technicians have long appreciated the productivity-increasing role of caffeine [citation needed]. However, quantitative assessments of caffeine consumption and usage among the members of the DY054 science team have not yet been performed. Herein, we perform a not-quite-exhaustive nine-day analysis of tea and coffee consumption on the RRS Discovery. No significant trends were observed, other than a general preference for tea over coffee, and a sharp decrease in enthusiasm for the study as it progressed. Further work is needed to determine whether or not bush tea counts as a cup of tea, and exactly what quantity of coffee counts as a colloquial “cup.”

Data were self-reported via “marker and whiteboard,” following methods developed in Mrs. Cooper’s second grade class [Cooper
et al.
, 1999]. Logging was originally intended to take place daily at 23:59:59 UTC, but the lead scientist occasionally felt “really over it” and data were not recorded until the following morning. Efforts were taken to ensure that subjects maintained standard patterns of caffeine consumption, though it is worth noting that several believed the study to be a contest to see which one of them could drink the most coffee.

Coffee and tea consumption demonstrate a general downward trend over the nine days, both passing a Mann-Kendall test (Figure 1). A 0.377 coefficient of cross-covariance implies that coffee and tea consumption are not related at any reasonable confidence level. Tea was consumed in generally higher quantities: on average 2.1 cups/person/day to coffee’s 1.6 cups/person/day. Further study is needed to determine if this is standard on a British flagged research vessel. Initial data supports this hypothesis: American-born members of the science team consumed 2.8 cups coffee/person/day and 1 cup tea/person/day, while British nationals consumed 1.3 cups coffee/person/day and 2.2 cups tea/person/day. The sole Hungarian-born member of the science team consumed an average of 6.1 cups of tea per day and 0 cups of coffee.

Over time, a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for the study is evident, with participation dropping from 14 initial participants on day 1 to 6 participants on day 9 (Figure 2). On a ship with 45 crew and scientists on board, this represents a drop from “low” to “very low” participation. Despite the decrease, 70% of participants reported feeling “fair” to “good” about their own caffeine consumption and the study, indicating that maybe no one was really paying attention to the study in the first place. A least-squares fit of a nonlinear model of form b(1) + b(2)*exp(b(3)*t) represents the data very well, but also indicates that it was wise to end the study on day 9 (Figure 3). If the study had continued until the scheduled arrival in Southampton, approximately -15.5 responses would be logged each day, indicating that study participants would begin to erase the previously collected data, invalidating the entire study.

Clearly, further study is needed to determine: 1) exactly how much caffeine is being consumed on board, 2) why no one wants to log their daily caffeine consumption, and 3) whether or not this was a good use of my time. Caffeine is a widely-consumed but little-studied product in the context of oceanographic research vessels, with most scientific effort going toward measurements of physical, chemical, and biological properties of the ocean. Though oceanographic research vessels are built and used primarily for the latter three areas of research, there is no apparent reason not to also study caffeine consumption.

Images by Ryan Peabody

Life at sea: stories from the night watch

by Sotiria Georgiou

Here we are! 15 days on board! So far, 36 CTD stations, 10 Moorings, 25 RAFOS floats and 1 Argo float have been completed and so many stories to tell!

Back on land, I am a PhD student at TU Delft in the Netherlands. I am using a numerical model to reproduce the circulation of the Labrador and the Irminger seas. To validate a numerical model we use observational data that we can easily download from the web. That means that we want to be sure that the output data of the model are able to reproduce the real state of the ocean as well as possible. Being here, in the Irminger Sea, collecting data for the first time is a priceless experience. Now, I get a rough picture on how complicated is to plan such a cruise to obtain the precious data and keep track on it whatever difficulties might occur.

The team is working hard during day and night. Me and Ryan are the night-watchers. During the night the ship is quiet and everyone is waiting for some action. That’s going to be either by getting to a CTD station or by releasing some RAFOS floats. When we reach at a CTD station the technicians will guide the CTD from the deck to the sea surface and then all the way down to the bottom. Once it returns on deck, we make sure that all the bottles keep well protected the water from the different depths. Then, under the whispers of songs (mostly from the top 40..), we take water samples from each of the bottles for both salinity and nutrients. Even if is too dark to distinguish the difference between the ocean and the sky, there is a beautiful sunrise to wait for (not everyday though!!).

Yesterday, we had some celebrations! Anna turned her 21st year! During the dinner (having greek mousaka!!) there was a big surprise for her. A huge birthday cake suddenly popped up from the kitchen followed by the happy birthday song! Mia made a wonderful birthday card for her and we all wrote our wishes to her. She was really happy!

We are about to finish the measurements and then we need almost one week to sail back to Southampton. On our way back, as we will all be more relaxed, there will be time to discuss the first processed data, our research and have even more fun!

Photos by Sotira Georgiou

Photography at sea; teamwork and capturing the moment

by Amanda Kowalski

One of my greatest joys in life is people watching, and fortunately my role on board requires me to do just that. As the cruise photographer I spend most of my time watching and waiting for the best moment to click the shutter button. At the beginning of nearly every job I feel a bit burdensome and uncomfortable, but everyone on this ship has made me feel particularly at home. Consequently, I’ve been happily, and sometimes clumsily, snapping away during most deck operations.

Though I find myself tripping on cables and occasionally hitting my hardhat-clad-head on various pieces of industrial equipment, I’m truly amazed at how gracefully the technicians on deck execute their jobs. They know the routine of each operation so well that they anticipate one another’s moves and effortlessly maneuver hundreds of pounds of gear. My two favorite technicians to photograph are Steve and John.

Steve and John are the two men who work at the edge of the fantail, guiding and sometimes pulling in the enormous buoys, chains, and fragile scientific sensors that comprise the moorings. The deck is noisy, but the two know one another’s moves so well that there seems to be little need for conversation. One moment they are using brute force to hoist in a chain of buoys that’s gotten stuck at the edge of the ship, and the next moment they are nimbly untangling a sensor from the line. Time and again I watch as John gently holds an microcat while Steve carefully unscrews the bolts that have anchored it to the line. Though there is a clear routine to the work, small surprises and dilemmas abound and the pair handles each one with care but without concern. If words are exchanged at all they usually seem to be in the form of a joke.

I had the good fortune of sitting down to dinner at the same time as Steve a few days ago. He told me that he has been at this for thirty years. That made me reflect on my job. Will I still be as committed to my work in thirty years? I think so, but I can only hope that I achieve the same level of ease and expertise as he and John clearly have.

Photos by Amanda Kowalski