OSNAP, Year 3 Leg 1, 56 42.45N 33 42.02W, 19-July-2016, At the Bight, and Oceanographer Heartbreak

by Heather Furey

So, we made it! We are at the Bight. I have to say though, troops are restless. There are rumors flying around the ship about when we’ll get back. I have heard, ‘Not til Saturday 0600’, ‘Definitely Friday 2200, before the bars close’, and ‘Friday morning 0900’, as time estimates. All ETAs reported just today, and all from reputable sources! We are in the UNOLS ship schedule to hit the dock Saturday July 23rd, so anything earlier is, well, earlier. Really, it just depends how fast we can get this set of nine CTD stations done. There is a lot of motivation to get back Friday night. We are in the middle of the third CTD cast as I write.

I saw the first sun I have seen in a long time this morning as we travelled south, though it is cold outside today. The ocean looks pretty much the same here as anywhere else, but underneath us is a totally different story. We are over the south channel of the Bight now, a deep channel running east to west through the Reykjanes Ridge. Here and the north channel of this fracture zone are the only deep passages from east to west through this mountain range for hundreds of kilometers to the south, and the very first passage through since the deep overflow current first formed and started flowing southward at the head of the Iceland Basin.

From the perspective of being at the south channel’s deepest point, the mountains rise 1200 meters to the south and at least 1400 meters to the north. We have not passed over the highest point yet, so I have no multi-beam bathymetry data to know how shallow the northern mountain stands. If I were out hiking, I would expect some strong mountain pass winds through such a gap due to orographic steering. We think we might expect this here too in an oceanographic sense, water flowing strongly from east to west, funneled through this narrow gap. A velocity profile will be available soon, once ‘the package’ is on deck. (‘The package’ is the suite of water sample bottles, LADCP, which measures velocity, and CTD, which measures pressure, temperature and salinity.)

There are a couple of moorings out here now, one in each channel, that get pulled out summer of 2017, next year. Can’t wait to see what those data show, but they are so much more valuable for the velocity, temperature, and salinity data were collecting right now. We are taking a reference section, from which we can get transport, and to which we may compare the two years of mooring velocity, temperature and salinity data later.

Back in the lab, though, folks are packing up. Clean work tables? Packed bags four days before we hit port? Definitely, folks are ready to go home. And getting creative with how they spend their spare time (see map of Scotland). Food is still very good; I am impressed. Swordfish with fresh chili pepper and red onion salsa, julienned carrots, with cabbage, and also squash? I love vegetables, and the fact that there still exist freshly prepared vegetables weeks after leaving port is like gold to me. Thank you, Mark and Wally.

Update: Oceanographic Heartbreaker. The cooling on the hydraulic part of the deep tow winch failed at 0330 this morning (20 July), and we were not able to complete the section across the Bight. It would have taken about six hours to fix, and we did not have enough time left. We have some very valuable data in the form of a complete section across the southern channel, but it is a real disappointment! Stuart, our Chief Scientist, states that in his experience things tend to fail at the end of a long trip, especially when trying to do a bit extra work. Well, this is a case in point.   So we are headed back to the dock, ETA now about 1400 on Friday. Cruise complete.

OSNAP Year 3 Leg 1, 17-July-2016, 58d 45.19N 30d 16.38W, Back on The Line

by Heather Furey

We are nearing the end of this cruise. We have four more CTD stations to take on the OSNAP line, one ‘cal-dip’ (where instruments are attach to the CTD frame and calibrated in deep water), one mooring to deploy, having recovered its companion mooring in pea-soup fog this afternoon, and one final mooring to turn-around (both recover and deploy). My head is on land today, laying out plans for hiking in Iceland when I get there, and for getting home to see my peeps. I think it is because we went so close to Reykjavik when Greg got picked up by helicopter.

But, we are still at sea.


Here on board, a few things: First, Wally’s Surprise was served at dinner tonight. I can’t tell you what it was, because that would spoil the surprise for the next Leg’s science crew, but it was pretty darned good. Excellent, in fact. Second, some mystery person has been putting up Pokémon monsters hidden in plain sight around the ship. Pokémon Go, here. I do not have much to say about that, just that it is happening.


Now that we are nearing the end of the scheduled science, we get a little time to play! Most cruises have a few ‘weather days’ built in to the schedule, for things like gales, or getting personnel helicoptered off the ship, or equipment repair … whatever comes up. See how the ship is sort of near the Bight Fracture Zone? We seem to still have a breath of time left, and will use it to go back to the Bight!

Part of measuring the overturning circulation (O-SNAP=Overturning Circulation of the Subpolar North Atlantic Program) is measuring the bottom currents. The Iceland-Scotland Overflow Water makes up the bottom current that flow southward from the shallow sill between Iceland and Scotland. The dense overflow water sinks to the deep Iceland Basin and forms a boundary current travelling from north to south along the west side of the Iceland Basin, which is also the east flank of the Reykjanes Ridge. But, this “flavor” water is also found in the western Atlantic Basin and it is still not quite known exactly how this water gets from one basin to the other.


This is where the fracture zones come in. Fracture zones are deep breaks in the ridge, like missing vertebrae in the spine of the North Atlantic. Historically, if you open a research paper that is puzzling out this mystery, you would see a figure showing the deep ISOW water arrow following the eastern flank of the Reykjanes Ridge, turning into the western Atlantic through the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone further south. This is the deepest and widest fracture zone in the Reykjanes-Mid-Atlantic Ridge system.   But these days, we think that some of (all of?) the shallower portion of the deep ISOW current flows through upstream cracks in the Reykjanes Ridge into the western Atlantic. Makes sense to me. How much? Modelers have estimates, but no one has measured it.

The Bight is a shallower fracture zone upstream in an Iceland-Scotland-Overflow-Water sense. We went there first in 2014, on the first OSNAP cruise, knowing that that no-one had ever taken CTD stations in this fracture zone. Second time in all of history the Bight will be surveyed? Sign me up, let’s go!

P.S. Greg is on a plane home to Miami as I write, back to family and good care. Safe and sound.

OSNAP Year 3 Leg 1, 15-July-2016, 61d 07.77N 28d 47.43W, steaming north

by Heather Furey

We woke up this morning to the awful news of a van driving into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. Our French nationals onboard did not personally know anyone hurt. So sad and so useless, the killing.

You might notice by the latitude and longitude above that we are no longer on the OSNAP line. Two reasons: Firstly, at about 15:00 yesterday, we started to steam north to avoid the worst of an incoming gale. We would have been down for weather anyway, so it was wise to outrun the worst of it. Secondly, we are steaming to Reykjavik to rendezvous with an Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter.

This came about because a member of the science party injured his back a few days ago: an old back injury that was seriously aggravated during an odd twist during the deck work of mooring recovery. Early this morning, since there have been no signs of improvement, the captain decided that Greg needed better and more immediate medical attention. The captain consulted with the UK Coast Guard to see what the best course of action should be. The UK Coast Guard contacted the Icelandic Coast Guard, and we are now en route to rendezvous 150 nautical miles from Reykjavik, the outer range for the rescue helicopter, where Greg will be ‘helivac’ed back to Reykjavik, a doctor, medical treatment, and home.   We are sad he is leaving us, but glad that he will be in less pain soon. Eight more days under rolling seas with limited sleep would have been very unkind.


One thing about being at sea, everyone has a story.

Yesterday, I deployed the last of the RAFOS floats. The captain had come to me earlier in the day with the idea that while we did not have time to complete CTD stations while outrunning the storm, we did have time to complete the RAFOS deployments. The deployments are quick: before coming onto station, the float, which has been previously tested and armed for mission, is loaded into a launching tube. A starch ring, which will dissolve in water, is inserted into a piston release mechanism. The bottom trap door on the launch tube is wired to the piston. As we come onto station, the ship slows to about two knots speed. The loaded launch tube is lowered into the water, the starch ring dissolves, the trap door at the bottom of the launch tube opens, and the glass float slips into the sea as we slowly steam away. Although it takes some time to set up for deployment, the actual deployment takes just a few minutes.


It is my great pleasure to be allowed into ‘The Red Zone’, at the aft guard rails, to help with and oversee the deployment. The ship’s crew helps me, and I am grateful for their necessary and able assistance.  While deploying the last of the RAFOS floats at the back rail, I had time to talk with the A/B, Will, who was helping me. He came to this job after spending years in the UK Army as an explosive specialist. He told me tales of crawling through the wire and pipe tunnels under the city streets in Northern Ireland finding and disarming bombs planted by the IRA. And of being in Afghanistan searching for land mines by poking a metal pole into the sand, describing the sound of the metal on metal clunk when he would find a mine. He would then dig the live mine out of the sand, and disable it to ensure his own troops’ safe passage. An explosives specialist, standing next to me, helping me launch armed-for-mission RAFOS floats into the abyss. You just never know.


Another piece of a puzzle

By Tiago Bilo

After the 15th day at sea, scientists from University of Miami lead by Dr. William Johns had successfully deployed their fifth deep water mooring under the curious watch of Pilot Whales. This mooring is part of the set of nine moorings placed on the North Atlantic subpolar gyre, close to the fractures and rough topography of the Reykjanes Ridge (off the southern coast of Iceland).

As the RRS Discovery moves forward in completing its mission, we gather more and more important data that will help us to put the pieces of the circulation puzzle together. The size of the piece will depend on the puzzle of interest. Each equipment recover and deployment may represent a large piece to understand the circulation within a channel or fracture, or a tiny little piece of the Earth’s climate system.



University of Miami group (Greg, Tiago, Mark, Cobi) and John (RRS Discovery CPOS) deploying one of the moorings.


Pilot Whales carefully watching the RRS Discovery ands the research activities


Deployment of one of the Heather’s (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, US) glider being watched by crew members and Scientists). Using yellow hard hats are SAMS scientists Loic (on the left) and Stuart (on the right).

OSNAP, Year 3 Leg 1, 57 55.86N 25 6.19W, 09-July-2016, Weather day

By Heather Furey

Yesterday, the sea was molten silver. No organized swell, just a satin finish top, with the water moving underneath as though thickly boiling, heaving. I like to go to sea for the work of it, and because I have a great job. But the human details are what I enjoy most while out here.


Because this is an international program, each year, and sometimes each leg, the research program utilizes ships from different countries. People from everywhere staff the ships and ride as science crew. The most important thing for me is to try to pick apart dialects and accents. We need to understand each other to successfully get our work done. I find particular delight in the French accent, perhaps because I studied French in school for four years. On board this year, I am trying to understand thick Scottish-, British-, and Chinese-accented English. And French. I miss our Dutch colleagues. The Dutch nationals will all be on the next leg, boarding in Reykjavik for Leg 2 OSNAP, to ride the RRS Discovery’s return trip from Reykjavik to Southampton.

I notice, too, the way different groups hold cutlery. Americans do not generally hold their knives while eating. They move the knife to the fork hand to cut, then cut, then put the knife back down, move the fork back to the hand that just held the knife, and pick up the bite with their fork. Scottish and British tend to hold on to both pieces of silverware all the time. They push food onto their forks using their knives, and then lift the fork up to eat. No transfer of knife to the other hand if cutting is required. English in particular tend to eat with their fork upside-down, along with the knife in the opposite hand.

Condiments on each ship are a playground. ‘Heinz Salad Cream’? ‘HP Sauce’? ‘Golden Shredless’? ‘Robinson’s Barley Water’? ‘HP Fruity’? What are these? ‘Bovril: The Original Beef Extract’? Am I supposed to put that on toast? It is stored in with the peanut butter, jams, and butter pats. Why would I put beef extract on my toast?

Back to science and hot off the press, the very first batch of RAFOS floats, deployed in June 2014 off the R/V Knorr, has surfaced! With this type of instrument, it is all about where the water goes, and not about how the water changes while moving past a stationary point (e.g., mooring).

Usually the sample size is small, but, always, something new is learned. So where did the floats that seeded the Iceland-Scotland Overflow Water in the deep Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone go over the past two years? I have not had time to work up the trajectory data, but can show you the two-year displacement vector diagram I worked up this morning. Deployment site is at the blue dot in the Charlie-Gibbs; black lines show the 2-year displacement; bullets denote sound source locations, bathymetry drawn at 1000, 2000, and 3000 meters. The floats launched in the deepest currents off the East Reykjanes Ridge and off East Greenland in summer 2014 will surface late July and Mid-August, respectively. The RAFOS results are starting to come in. Stay tuned.


New adventures in the North Atlantic on the RRS Discovery


by Loic Houpert

It’s been now more than a week that we left Glasgow on the RRS Discovery for the OSNAP cruise DY053. We entered the Iceland Basin yesterday to start the maintenance of the US moorings, after successfully turnover the SAMS moorings in Rockall Trough and recover Bowmore (the SAMS glider) on Rockall Plateau.

The RRS Discovery left Glasgow on Wednesday 29th June. The SAMS team (Estelle, John, Karen, Kamila, Stuart and myself) had the shortest trip to join the ship. Yunli, a technician from Ocean University of China, came from Qingdao (in China)! We also have a lot of people coming from the US. Bill Johns and his team (Adam, Cobi, Mark, Greg, Tiago and Dom) came from Miami, and Heather came from Woods Hole (in the Massachusetts). Dave, Chris, Steve, Andy, Jeff and Zoltan are all based at NOC (Southampton) and complete the science party of this scientific cruise.

The purpose of this OSNAP cruise is to service the Scottish and US moorings, deploy RAFOS floats, and deploy and recover gliders. All these observation are essential for us to better understand the ocean circulation and its role on the European and global climate. Moreover there is mounting evidence of the importance of the ocean circulation in the subpolar North Atlantic for the region’s marine ecosystem, the formation of hurricanes, and rainfall in the Sahel, and parts of the USA.



The RRS Discovery entering the Rockall Trough, with the Seaglider Bowmore (in pink) and a dophin-whale (thanks Dom for the crafting)


Part of the SAMS team (from left to right: myself, Stuart, Estelle, John) during recovery of one of the SAMS mooring, with Zlotan (a.k.a IT guru) and Mark (blue helmet)


Happy selfie after the recovery of Bowmore, with our two glider experts (Estelle and Karen)


Tea time for the Principal Scientific Officer of the cruise (Stuart, on the left) during the recovery of the first US mooring, lead by Bill (in the middle). Dom (on the right side) observed with attention the work on the back deck.

New adventures

By Stefan Gary

The last several days have been a buzz of activity at the King George V docks in Glasgow; the RRS Discovery arrived to unload people and equipment after the end of the Extended Ellett Line cruise and take on new people and equipment for the first of this year’s UK OSNAP cruises.

This year’s Extended Ellett Line went well.  We completed all the work we set out to do, didn’t have any major interruptions to our work, and even had time to collect even more data.  Many thanks to the crew of the Discovery; these excellent results hinged on the close community, great conditions for life aboard, and clear communication between the crew and scientists.  As we approached land, we were greeted by the sight of whales and dolphins feeding at Stanton Banks and had the opportunity to take a photo of the science team enjoying the sun on the Forecastle Deck.

In the coming months we will carefully analyze our last samples, cross check the data, produce a cruise report, and write papers.  One preliminary result is that the surface waters of the Extended Ellett Line are slightly cooler and less salty than previous years.  Year-to-year changes in temperature and salinity occur as the currents in this region shift position and/or strength with possible impacts on the creatures that live here and maybe even the local climate.

One way to see both the extent of the data collected as well as the interaction between the atmosphere, the ocean, and life in the ocean is the oxygen we measured below the track of the ship from Iceland (left) to Scotland (right); each black dot is a water sample (image below).  The low oxygen at mid depths is created through the interplay between deep mixing caused by winter storms “renewing” the oxygen at depth and the breathing (consumption) of oxygen by animals.

The data collected during the Extended Ellett Line is an exceptionally detailed snapshot of the ocean.  The ocean is ever flowing and changing so another observational tactic is to place moorings at key locations in the ocean and record data over the course of a year or more.  Servicing moorings in the water is the goal of the next cruise of the Discovery – stay tuned!

Image credits: Winnie Courtene-Jones and Rich Abell.

EEL2016 science team

EEL2016 oxygen section

Listening for Sperm Whales in the North Atlantic

By Leah Trigg

Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales and can grow up to 18 m in length. Their most prominent feature is their head, which makes up approximately one third of their total size. They live in stable mother-led families and are thought to live up to seventy years. They are famous in the whale world for being particularly deep divers – venturing into the depths for their favourite food, the Giant Squid.

Recently, sperm whales have been raised from the deep and brought to the forefront of human consciousness by the sad sight of these ocean giants ailing on the beaches of the North Sea. Our dismay and inability to understand what had brought these magnificent animals to an untimely end serves to highlight how little we still know about life in the ocean. Observing the surface of the ocean leads to only rudimentary insights into how its inhabitants live. We are often left to wonder about what lies beneath the waves. Or are we…?

If you have been reading the blog you probably already know that, among many other oceanographic pursuits, we have spent the last three weeks using underwater sound to understand the number and distribution of sperm whales in the North Atlantic. We have been towing a hydrophone, which gives us a rare window into the ocean deep and has allowed us to record some amazing examples of sperm whale clicks. Take a listen for yourself here. The sperm whale makes regular clicks that sound very much like the blows of a hammer. If you listen carefully you can also hear the regular slap of the ship’s propeller.

The underwater world is one of sound. Very little light penetrates into the depths of the ocean making it difficult for the organisms that live there to rely on sight. Sound, however, propagates very efficiently in seawater and sperm whales have mastered the use of sound for vital life processes such as communication, navigation and prey detection. We can use the sounds produced by sperm whales to count the number of individual whales, pin point their location relative to the ship and even estimate their size.

Initial observations suggest that we have recorded the most sperm whale clicks between the shelf break and a seamount called Anton Dohrn. It will be interesting to put together our final data and discover if this really is the case. Not surprisingly, this observation gives rise to important questions for the future such as, what is it that makes this area particularly attractive to sperm whales.

So while the work continues to unravel the mysteries that the sperm whale and its fellow oceanic inhabitants hold close, next time you find yourself gazing out to sea, try to imagine the bustling oceanic metropolis that is out of sight and just what it might sound like…


Rare earth Ellettments

By Emily Hill

I’m aboard the 2016 Extended Ellett Line collecting water samples for trace metal analysis, specifically the rare earth elements. This sampling was also done last year and formed my final year project at SAMS. We’re building on that work this year to assess the applicability of rare earth elements as water mass tracers. The Extended Ellett Line provides a good test bed for this research as the different water types of this area, also known as water masses, are well documented. These samples will help us understand how rare earth elements can be used for reconstructing the ocean currents of the past.

After I take my samples from the bottles on the CTD, I need to filter and acidify them on the ship. Then, the samples will be analysed back at SAMS.
It’s pretty straight forward providing you’ve got everything you need! We made sure this year that we have everything in abundance, 6 boxes of gloves, 200 filters etc. At some stations I am also collecting 10L samples for analysis, which takes quite a long time.

We’ve got a great team on board this year and everyone seems to be in good spirits and getting along with what needs to be done. When I’m not sampling my own stations, I help out with the CTD casts where I can and reading books from the extensive library on board. I’ve also learnt some new card games and we often play some rather interesting board games too!

Sights at sea

By Liz Comer

The views from Discovery have been plentiful over the last two weeks, consisting of a very muddy back deck, rocks poking out of the water, many birds and a passing of our very own RRS James Cook on its steam back to Southampton. This has provided us with much entertainment and excitement.

Over the last two days the Benthic team have been deploying bottom trawling sleds that collect muddy sediment from around 2000 m depth. When it gets hauled onto the back deck the muddy sediment that is caught in the nets needs to be transferred into buckets, ready for filtering. The team will then analyse the creatures that are living on the sea bed (see previous blog entries, below).

Birds have been the most abundant type of wildlife that we have seen, particularly fulmers. The fulmers seem to think we are a fishing boat and hang around in large numbers around the back deck. They haven’t seemed to cotton on to the fact that we are only pulling up mud and water samples from the ocean. I think these, along with the gannets, have been a favourite for everyone on board. I have learnt that the fulmers can be distinguished by their black nostrils, gliding close to the waves and the gannets have an obviously yellow head, long wings with black tips. Leaving Scotland some of my fellow scientist spotted Puffins and I saw an arctic skewer when we were nearing Iceland (photo in previous blog). We have passed Rockall which is a large rock sticking poking out the water, however, it has a covering of bird droppings on the top making it look like an ice frosted cake or a snowy mountain.