Friday 25 July 2014

Movie madness

You can now watch the films we made about the cruise online!

We have made a 15 minute documentary which you can watch here: A Drop in the Southern Ocean the Movie
as well as a shorter 'promo' film: DIMES promo


Thursday 12 June 2014

Post-cruise update!

It has been a month now since we got back to the UK from the cruise. My first thought on coming back was ‘Everything is so green’! We have all been working hard to process and understand the data collected during the cruise and readjust to life back on dry land.

The last week of science was pretty full on! We had lots of CTDs to sample, samples to run, drifters and floats to release, huge cruise reports to write... all with the building excitement of approaching land! 
Kim and Heather still enjoy sampling!

We released a load of drifters as we passed through Shag Rocks Passage. These are big round floats attached to a drough which catch in the currents and track where they flow. We all got very excited decorating and naming the drifters and look forward to following our ones as they travel through the ocean over the next couple of years. If you want to find out more have a look here:
Andrew with the drifter he named for his wife (photo by Kim)

A drifter carefully being released into the ocean (photo by Ellen)

Things stayed hectic when we arrived in Stanley, our last port of call. We were trying to finish the science and ‘demob’ - packing everything up, sorting out Bill of Ladings (official shipping documents) and figure out what would get shipped and what would fly home. It was quite an emotional time as well; everyone was so excited to be back on dry land, heading home, but also sad to be parting ways with all the amazing people we had been working so closely with. Stanley is a lovely wee town which we had fun exploring; making times to stretch our legs on glorious solid ground and spend all our savings on penguin souvenirs.

Here are a few numbers from the cruise;

  • 1840 DIMES tracer samples analysed (not counting duplicates or standards!)
  • 1036 CFC samples collected for analysis back in the UK
  • 119 CTD casts
  • 135 hydrographic stations
  • 29 amazing crew
  • 22 spectacular scientists and technicians
  • 52 days

….And so much fun!

There are definitely a few things I don’t miss about being at sea (12 hour shifts is certainly one of them!) however I do miss the camaraderie of the cruise. It is really quite a special experience working closely with a group of lovely folk who are similarly enthused and motivated, all working towards the same grand goal.

Here is something to look out for; Katy and I are nearly finished the documentary film we are making about the cruise!

Guest post from Pete our friendly IT guy!

My name is Pete Lens and I am computing support for this science cruise. I’ve been working for BAS for 17 years having wintered at Halley and Signy bases and enjoyed many science cruises to the Antarctic and Arctic. My main work is in Cambridge as Head of Windows Systems, but for 2 months of the year I could be on a ship or research base enjoying the wildlife and icebergs, but also making sure the scientists and other support staff have the computing resources they need for their work.

Pete at Gull Lake on South Georgia

So what does that entail? For the scientists it’s all about the data. The ship is flooded with cabling and instruments carrying sensors and most of them terminate at a central computer which handles data acquisition. Each piece of data is logged and given a timestamp and can then be retransmitted to other instruments as an input.

Some instruments can produce data at very high speeds but the central logging system has a resolution of 1 second. Even at that slow rate, large files will be produced by the end of a 2 month cruise. There are many monitoring tools checking the quality and existence of the data and if it stops flowing then I am called, night or day. I am also involved with the processing and presentation, on hand to demonstrate how to use scripts or write new ones if required. Thankfully, most students will come armed with knowledge of tools such as ArcGIS, matlab, R and Python.

One of my favourite systems on board is the multibeam echo sounder which can produce a 3D map of the seabed. Instead of a single ping like a submarine, it produces a phased burst of energy into the water every few seconds, depending on depth. It then listens to the returned sound and does some serious maths to produce a rolling picture of the sea floor. It’s incredible to see mountain ranges or deep ocean snaking riverbeds which are thousands of metres below us.

Example echo sounder image

Of course, it’s not entirely about the science as there are plenty of administration systems as well. Everyone needs an account and personal space for storing data, access to printers, scanners, wifi, web, wiki, applications, anti-virus, security patches. The same stuff required if you’re running a network of 10 people or 10,000.

The IT staff on the James Clark Ross have to be innovative and flexible. Every day there is something new to learn and everyday there’s the chance of looking out of the window at a pod of whales or something equally amazing. As a job, this is just about as good as it gets…

This is my first trip away since becoming a Dad and Hal has just learnt his first few words, one of them being “no” so I think Suzy has some explaining to do. Please get in touch if you would like more information on the ships systems or base/ship life. I’m always happy to help.

Wednesday 23 April 2014


We found an enormous 0.1 fM of tracer up in the Argentine Basin! Exciting times indeed!

We are now working our way along the North Scotia Ridge and on the home straight to Stanley. At the moment we are doing a series of stations in Shag Rocks Passage, a deep channel in the ridge where the polar front squeezes through to meander its way north east. We are doing lots of CTDs in the passage so everything is pretty full on at the moment. When the stations are this close together we only just have time to take our samples from the rosette before it needs to go back in the water for the next CTD cast. Its also blowing a brisk 30 knots, and the sea is picking up.... Things are a little too hectic to write properly now.... but in my next spare moment I will fill you in on all the excitement of drifters, Argo floats, and samples, samples, samples!!

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Life on board the RRS James Clark Ross

So far, we've blogged lots about the science we've gotten up to on the research cruise, but of course half of our time is spent, sleeping, eating and relaxing. So here's a little bit about life outside of work on the JCR.

Rich, the purser / photographer
First of all we should mention Rich who is the purser of the JCR. The purser is in charge of things like supplies, accounts and generally looking after us and the ship. Rich used to be a chef in hotels in the North-East of England, before working as a chef at the BAS research station Halley for 4 years. Alongside keeping an eye on things and generally making us feel at home, Rich is often seen round the ship taking amazing photographs….many of which have ended up on this blog. Check out his webpage at:

Typical menu - yum!

Meals are held in the 'Officer and Scientists Dining Saloon' which has lovely views across the bow of the ship. Dinner is a rather formal affair; men must wear a collared shirt, no trainers or jeans allowed and women must be similarly smart. We all have personalised napkin rings and large portraits of the Queen and Philip hang on the wall. 

The dining saloon
However, if you are on shift and don't have time to get prettied up for dinner then you can eat in the Duty Mess, which has a much more informal atmosphere. Tea, coffee and snacks can also be found here at all hours. In the galley we are spoilt by the talented Sam and John, two excellent chefs who feed us very well indeed... Big cooked breakfasts, three course lunches and five course dinners (pass the cheese board!). It is a good thing working at sea is quite a physical job or we would all be disembarking twice our usual size! We also have four Stewards who assist in the galley, serve meals and clean the communal areas. 

The scientists lounge
The Officer and Scientists Lounge is another place you can fill your boots with cups of tea and snacks. This is a lovely relaxing space with a darts board (fun in rough weather), board games, ping pong, music, and a well stocked bar. Ellen (our unofficial events coordinator) organises the occasional 'pub quiz' here and we use the projector to show films in the evenings. 

One of our favourite pastimes is to climb all the way up to the top of the ship, the 'Monkey Island', to watch for wildlife, take in the horizon and get a blast of fresh air. On clear nights this is also a popular destination; we will all wrap up in lots of cosy layers and spend time out here stargazing. 

Enjoying the views on the Monkey Island

There is a gym with a rowing machine, cross-trainer, bike and step-machine where we can burn off those extra calories from 2nd helpings of desert. The rolling of the ship sometimes makes this extra challenging! The ship also has a small surgery where you can find Hazel, the ship's doctor. I am happy to report that she has been very bored during the cruise and her expertise has not been needed!


When we are on shift but (but not sampling or running instruments in the lab spaces) we spend most of our time in the UIC (Underway Instrumentation Control room). The UIC has panoramic views, email (but not internet) access, lots of desk space and is where CTD and other hydrographic operations are run from. Below the UIC is a warren of labs: the 'Wet-lab' where the VMP was set up; the 'Main lab' which is where we measure the tracer; other smaller lab spaces for the Salinometer (to measure salinity), measuring oxygen, barium, carbon and nutrient samples and the 'water bottle annex' where the CTD comes in and we collect our samples.
A cabin

On this cruise we are lucky enough to all have a cabin to ourselves.  Each cabin has 2 or 4 bunks, desk, wardrobe, en-suite shower room and (of course) a sea view. So, staying on the JCR is like moving into a very friendly hotel that takes you to amazing places….and works you very hard!

Saturday 19 April 2014

Foggy tracer hunting

(Thursday 17th April)

Our wee jaunt up into the Argentine Basin has been pretty successful so 
far! We have found higher concentrations of our tracer here than we have 
found throughout the rest of our cruise. Concentrations are a staggering 
0.03 fM (fM = Moles x10^-15.... so the highest concentrations we have 
found are 0.00000000000000003 Moles!).

The CTD is going down as I write this, we have have 6014 m of water 
beneath us before the sea floor! These are the deepest CTDs of the 
cruise and it takes about an 1 hour 40 minutes for the CTD to travel 
down to the bottom. The density layer where we find our tracer sits at 
about 1000 m.... but it is still interesting to send the CTD down the 
full depth and see what the other parameters are like near the seabed.

Yesterday was very foggy, with absolutely nothing to see but a wall of 
grey beyond the waves just around the ship. Today dawned bright and 
sunny.... but quite rough again. The swell is nowhere near as big as the 
other day, but we steam into it at 12 knots, which makes for a bit of a 
bumpy ride!

Highlight of the day - Hugh spotted a sei whale!

Thursday 17 April 2014

CTD Explained!

(post by Ollie)

Most of the work we do on-board revolves around an instrument package called the CTD, which we lower from the ship to the seabed. I wanted to write a bit about how we use the CTD because the data collected from it underpins the majority of the science we do. The CTD is a collection of sensors surrounded by a ring of bottles for sampling water. CTD stands for Conductivity (used to measure the saltiness of the water), Temperature and Depth. Most research cruises are structured around a series of sites, called stations, where the ship stops and the CTD is lowered through the water. The location of these stations depends on the scientific targets and often repeats previous cruises so that we can look at changes over time.

The various sensors collect the conductivity, temperature and depth data continuously as the CTD descends and ascends, and wealso close the bottles at depths of our choice to trap water and bring it back onboard the ship. Once the CTD is back on deck a team of dedicated and beautiful samplers tap off water into smaller bottles. On this cruise we are taking water samples to measure concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), carbon, the DIMES tracer, oxygen, nutrients, barium and the salinity.

The CTD returns from the deep with its precious cargo of water
Photo by Mike Boniface

The screenshot below shows a typical profile of data that has been collected on the CTD’s journey through the water. Depth (from the surface to 4000m) is on the vertical axis. To put this in perspective, think of somewhere 4 kilometres or 2.5 miles from where you are now and imagine that distance vertically – that’s a lot of water. The coloured lines represent some of the variables that are measured continuously by the sensors on the CTD. Shown here are temperature (red), salinity (blue) and dissolved oxygen (yellow). The green line is fluorescence, which tells us about how much algae are photosynthesising. Ocean water isn’t all one homogenous mixture. Instead, different parts have different properties depending on when and where they formed. We call these different bodies of water ‘water masses’.

As the CTD descends we watch the coloured wiggly lines appear on the screen which allows us to identify different water masses and decide where we want to sample water from. Then, on the way up, the winch operator stops the CTD at the desired depths and we send signals down the cable to close the bottles. The dashed orange lines show where the bottles have been closed on the way up. Why do you think it’s a bad idea to close the bottles on the way down!?

For a bit of detail about why the wiggly lines wiggle as they do at this particular station see the panel below. Remember, this is just one station (station number 55 in the south east Scotia Sea) – the profiles look different in different places and at different times of year.