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Farewell, and ……… see you in Antarctica!

Jul 5, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Reykjavik – -  end of cruise

It is only a day or so since we sent in the last blog, by Sophie, but it seems like a different world already. Then we were still on the cruise, just about to start the last CTD – and still recovering from the surprise of seeing a humpback whale breaching and rolling repeatedly (there is a theory that it was paid by the Icelandic tourist board). Now we are on a half empty ship sitting in port.

To recap, what has happened is that we did indeed do the last CTD, on Sunday evening – in the Denmark strait between Iceland and Greenland. After that we had the traditional end of cruise party. It is traditional at these events to say what a splendid cruise it has been and to thank the captain and crew for their unstinting support. On this occasion it was entirely heartfelt.

The sea on the way down to Reykjavik

The sea on the way down to Reykjavik

On Monday we steamed slowly in toward Reykjavik over almost eerily calm water. However, we were far calm, as boxes were extracted from the hold, and we set to work dismantling our scientific nests, curating our samples and packing everything up. We took a bit of a break to watch as we entered Reykjavik and then did a bit of exploring in the evening. Today we finished off our packing and dismantling, returning the ship’s lab areas to the spartan state we found them in a few weeks ago, whilst piles of filled crates were winched onto the dock and into containers to be shipped back to Southampton.

Arriving in Reykjavik

Arriving in Reykjavik

So now, sadly, we are ready to disperse, with the crew continuing on their next cruise (except Mango who is flying home as soon as possible to meet his new son), and the scientists heading back to the UK, after a few days in Iceland. After that the real work will begin for many of us, as we analyse the pile of samples we have collected, synthesise the resultant data, integrate our data with the other datasets, and finally start to see what the results mean. Then in January we will reconvene in the Antarctic for the third and final major cruise of the UK Ocean Acidification Programme.

The wet-lab, stripped of equipment and ready for the next  group of scientists..

The wet-lab, stripped of equipment and ready for the next group of scientists..

It has been a special experience for all of us taking part in this cruise and we have been very lucky to have had the opportunity. We have enjoyed producing the blog and using it to share some of the amazing experiences we have had. We also hope the blog has helped some people to get an insight into what marine scientists do – whether or not you knew any of us beforehand.

Jeremy Young, Ray Leakey, Athena Drakou and the shipboard scientific party.

Multi-tasking! The “Bottle Lady” of James Clark Ross and her happy bioassay team in the clean container

Jul 3, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Sophie Richier, NOC, Sunday, 1st July 2012

The 1st of July! We can finally say we are back on land this month.

This is also the last day of science on board. The next piece of land we will see on the horizon is Iceland where we will dock tomorrow. Five weeks at sea is quite long but the science keeps us so busy that time is flying in a way…

A whole range of physical and mental challenges filled our days but the delight of the seascapes around us was enough to recharge our batteries. Nature was generous and offered us a few glances of amazing wildlife.

 

Humpback whale yesterday. Photo credit Colin Leggett.

Humpback whale yesterday. Photo credit Colin Leggett.

Half of my days were spent in two containers: the bioassay incubator and the clean container, doing anything but science. Mark and I were in charge of the bioassay experiments, providing samples for eager scientists, which means a lot of logistics…and a lot of water!!!

The bioassay incubator on the day of the set up.  100 bottles on shelves under examination for 4 days. The light was provided by LED panels (blue panels) and remained on most of the trip as there is no night in the Arctic at this time of the year. The temperature was also controlled to mimic the in situ conditions (COLD!!!!) using a refrigeration unit.

The bioassay incubator on the day of the set up. 100 bottles on shelves under examination for 4 days. The light was provided by LED panels (blue panels) and remained on most of the trip as there is no night in the Arctic at this time of the year. The temperature was also controlled to mimic the in situ conditions (COLD!!!!) using a refrigeration unit.

Acid washing, filling, emptying, drying, cleaning, trashing, carrying…we have handled at least 500 polycarbonate bottles and poured 2250 L of water just for the main bioassays… but I can say now that all is behind that I had lots of fun thanks to the good company in the early mornings!

Early birds in the clean container (from front to back Sophie Richier, Mark Moore, Alex Poulton, Chris Daniels and Laura Bererton) at 3:00 am ready for the set up of one of the 5 bioassays.

Early birds in the clean container (from front to back Sophie Richier, Mark Moore, Alex Poulton, Chris Daniels and Laura Bererton) at 3:00 am ready for the set up of one of the 5 bioassays.

The rest of my day was dedicated to science in a third container. Trying to investigate what was going on in those bottles we had lovingly filled up and incubated.

We were mainly focused on the physiological response of the phytoplankton to future ocean changes. Although the measurements conducted on board give us some clues, we are still largely working blind, waiting to be back in the lab to get more answers. Multi-tasking is how I defined my job on board and it was far from boring!

 The filtration container where the phytoplankton was captured on filters and stored for analysis back on land.

The filtration container where the phytoplankton was captured on filters and stored for analysis back on land.

Winding down!

Jul 2, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Ben Russell, NOC, Saturday, 30 July 2012

When I last wrote for this blog the second day of sampling was ending, with things settling down after mobilisation. By the end of today (Saturday) some people will have taken their final samples, with the others rounding things off tomorrow. I was a last-minute replacement for this cruise, and having never been on one before did not know what to expect. The time has flown by, it has been an incredible experience, and I feel very lucky to have been a part of this cruise and experience this extraordinary part of the world.

During the cruise I have been measuring bacterial production at different water depths (blog post 04/06/12). This is outside my usual work as a radiochemist, and I have enjoyed being part of a different research department and working with new people. Each day we collect seawater samples from the morning CTD, and then immediately take them to the constant temperature lab, which preserves the water’s temperature and bacterial composition. At this stage I would like to thank Simon Wright for never reducing the temperature of this lab below 3 or 4 degrees, even when we were in the ice and the seawater temperature dropped below zero. It is remarkable how efficiently you work when the reward is moving to a lab that is at room temperature.

Dolphins in the distance, even the wildlife seems to be winding down. Credit: Jeremy Young

Dolphins in the distance, even the wildlife seems to be winding down. Credit: Jeremy Young

After the excitement of the polar bears seen on the ice, things have calmed down slightly on the wildlife front over the past few days, although this afternoon a pod of dolphins briefly followed the ship before drifting away. As we get closer to Iceland and prepare for demobilization, some of us are optimistic about retrieving radio signal in time for the final of the European football championship, which is of particular interest to the Italian and Spanish scientists on board. A few days back Mario and myself were subjected to the torture of constantly refreshing the BBC Sport text update during the penalty shoot out between England and Italy, with the intermittent internet connection providing as much tension as if we had been watching it live.

Winning team The Sethettes celebrating in their usual abode. From left Simon Wright, Geraint Tarling, Jeremy Robst, Jeremy Young, Vicky Peck, Seth Thomas and Steve Eady

Winning team The Sethettes celebrating in their usual abode. From left Simon Wright, Geraint Tarling, Jeremy Robst, Jeremy Young, Vicky Peck, Seth Thomas and Steve Eady

The social side of the end of cruise started last night with a very successful JCR pub quiz hosted by 3rd Engineer Mango McManus, with Paddy providing very well received ice creams at half time. The highlight of the night was the physical challenge, where one member of each team (along with an assistant) races to get into a survival suit. If you ever find yourself faced with a similar challenge, I recommend selecting the shortest person and the largest suit.

Baby polar bears climbing out, with a helping hand from Mum

Jul 1, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

As seen from the RRS James Clark Ross during the UK Ocean Acidification cruise in June 2012, in the sea ice off the east coast of Greenland. All the credits for this wondeful video shot and our thanks belong to Matthew Humphreys.

There were everyone’s favourite!

A chemist, famous for his 20 minutes “power naps”, at sea!

Jul 1, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Mario Esposito , NOC , Friday, 29 June 2012

Well, what can I say? We are almost at the end of this unexpected (I was a last minute replacement), exciting, sometimes tiring but definitely worthwhile voyage. For me this cruise has been another great experience both from a scientific point of view and on a practical side of life.

Polar bears, seals, whales, the uncountable birds, the shiny sea-ice, the never setting sun and all the awesome people on board contributed to make the JR271 cruise an unforgettable expedition.

My task on board is to measure inorganic seawater nutrient concentrations (nitrate, phosphate and silicate). The general analytical method is based on colorimetric chemical reactions of nutrient with specific metals. The intensity of the colour of the solution is proportional to the concentration of the reacted nutrient. The concentration is determined by measuring the absorbance of light using a photometer.

Mario’s nutrient analyser, with reference colour swatches. Credit: Jeremy Young

Mario’s nutrient analyser, with reference colour swatches.

So far I have measured more than a thousand samples collected from Niskin bottles, incubation experiments and from the non-toxic sea-water supply. It is interesting to see how nutrients vary with respect to the different water masses at shelf and ice edges and with regard to potential phytoplanktonic activity and composition. Samples to analyse are coming all the time and especially during the bioassay days the work has been quite intense. By now, I must be famous for my 20 minutes “power naps” and for the night “cheeky cheese sandwich”, two essential things that have helped me to stay awake and active most of the time.

We are now heading south, getting closer and closer to Iceland so close that just 30 minutes ago we even got radio 5 signal back. From the window of my lab I can see a very flat sea and a reasonably clear sky – in fact it was so flat and calm and today that we did the team photo for the cruise.

Mario (wearing hat, on the left) and his friends on the bow  the James Clark Ross. Photo credit Simon Wright.

Mario (wearing hat, on the left) and his friends on the bow the James Clark Ross. Photo credit Simon Wright.

Back to the ice and volcano

Jun 30, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Jeremy Young, UCL, Wednesday, 27  June 2012

As the little map in the corner of the blog should be showing, we have come right back across the Norwegian Sea toward the Greenland Margin. So far in fact that this morning, much to the surprise of most of us (not including the deck officers), we woke up with ice in sight again, as we were only a kilometre or so from the ice margin, and back in the cold Arctic Water. The strategy of course is that by sailing in and out of the different water masses we can repeatedly sample the contrasting conditions and build up a dataset to rigorously investigate how far carbonate chemistry influences the ecosystem – even if our path is beginning to resemble a drunken wander.

Jan Mayen. Credit: Jeremy Young

Jan Mayen. Credit: Jeremy Young

It was nice to see the ice again though and as a bonus the sun came out as well for the first time in what seems like ages. As a further bonus we then sailed right back past Jan Mayen, the volcano we passed early on in the cruise. This time we never got closer than 30 nautical miles but it was still a massive feature on the horizon and despite the cloud very beautiful – and this time our photos have some ice for extra interest. There were less people watching this time though – probably because it was early afternoon and a lot of people were taking a nap after getting up in the early morning to close down the last bioassay experiment.

PublicationHelen Smith and colleagues from NOC were celebrating yesterday as a study of theirs was published in the prestigious journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), subscription required – and was featured in the news section of the even more prestigious journal Science. The study based on a long series of data accumulated from underway sampling on the Pride of Bilbao ferry neatly demonstrates that simplistic models of the response of coccolithophores to ocean acidification do not match the data.  You can also read a review of the article in the Sea-surface Ocean Acidification website.

Jeremy reports from Barents Sea

Jun 29, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Jeremy Young, UCL, Wednesday, 27  June 2012

While we’ve been keeping you informed of late about how the ship works and what we are doing on the cruise we have been a bit remiss with the day by day news, so time for a brief update. After leaving Svalbard we went south west into the Barents Sea for a few days then worked back east into the Norwegian Sea and across it. Just now we have passed to the north of Jan Mayen, the volcan we passed on the way north , so we have crossed our track and are currently heading slowly south toward Iceland.

The Barents Sea proved much less fearsome than its reputation – I was expecting something savagely cold – in fact it was rather pleasantly calm and felt almost warm after the Greenland ice margin and Svalbard.

The Barents Sea, nice for seagulls but nowhere much to hide, and the water is only a few degrees above freezing.

The Barents Sea, nice for seagulls but nowhere much to hide, and the water is only a few degrees above freezing.

To be fair though there was not a lot to see so we have tended to stay inside. As Brandy reported we started the last bioassay on Sunday and we will be closing it down tomorrow so we definitely winding down. In some ways we started the bioassay too soon as at the time we were in a stretch of water with little beyond copepods which whilst pretty (see Vicky’s blog post) were not really what we wanted. Since then, however, we have been going through some more lovely coccolithophore blooms, so we are quite cheerful and there will be plenty to keep us busy over the last four science days of the cruise.

An anniversary – entering the Barents Sea brought the world war two Arctic Convoys to mind and a check on dates revealed that the disastrously ill-fated convoy PQ-17 left Reykjavik for Murmansk on 28th June 1942, i.e. exactly 70 years ago. A week later two-thirds of the convoy was sunk, after it was ordered to scatter in light of a possible threat of attack from heavy warships in Norway. The few sources I have been able to look at don’t say much about the weather but if the kind of flat calm we have been passing through are typical conditions then it would have been about the worst possible place for a merchant ship to try and escape attack.

Pteropods and other zooplankton

Jun 28, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Vicky Peck, British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Today has been much like every other day so far this cruise, except for the ones with the polar bears or islands. As mentioned elsewhere on the blog we do a major sampling station every morning where a range of different techniques are used to collect samples. Unfortunately the zooplankton nets which my colleague Geraint and I use are the first things to be deployed – at 5 am in the morning. We have a pair of ‘bongo’ nets formed of a fine plastic mesh.

Zooplankton nets – deploying the bongo nets, from a couple of weeks ago in the ice.

Zooplankton nets – deploying the bongo nets, from a couple of weeks ago in the ice.

These are lowered to 200m below the ship then slowly pulled back up filtering the seawater and collecting any plankton unlucky enough to enter them into a jar at the bottom. Well actually not all plankton, the really small plant plankton which most people on this cruise are studying pass straight through our mesh leaving the larger and more interesting zooplankton. Zooplankton are minute animals which float and swim in the water eating the phytoplankton and in turn forming the basic foodstuff for a wide range of other creatures from herring to blue whales.

Incubation experiments – Vicky and Geraint in the bioassay container with their zooplankton cultures. The plankton bottles are strapped onto rotating shelves to keep the cultures well mixed.

Incubation experiments – Vicky and Geraint in the bioassay container with their zooplankton cultures. The plankton bottles are strapped onto rotating shelves to keep the cultures well mixed.

After preserving our first ‘catch’ which will be analysed back on shore to characterise the plankton community as a whole, we search through the second and third catches for animals we’d like to incubate in bottles of seawater which have had acid and bicarbonate added in carefully calculated quantities to simulate a range of future pCO2 scenarios. The objective of these incubations, which last between 2 and 8 days, is to study the effects of ocean acidification on respiration rates and other bodily functions. We are studying three groups – copepods, planktonic foraminifera and pteropods. Copepods are minute crustaceae a bit like shrimps with very long antennae, and have been collected in our morning catches throughout the cruise. In fact in some samples they are the only thing there, having eaten everything else. Pteropods and forams are less abundant but as they have calcareous shells they are of special interest for ocean acidification studies and we are carrying out experiments to test their ability to grow and maintain their shells in more acidic waters. The effect that the different treatments had on the shells will be analysed back in Cambridge using electron microscopy. That is not practical onboard the ship, however the microscopes we do have on the ship really do show the beauty of the living animals. I usually work with fossil plankton and this cruise has been an inspiring change for me.

Zooplankton- some of the different types of minute zooplankton encountered on the cruise and used in the experiments. A & E Pteropods – planktonic snails. B, F & G Copepods – these shrimp like creatures have been the most common catch in all our net samples. C & D Planktonic foraminifera – single-celled zooplankton whose calcareous shells are immensely important in study of ancient oceans. H – brittlestar larvae – almost every net haul brings up something strange and beautiful, we collected these a couple of days ago in the Barents Sea. Photo credit Vicky Peck.

Zooplankton- some of the different types of minute zooplankton encountered on the cruise and used in the experiments. A & E Pteropods – planktonic snails. B, F & G Copepods – these shrimp like creatures have been the most common catch in all our net samples. C & D Planktonic foraminifera – single-celled zooplankton whose calcareous shells are immensely important in study of ancient oceans. H – brittlestar larvae – almost every net haul brings up something strange and beautiful, we collected these a couple of days ago in the Barents Sea. Photo credit Vicky Peck.

A molecular biologist at the Arctic sea

Jun 27, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Cecilia Balestreri, MBA Plymouth, Monday, 25 June, 2012

This is my third oceanographic cruise of the last twelve months and so far I have been really lucky. I have been to places that I would never have imagined, and lived extraordinary experiences together with passionate researchers. For the first time in my life I saw whales in the wild, big icebergs and the Aurora Australis. I travelled across South Africa and I visited Australia and now I have had the privilege to see the great white North Pole, real wild polar bears and I could step on an island among the most pristine places in the world! For all of it I have to thank a tiny coccolithophore, Emiliania huxleyi, which is the main subject of my research.

Cecilia in her lab on the JCR

Cecilia in her lab on the JCR

I am a D. Phil. student based at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth and Oxford University, and I have been sent to the Outer Hebrides, the North Sea, the Southern Ocean and now the Arctic Ocean collecting samples of E. huxleyi and its DNA. As previously explained in this blog, coccolithophores are important organisms at the base of the oceanic food-chain and they can be useful to better understand how ocean acidification is affecting the sea life. E. huxleyi has shown very variable responses to changing carbonate chemistries in previous studies, so we want to determine if genetic plasticity within E. huxleyi populations already exists and what strains will be best suited to adapt to future ocean conditions. My work on board is to collect water from different CTD casts along the track and, after filtration, obtain in situ DNA of each sample. I also keep in an incubator on board a collection of different water samples and I will bring them back to England to isolate new cultures and maintain and use them for molecular and physiological analysis and to investigate adaptive features of E. huxleyi.

Cecilia (without hat) and friends in Svalbard. The mast in the background was used to launch the zepellin that took Roald Amnudsen over the North Pole. Image credit Ben Russell.

Cecilia (without hat) and friends in Svalbard. The mast in the background was used to launch the zepellin that took Roald Amnudsen over the North Pole. Image credit Ben Russell.

This cruise is another unique opportunity to obtain important fresh samples for our project and so far it is one of the best experiences I lived. I think, apart from the amazing places we reached, the people make this cruise time fun. There is Tingting with her tea-bottle always ready, or Ben who has special skills to rinse his water tanks. There is Jeremy, who is always available to advise me about coccolithophores and Frankie who gets as excited about animals as I do. And then Mario (another Italian on board, YAY! ) who always makes me laugh and Helen, who is able to share smiling our time in our tiny cabin! And also Laura, we share the lab and we have good chats and Fred, who is a friendly-proud-French. I cannot leave out the untiring Sophie, Mark and Alex. The list is long indeed and I want to thank everybody, scientists and crew, for the good time on board. Finally, no matters what are the sea conditions, or during a hard work night, you can be sure, if you ask Eric “How is it going?” he will reply “Fantastic!”.

The last bioassay, or …… how to keep yourself happy at some ungodly hours…..

Jun 27, 2012   //   by AthenaDrakou   //   Blog  //  Comments Off

Brandy Robinson, NOC, Sunday, 24 June 2012

Today marks the last bioassay setup day. At 2am every few days a dedicated team of scientists, and those of us also selected to wake up at ungodly hours of the morning, rise from our bunks in the artificial darkness created by our blackout shades. We shamble down the halls and convene in what is apply termed the CTD room to see whether the CTD is on its way out of the water (meaning we should get in the container to start loading niskin bottles onto the racks), or if the CTD is on its way down into the water (meaning that we have time for some blessed tea). Either way we soon assemble into our roles, move the niskin bottles from the CTD into the clean container and begin sampling the water into bottles.

 The bioassay requires three CTDs to be sent down to 15m to capture water samples and an additional one to collect a full water profile, and there is also a set of deep samples collected once during the bioassay. This water is used in various experiments running on board, there are initial bottles collected by most of the labs, zooplankton bottles that have zooplankton added to them and bioassay bottles (these make up the majority of bottles to be filled) which are placed with the zooplankton bottles into the bioassay container to be incubated under controlled conditions.

Filtration lab - the rather less sociable lab where Brandy works for long hours, filtering water for her protein-monitoring research. Credit: Brandy Robinson

This may seem like a tedious job and waking up in the early hours of the morning (usually after only a few hours of sleep) you might think that we would be discouraged at the least by our task, but now at the end of the bioassay days I can officially say at no point was it not fun. This is due entirely to the company, now it could be the time of day or the lack of sleep but we spend much of our time laughing and exchanging witty repartee in the container, this helps to pass the time and is almost unavoidable when you put Mark Moore, Sophie Richier, Eric Achterberg and Alex Poulton together.

 Then there are those of us who I have termed the oompa loompas of the bioassay factory; Laura, Chris and I, our sole purpose is to help fill and move bottles. We have our own ways of keeping everybody awake and happy, this usually involves group singing (today was Disney themed). If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this trip it’s that you have to make the most of everything; whether that’s making do with what materials you have, using every minute of time you’re given, or remembering to enjoy the experience even when you’re loaded down with work.

Sampling party - Laura, Brandy, Sophie and Chris wearing fetching red bonnets in the clean lab, with an array of niskin bottles (the grey cylinders) from the CTD to fill bioassay bottles from. Credit: Brandy Robinson

Sampling party - Laura, Brandy, Sophie and Chris wearing fetching red bonnets in the clean lab, with an array of niskin bottles (the grey cylinders) from the CTD to fill bioassay bottles from. Credit: Brandy Robinson

Now that the bioassays are over for me, I will be focusing primarily on my research. My work on the ship involves filtering water from the underway (water straight from the surface of the ocean) every two hours over a 12 hour period. I filter for heme, proteins essential in the photosynthesis process in phytoplankton and for chlorophyll fluorescence. These samples will show how the heme content of phytoplankton change over a diurnal cycle and will combine with controlled experiments I’m running in Southampton to see if phytoplankton, specifically the coccolithophore species Emiliania huxleyi, essentially recycle their hemoproteins to boost production in iron deficient waters.

It has been an amazing few weeks collecting data from the far reaches of the earth and living on a ship consisting mostly of scientists, small talk on board doesn’t consist of the weather or shopping but usually begins with “how are your experiments running, did you fix your NO2 problem?” it’s an unusual topic of conversation if you’re new to the field, as I am, but I really enjoy learning about the work everyone else is conducting on the ship, after all sharing knowledge is what science is all about.

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