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.

 DY054 Team Photo

Photo by Penny Holliday

Posted in News

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


Posted in News

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!


Birthday cake


Chefs cake


CTD and float


Ryan and CTD




Photos by Sotira Georgiou

Posted in News

Blog 2 from the Neil Armstrong

Tonight, during our 2000-0400 shift, my watch-mate and I are feeling like Neil Armstrong; walking into the dark to achieve a better knowledge of the unknown. As we approach our next station, the whole ship shakes due to the high winds and waves, as a spacecraft does on its way up, but more harmonically. After all, the Saturn V had a speed of 21,785 knots while ours is 10 knots; and, while it took Neil Armstrong’s spaceship only 3 days to arrive at the moon, we would take 755 days. Anyway, with this shaking one cannot avoid remembering the lyrics of the serenade from the Steve Miller Band: “Did you feel the wind/As it blew all around you”.

Strong gravitational forces can be felt when going down the steep vertical stairs in these waves, where one must be careful not to fall in front of Neil Armstrong’s picture and make a fool of yourself. When we get out to sample, it is as dark and cold as it probably is in space, but here we also have the wet component.  The deep ocean, like space, is one of the least explored areas scientifically and, as such, is also a hostile environment for mankind. Around 2500m depth, water temperatures hover around 1ºC and the pressure is enough to convert a foam coffee cup into a little shot glass. Unlocking the mysteries of the ocean requires a big passion for science – as is true for space exploration.

All of a sudden, from the porthole, in the far distance a tiny light appears. It is not a satellite; it shows the position of another ship in this immense solitude of water. It is 0200, and all you can hear is the engine (and some background music in the main lab). We two astronauts of the ocean are launching the rosette into the deep; we also wear a helmet and boots, but instead of a space suit we use a personal floatation device. [The rosette contains a CTD, which is a sensor that measures conductivity (to estimate salinity), temperature and depth; a LADCP that measures the ocean currents using sound (the Doppler effect); and 24 bottles of 12 litters each to capture water at different depth. This collection of instruments is deployed from the surface to 10 m above the bottom, which takes hours to do.] Perhaps our real space suit is the immersion suit (affectionately known as a gumby suit) and is only reserved for ship-evacuation cases – designed to secure survival in this hostile environment.

As morning arrives the vessel’s common areas start to fill with people and the vessel no longer has the lonely feeling of a space craft (luckily!).


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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.


John and Steve with the anchor chain


Steve and John


Steve and John




Photos by Amanda Kowalski

Posted in News

Tiny cups, origami, & beautiful skies

by  Anna Simpson

 We have been doing lots of science things which all seem to be going well to me. This being my first research cruise, I have been observing and learning a lot about how oceanographic data is collected and processed. Mostly, I help take salinity and nutrient samples from the CTD cast and process the ADCP data. Part of what we are doing during this cruise, is deploying RAFOS floats which are instruments that sit at a certain depth in the ocean and float around with whatever current they are in. At a specific time interval, they record a signal out which is send out by sound source moorings and using three return signals, it can determine its location. In two years, they will come to the surface and transmit all the data that will tells us the path it took and therefore give us information about the deep currents. Ryan taught me how to program these floats to turn them on and make sure they’re working and ready to deploy.

 In other news, yesterday we did the classic Styrofoam CTD cast where we first drew on Styrofoam cups and attached them to the CTD using our socks and sent them to 3000m. Now, we have nice shot glass size Styrofoam cups. While waiting for the CTD or getting to a station, sometimes the watch standers take up different activities besides working and data processing like reading and doing origami. Penny’s desk has started being filled with different critters.

 Other things in the non-science realm of the cruise are the different games played after dinner including Scrabble, Wii Frisbee golf and 100 pin bowling, and trivial pursuit. Also, working out in the gym has been a daily activity for some of us. Running sometimes proves to be difficult since the ground is constantly moving underneath but I think my balance and coordination have improved somewhat.

 The sky has been mostly cloudy and gray, but the sun has broken through a few days and the clouds have become more interesting than just blankets of gray. And when it is a bit more clear near the ends of the day, they reflect the sunlight in magnificent reds, tangerines, and golden colors. I have greatly appreciated these sunsets and sunrises though they have been few. Also, the views of the waves out of my cabin porthole are very nice.




Porthole view






Styrofoam cups


Photos by Anna Simpson

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First post from the R.V. Neil Armstrong

by Lola Pérez-Hernández

WHOI post-doctoral investigator

R.V. Neil Armstrong was sitting at the Icelandic dock. Next to it, a small wooden Viking boat comes in and out giving tourists the experience of sailing in these Nordic waters where puffins and seagulls take turns fishing for white and brown jellyfishes. To their right, the tourists see the German ship Poseidon, and in front sits the Spanish B.O. Sarmiento de Gamboa. If we also count the two Icelandic research vessels docked nearby, it makes five research vessels in the same port. It’s not every day that one finds so many high-tech research vessels together in one place.

I had the chance of visiting the Spanish vessel again with two American friends while it was in port. It is the same ship that in 2011 took me across the Atlantic at 24ºN, and, interestingly, it had the same crew on board along with my old lab-mate and cabin-mate. It seems that we have all decided to move north. My Americans friends pointed out that the Spanish ship has a better coffee machine but its name is harder to pronounce. I must say that on both ships the food is amazing.

Slowly, one after the other, all the foreign ships leave Iceland – first B.O. Sarmiento de Gamboa, then Poseidon, and then us. The weather since we left the dock has been AWSOME, incredibly calm and flat. I admit that I have never been this far north before (I’m from the Canary Islands) and maybe AWSOME is too strong of a word, but the sub-polar Atlantic has a tough reputation. At the moment the ocean is a glassy-smooth mass of water, and I’m expecting to see some whales in this weather. Tomorrow we will finish our transit and begin our work, let’s hope that the weather decides to travel west with us!


Lola RV_Armstrong

Posted in News

On to recover an old friend

by Femke de Jong

August 2, morning:

Today we, the NIOZ team, get to recover the first mooring. This particular mooring is not really part of OSNAP, it was originally deployed in 2003 as part of the Long-term Ocean Circulation Observations or LOCO project. It has been here ever since, except for a day or two between recovery and redeployment every summer.

LOCO is located on the 3km isobath on the western side of the Irminger Sea, right underneath a meteorological feature called the Greenland Tip Jet. This enhanced barrier wind that extends over the ocean causes very strong cooling in this region in winter. It’s what causes the warmish, salty surface water to cool, increase in density, and mix with the waters below. With LOCO we have a twelve year record of that mixing and we can study how it relates to the wind forcing and general changes in the Irminger Basin. As I’m writing this we’re steaming to LOCO to recover the thirteenth year. We’re hoping this will be our lucky number. Roald and Yvo have prepared everything on deck and in the last couple of days I’ve tested all my processing scripts. We’re all ready to go.

August 4, update:

We arrived at the LOCO position at 16:00 and started the mooring recovery. Because of the long stretch of empty cable (2400 m for the profiler) it’s quite a boring recovery. Mostly some instruments to get out at the beginning and end. All was on deck around 19:30. 

Roald and I have installed ourselves in the NIOZ container that was put on board before leg 1. We spend most of the rest of the day there reading out and re-programming the instruments. All of the instruments were still recording, so none of them ran out of batteries. That’s very comforting for us as this time they will go out for two years rather than one and it gives us some confidence that the estimates of how long they will run are correct. We stopped servicing at midnight to get some well-deserved rest.

Back to programming after breakfast. All the instruments had fresh batteries and programming around 10:30 so we started the mooring deployment. The anchor was dropped around 13:30. The final act consisted of a trilateration of the mooring position by ranging the distance to the anchor releases from several points around the mooring, which gives us the exact position of where we’ll find our friend in 2018. In the meantime we’ll let the instruments record some interesting things.




Photos by Femke de Jong

Posted in News

Lovely skies, sending Feili over the side, and whales at last

by Penny Holliday

Today’s blog is really all about the photos; we’ve had some lovely weather over the past couple of days and so working out on deck has been the place to be. We have also been continually scanning the horizon convinced that with these perfect conditions we surely must see some whales.  This evening we were rewarded with the sight of several family groups of pilot whales nonchalantly cruising by while we did a deep CTD station.

And this afternoon, OSNAP postdoc Feili had a float named after him, which we hope will travel around the subpolar North Atlantic collecting temperature and salinity profiles every 10 days.  The data from these Argo floats (‘Feili’ and many other similar ones in the region) will be making a huge contribution to the OSNAP goals by helping to give information about conditions between our mooring sites.


Pilot whales


Perfect weather for whale watching


Feili and a float called Feili


Good weather for mooring work


Evening sky

Photos by Penny Holliday

Posted in News

Glittering glaciers, giant anchor chain and Discoveries past

by Mia Taylor

Since reaching our first CTD station near the coast of Greenland in the early hours of Saturday morning, things have switched up a gear and work is well underway.

One of the first CTD stations was in close proximity to the southern tip of Greenland, many of us were contemplating waking up in hope of seeing Greenland’s cliffs but the ETA for reaching it was 2am, meaning that it would be dark at this time and unlikely. However, during the night the schedule shifted slightly and we reached the station closest to the coast around 5am, just as dawn was breaking. Despite lots of cloud and a grey hazy sky, the coastline was visible. We could see the flashing light from a lighthouse at Prince Christian Sound and to its left there appeared to be a glacier, further left again, a large iceberg. The glacier was intriguing, it was the brightest thing on the coastline yet with the poor visibility it was hard to understand visually; was it receding into the mountain or a layer of ice cloaking or jutting out of the cliff? No amount of squinting could clarify this for me. Most curious was that it was sparkling, as if it was covered with a gentle sprinkling of glitter.

Yesterday – Sunday – the moorings began; M1 and M2 were recovered, having been underwater and actively collecting data for the past year. This is the first time OSNAP have returned to the moorings since they were deployed so bringing them to the surface and retrieving their data was an exciting prospect, as was seeing their condition for the first time since spending a year beneath sea level. Recovering the moorings requires hauling them out of the ocean and removing and cataloguing the instruments. It’s heavy work and it’s cold out, plus due to the high pressure in the area the waves are rolling with more swell than the last couple of days, but the NMFS technicians who are organising the operation have the process efficiently choreographed and everything ran smoothly. Once all of the M1 and M2 2015-16 moorings were out of the water (all of which were fine, with the addition of some biology to a few buoys) a reconditioned set were ready to go back in. If you are not familiar with what these mooring’s are, let me try and explain: one mooring includes groupings of about four buoys incrementally attached along a long line of wire and between these groupings data collecting instruments are further attached.
Many of these instruments look cylindrical and are made from a combination of metals to prevent corrosion. The wire is long – M1 was 2059m in length – at the end of the wire a heavy weight is attached, which is designed to sink to the seabed pulling the wire and the buoys down with it so the line and buoys float vertically upwards, securing the instruments for data collection at
different depths. When it’s time for the mooring to return to the surface for data collection an acoustic release mechanism triggers the wire to detach from the weight and due to its buoyancy the mooring floats back up to the surface. M1, M2 and now M3 reached the surface intact and untangled making it easier for a technician to catch it and draw it back to the ship.

To successfully drag down the buoys the weight needs to be significant, for the redeployed M1 and M2 moorings a small part of a massive anchor chain had been chosen, to give an idea of its scale, each chain link is about the width of my forearm. It made a dramatic sight when held aloft by the winch and hanging between the gantries before it was dropped to its watery grave.

In the evening, having completed work at moorings M1 and M2 the ship headed back closer to Greenland for more CTD stations and the launching of a number of RAFOS floats. Sotiria and Ryan – who are on the 12am – 12pm watch – and the technicians spent the early hours consistently busy preparing the CTD, collecting water samples for salinity and nutrient analyses and recording details for the watch log. Although it is the middle of the night, it’s a nice time to be up and about. It’s more peaceful and the pitch black of the night sky against the bright lights of the ship sets an atmospheric scene. Even though it’s not possible to see the vast expanse of water around us at that time, you can definitely feel it. As dawn breaks (around 5am), wandering up the outside stairwells it seems there is always someone to run into who is starting their day.

Punctuating the work and giving structure to the day are mealtimes; the food is fantastic and includes more options than could possibly be eaten at one sitting. Should it be possible to lose sight of what day it is (I think it is possible), the meals offer each day a sense of identity; fish on Friday and today, Sunday, we had a roast dinner (with amazing spuds). The galley is indicative of how things seem to run on the Discovery as a whole; the standards are high and everyone is friendly. As a first-timer on a ship it’s crystal clear that everyone works very hard and that things run like a well-oiled machine. Everyone is doing different shifts so there is always someone awake and alert; it’s a 24hour ship in every respect. Options for downtime apart from socialising or having the sea rock you to sleep, include a session at the gym, playing cards or Wii, watching a video, or a number of other things, including perusing from library’s collection. One of its gems is ‘A century of Discovery’, charting some of the Discovery’s past voyages from the last few hundred years. Interesting fact: Captain Cooks ship, The HM Sloop Discovery, weighed 229 tons*, compare that to the 2012 RRS Discovery, which weighs around 6000 tons. The sense of history attached to the Discovery is inescapable here as photographs and prints of ships bearing the ‘Discovery’ name are hung on the walls of each deck, and show majestic looking ships alongside explorers, ice and penguins. It is a profound reminder of the ships heritage and that the vessel and its people are integral cogs in continuing its legacy of exploration and pioneering research, enabling new knowledge to inform our lives.

Other excitement on board today included Ian, the purser, opening the bond (theship’s shop) where you can buy chocolate, sweets, cigarettes, clothing bearing the ‘Discovery’ logo and more, within minutes of opening there is queue. More exciting again (if possible), this morning we saw a group of pilot whales to the side of the ship. They didn’t hang around but hopefully they will be back.

* Ships employed in Arctic ice: Discoverys past, 1602 to 1876 by Ann Savours, Archives of Natural History, 2005, A century of Discovery, Volume 32 Part 2


Peter, Wallly, and Tommy


Discovery in the Arctic


Mooring weight chain


Night CTD


Greenland coast


Mooring instrument

Photos by Mia Taylor

Posted in News

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