Category Archives: Cruises

Blog Entry 4: Life on board an ocean cruise!

by Nicolai Bronikowski

Most of the MSM-74 scientists in the CTD watch room. I am in the middle with the blue shirt, to the right are from nearest to farthest: Sunke Schmidtko, Marie Hundsdoerfer, Ciara Willis and Johannes Karstensen. On the left are: Arne Bendinger, Rene Witt, Ilmar Leimann, Dasha Atamanchuk and Claire Normandeau. Missing from the photo are: Thea Siuts and Alexandre Barboni (Photo Credit: Joachim Ribbe).

Some of you have maybe wondered what life on a research ship is like. Maybe because you are about to embark on a cruise of your own, or maybe you are just curious. For me this is my first oceanographic cruise and even though I have only been on board for a week, I feel the ship routine settling in. Time to write a blog entry about a life at Sea! Most of the scientific work on board MSM-74 is centered on mooring and CTD work and we are all assigned shifts in which we carry out shared scientific duties. My shift for example is from 8 Am to noon and from 8 PM to midnight. During this time, we watch the CTD as it is collecting ocean data in the control room and then take bottle samples of salt and oxygen once the CTD is back on deck. During mooring work we are mostly on deck helping the crew and the three GEOMAR technicians Christian Begler, Rene Witt and Wiebke Martens with getting instruments ready. Often other shifts will help out on mooring work as there is a lot to do and the work can be physically demanding.

Working hard on cleaning up the recovered moorings.(Photo credits: Nicolai Bronikowski)

Technician team from GEOMAR. From left to right: Rene Witt, Wiebke Martens and Christian Begler. (Photo credits: Nicolai Bronikowski)












Every day at 1 PM we have science meetings were progress and plans are discussed by the chief scientist of our cruise Johannes Karstensen from GEOMAR. This is the time ask questions and sometimes it is also a good place to share the results of your work. For example, today Penny Holliday who I interviewed in Blog #2, described her OSNAP work and some of the surprising results that came out of OSNAP with respect to the role of the Labrador Sea in the overturning circulation.

Science Meeting photo from Penny’s talk. (Photo credit: Joachim Ribbe)

Our kitchen team feeds us well with three hot meals a day. Breakfast is from 7:30 to 8:30, Lunch is 11:30 to 12:30 and dinner is from 5:30 to 6:30 PM. And don’t forget the cake at 3 PM! Typically meals are eaten by the first shift to relieve the other one so they can eat as well. Everyday the fantastic chefs of MSM-74 prepares vegetarian as well as meat options for everyone on board. If one is afraid of missing out on a meal the person can request their meal to be kept in the fridge to be eaten later. Sylvia, the stewardess also runs the ships store were twice a week one can purchase a few necessities such as fruit gummies, chocolate or toiletries. The typical after work beer is allowed on board of course so the shop also offers duty free beverages such as beer and liquor.

Eating “Mustard Eggs” “Eggs with mustard sauce and beetroot” for dinner. A traditional German dish! (Photo Credit: Joachim Ribbe).

After a hard day working on deck there are various ways to relax such as going to the ships own Sauna with a real Finnish made sauna room and beach chairs to relax afterwards. In ships storage area there are table tennis, darts as well as a foosball table and they often become the center of socializing after work shifts are over. In the ship’s own bar one can purchase drinks and relax in leather chairs to the sound of music or an interesting conversation. Game nights are also held there and it’s a good meeting place to talk more to the crew.

Typically, there are two scientists that share a room, except for the technicians and principal investigators that get their own cabin on board the ship. The way the shifts tend to work out one goes to bed as the other gets up for their shift. Which is a good system for those that need a bit of alone time or are light sleepers. And one can wake up each other Curtains help keeping light out and for the most part you don’t notice people entering or leaving. If one feels like they need to be out and relax, when the weather is good there is a nice little bench on the port side of the main deck and for those who like to sunbath in the chill air, there are beach chairs on the observation deck

I hope this summary of typical day on board and the different routines help paint a clear picture of life at sea on the Maria S. Merian. We are now close to Greenland on our month long cruise and I am excited for the next couple of days enjoying Greenland’s coastline.

MSM 74 – Blog 2

By Nicolai Bronikowski

Blog Entry 2:

There are many fantastic people from all corners of the world on board of our cruise and in the next few entries I like to introduce some of these people I have the pleasure dealing with every day. One of our scientists, Penny Holliday is an ocean going oceanographer from NOC (National Oceanography Centre), who joined our cruise from Southampton, UK. Penny has worked in Ocean science for over two decades and leads the UK OSNAP program.

Penny told me what really got her interested in Oceanography was the possibility to work on so many projects and how connected everything about the ocean is. Penny herself calls her starting point in oceanography a coincidence. Penny was analysing a hydrographic time series when she noticed that her data set could not be explained without digging deeper into the wider Atlantic circulation. This was her starting point in studying the currents in the North Atlantic, which is the focus of the OSNAP program.

But why does this transport matter? It may not be obvious to think about the cold North Atlantic as an important driver of our pleasant weather in Europe. Penny told me that without the currents in the North Atlantic transporting water South-North which is called the Meridional Overturning Circulation, the weather in Europe would be much colder than it is now. Indeed, understanding the way this circulation changes and what drives it are in Penny’s view the key to adapting better to climate change.

I also asked Penny what she has most enjoyed about Oceanography and she admits it’s the travel and the opportunity to do lots of different things. To Penny one of the best things about oceanography are its interdisciplinary focus, with opportunity to work with lots of people. Penny is frequently on ships and her number one advice is to take the time to meet as many people as possible, make friends and be open to learn about topics that may not be directly related to your research focus.

Penny working on the mooring spool together with GEOMAR student Ilmar Leinmann (Photo credit: Penny Holliday)

On our cruise the last few days were filled with extracting and deploying moorings (K7-K10) and taking CTDs along the 53 North Array. The array stretches from the Newfoundland-Labrador shelf between depths of few hundreds to over 3000 meters deep. Most of the instruments we recover have been sampling for over two years and our task is to extract the data and ready them for the next mooring deployment with the OSNAP program. For us as young scientists we get to learn a lot of practical and technical skills changing batteries and calibrating the sensors and we feel the responsibility of doing a good job. After all the continued success of the program depends on new and accurate data.

Map of the 53 North Array and the total cruise plan for MSM 74.


Recovering Mooring K7 (Photo Credit: Sunke Schmidtko)

MSM 74 – And we’re off!

by Nicolai Bronikowski, Memorial University

Blog Entry 1:


And we are off! MSM 74 – the oceanographic cruise from St. John’s to Reykjavik is making its way to the Labrador Sea. In these 5 weeks a group of 21 scientists and 24 crew on board the German research vessel “Maria S Merian”, will brace the tough North Atlantic in the name of science. The mission: we will recover and re-deploy German, British and US moorings with measurement devices as well as take 80 CTD casts from the surface to the ocean floor to assist the scientists from the OSNAP program with their effort to estimate the Subpolar Overturning circulation and associated transport of heat and freshwater. In this blog we will detail some of the work being done, why it matters to oceanography and what life on board feels like. We hope you will enjoy reading this blog.

Day 1 – Day 3: Our journey begins in St. John’s – the capital of the easternmost province of Canada: Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John’s is a vibrant little city on the Atlantic coast inside a natural harbour of ragged rocks towering around the fjord. The night before putting out to sea snow fell and for a moment coated much of the city in a fine layer of fine white dust. It must have been an unusual sight to see snow in the end of May for most of our team arriving from places where summer already started. Our team consists of 21 scientists, 6 of which are bio-geochemists from Dalhousie University (Canada) and 15 physical oceanographers from GEOMAR (Germany), Memorial University (Canada), NOC (UK) and EPPS (France).

After re-fuelling or bunkering as they say in nautical language, the ship’s ready for the voyage. The pilot boards the ship and helps the captain navigate safely into the open ocean. We all say goodbye to mainland until the end of cruise and are greeted by 2-4 meter swells. We began the journey with safety drills and figuring our safety equipment like entering the free-falling lifeboat and lifejackets.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After this was done it was time for our CTD test station (Station 27), just outside St. John’s. CTD stands for: Conductivity, Temperature and Depth sensor and is used to measure very precisely the temperature of the water. From conductivity, temperature and pressure, the salinity and density can be worked out using standardized equations for sea water. These variables are the most important physical variables captured on all ocean research cruises. However, our CTD cast has many more instruments attached such as an ADCP to measure current speeds, an oxygen sensor to measure dissolved oxygen, a flourometer to measure plant life activity, an altimeter to detect the distance to the seabed, and a UVP (underwater vision profiler) that takes high resolution pictures of living beings under water like plants, marine life and other particles. The CTD is attached to the so called rosette, which includes water bottles that can be closed at different depths and collect samples of sea water. These are then analyzed by the bio-geochemists for gasses such as oxygen or carbon dioxide as well as nutrients.

Everyone was present to learn about the different steps in taking a CTD cast and the necessary water sample preparations that needed to be done. Unfortunately, at this point, some of our scientific crew started to battle the effects of sea sickness and the ship’s doctor was doing his best encouraging us and gave us patches to counteract the sickness feelings. Now we are on our way to our first real mooring and CTD station site and we should arrive there this evening. Looking forward to what the day will bring.

Christmas in Newfoundland

Brad deYoung, Robin Matthews and Mark Downey
Physics and Physical Oceanography
Memorial University, Newfoundland
11 January 2017

This fall we deployed an ocean glider into the Labrador Sea.  Our goal was to make measurements of the oxygen and carbon dioxide gas  properties in the Labrador Sea.  There are presently two deep-sea moorings in the Labrador Sea, separated by about 40 km off the shelf in 3500m of water.  The K1 mooring was deployed by German researchers from GEOMAR in Kiel; the Seacycler mooring was deployed by Dalhousie researchers as part of the VITALS research program. We wanted to map the gas and water properties between and around the moorings.  The glider operated from the surface down to 1000 m depth, flying along a 100 km extended line that connects the two moorings.

Our original plan was to deploy the glider directly in the Labrador Sea from a research ship  and then recover it from a ship in the Labrador Sea, so that we would get the most  out of the batteries in the glider. Battery-power is time, and time is money of course. We wanted to get the most out of our battery investment. As it turned out, the availability of ships did not line up with our schedule. As a result we had to deploy from the shore in southern Labrador, the closest port to the Labrador Sea. For recovery, southern Labrador would not work because by December all the ports are closed because of ice. So we had to fly the glider to the south and recover from the island of Newfoundland.

The deployment in September required driving  1400 km from our lab, in St. John’s Newfoundland, to Cartwright Labrador, about a day and a half of driving that requires taking a ferry from Newfoundland across the Labrador Straits to Labrador. We deployed the glider using a 63 foot boat operated by a local fisherman.  Operating from small boats does have some advantages, making it easier to get the glider into the water. Even in September the weather was intense. On the afternoon of the deployment, winds over the shelf reached 55 knots and the sea was about 8 m or 25 feet.

Mark Downey getting the glider ready for deployment with the Gannett Islands in the background.

Mark Downey getting the glider ready for deployment with the Gannett Islands in the background.


The glider did move across the shelf fairly smoothly (see below) although you can see from the track that there was a period when the glider was too shallow and got caught in a strong southward current and was pulled southwards. Once off the shelf and the glider could dive to its full 1000m depth thus was able to make better progress and only took a few weeks to reach the mooring stations. The glider operated in the Labrador Sea very well and flew for three months operating along the extended line between the two moorings.

The intent was to fly the glider straight across the shelf but strong currents, and a little mixup in the depth of the glider, led to an unintended loop to the south.

The intent was to fly the glider straight across the shelf but strong currents, and a little mixup in the depth of the glider, led to an unintended loop to the south.

In November we began making plans for the recovery. We carefully watched the battery usage. Each day the glider would use about 0.5 percent of the battery. That meant that in principle we could have 200 days at sea but in practice we want to recover with 15-20% of the battery left in case there are delays on recovery or the battery is not as ‘full’ as we think it is. We made a plan to fly the glider along the shelf edge where the water is deep and where there is a strong shelf break current moving southwards. The southward current meant that we gained an extra 10-20 km of progress. We determined that it would take about 40 days to fly the return route and so headed the glider southwards in mid-November (see track below). As the track shows, the glider made its way southward very well in spite of a few hiccups. At times we would lose regular contact because the winds (greater than 50 knots – 80 km/hr) and sea-state (well above 10 m – 30 feet) were such that the antenna was not always working properly. We also had some problems bringing the glider back across the shelf when it appeared to lose track of its direction a bit, perhaps related to problems with how the glider corrects for the current that it experiences as it flies.

Return path of the glider from the Labrador Sea a trip that took about 40 days and led to the successful recovery of the glider just off Heart’s Content, Newfoundland

Return path of the glider from the Labrador Sea a trip that took about 40 days and
led to the successful recovery of the glider just off Heart’s Content, Newfoundland

We planned to bring the glider back to one of the deep bays on the north coast of Newfoundland – Trinity Bay. These bays are somewhat sheltered and because they are deep the glider could wait there for us, patiently going back and forth in the deep water. The glider arrived at our target location off Heart’s Content, Newfoundland on Christmas day. We programmed it to fly a little triangle offshore (see figure) and then went out in a small boat to recover it. On the day of the recovery the pilot for our mission (Robin) was in the UK and so while he maintained contact with the glider we got the boat ready and then went out looking for the glider. The day before we had a storm with strong winds and the day after we had a strong winds again and so we had a narrow window for the recovery. It was winter and windy but we had no problems as we knew precisely where the glider was. The glider was just where we expected to find it and the weather cooperated. Now we get to explore the data and plan for our next deployment in the Labrador Sea.

The glider (located just below the boom in the center of the picture) was just where we expected it to be on a somewhat windy and very cold data. The glider looked just as bright and clean as on its deployment some four months earlier.

The glider (located just below the boom in the center of the picture) was just where we expected it to be on a somewhat windy and very cold data. The glider looked just as bright and clean as on its deployment some four months earlier.

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

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

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!).


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

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 sent 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 tell 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 watchstanders 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 end 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

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