SAMS news room

SAMS expedition

Monday, 29th August 2005

Early this morning 20 scientists from SAMS set off to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Western Isles, where they will be joining the British Antarctic Survey Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross (for short JCR) for a month-long research cruise into the Arctic circle (JR127).


The expedition is an integral part of the SAMS Northern Seas Programme. Among the 25 scientists from SAMS and other academic institutions are marine geologists, geochemists, physicists and biologists, who together will investigate how different northern marine ecosystems reacted to past environmental changes. This is important information if scientists are to predict the consequences of any future climate change in these waters with any certainty. Every day a different member of the expedition team will write an update on progress, their respective work plans, and experiences onboard. We hope to also bring you new pictures every day to illustrate the text.The cruise is led by SAMS director Professor Graham Shimmield (above right).


Wednesday, 31st August

by Dr John Howe, marine geologist

Work began early, after a quick breakfast at 0730hrs getting to grips with the systems for acoustic seabed surveying. As the JCR progresses north, we are continuously surveying the seabed in two ways: firstly by using pulses of     sound to map the shape of the seafloor (termed ‘multibeam bathymetry’), and secondly by passing sound through the seabed to record the layers of sediment (‘sub-bottom profiling’) and outcrops of rock that might occur. These two systems - when combined - provide detailed data on the depositional history of the seafloor since at least the last glaciation, 20 000 years ago. The use of multibeam bathymetry has developed considerably in the last few years and the system onboard the JCR is one of the most sophisticated in the world. Our first task was to familiarise ourselves with the system and prepare a rota of shifts for watch keeping, typically divided into 12:00-4:00, 4:00-8:00 and 8:00-12:00 shifts. The team working these shifts are: Suzie MacLachlan, a SAMS research student examining the ancient record of climate change in the Arctic, Charlie Wilson, a SAMS UHI Marine Science third year undergraduate     student, and myself. We also have onboard essential technical help for the mapping systems in the shape of Peter Morris, who is patiently guiding this inexperienced team through the data collection and processing.After lunch we switched from the high-tech to the low-tech working down in the aft hold stapling boxes together that will, ultimately, contain the long (ca 6m) core samples we hope to collect from the seafloor around Svalbard and Fram Strait. One of the problems of such a multidisciplinary and therefore multi-personnel cruise is what music to listen to in the communal main lab. So far this afternoon we have had System of a Down, Santana, Django Reinhardt and what can only be described as the best of Bongo Inferno volume II….only three weeks to go then. As I write this we are rolling along under misty grey skies along the Norwegian margin. We are due to pass over the Arctic Circle in less than an hour – onward and upward!


Thursday, 1st September

by Martyn Harvey, marine geochemist

1st September ... is also our first full day north of the Arctic Circle! Although there was considerable debate yesterday with regard to its exact latitude, since the ship is now above 67°N there can be no further doubt that we have crossed it (although disappointingly, I didn't feel the bump as we did). For some of us the day really does start at midnight. While the rest of the ship sleeps or prepares for sleep, the twelve to four (ttf) watch assembles for four hours of coffee, toast and techno Abba. This morning the watch (Paul, Lois, Katie, Nuria and myself) has been joined by a gorilla called Gerald. It's just another surreal moment at sea. I hasten to add he is not one of the crew, even though some of them do fit the description, and one of them has actually claimed to be one. The four hours pass by in a flurry of non-activity and then we witness one of the greatest pleasures of the watch: the bleary eyed arrival of the four to eight watchkeepers. This is rapidly followed by our departure to the ship's bar for the nightly ttf bonding session, which does, I must confess, involve the consumption of alcoholic beverage.

It's difficult to convey the unique flavour of the ttf watch to someone who has never experienced it. The following stanza from a poem, which resulted from a cruise on the Challenger in the days before the NERC ships' alcohol policy (historical note: Dave Ellett's last cruise), written by Bo Thruster, might help:

Addiction to chocolate struck the twelve to four
Who were perpetually craving for more.
And as each dawn came up again nobody spoke
As they swallowed huge volumes of four bells and coke.
'It helps us to sleep' they were oft heard to slur
As these shadows of men stumbled round in a blur,
And being one of this party of reprobates
Who spent all their time in such altered states,
I cannot, no matter how deeply I delve
Remember what happened between four and twelve.

Which, when you come to think of it, pretty much accounts for the rest of the day. Though I do have dim recollections of my subsequent sleep,

breakfast (which for everyone except the ttf gang was lunch), a continuing buzz of activity as we all prepared for the arrival on board of our first samples, my being binman for the day (you have to be versatile here), the excitement of the ship's arriving at the first station (Bear Island Fan, station 6, close to the eastern edge of the Dumshaf Abyssal Plain, in 3300 metres water depth) in the early afternoon, a successful deployment of the NIOZ box corer, my dressing for dinner, our evening meal and then back to bed for a few more hours sleep before the new day's ttf...



Sunday, 4th September

by Lindsay Vare, marine geochemistry PhD student

As our expedition North continued over the weekend, the ship was plagued with the return of the bad weather causing most operations to come to a grinding halt.  The calm ocean, once open to the many pieces of machinery marine scientists like to deploy into its depths, turned into an inhospitable, raging area of vast waves.  Although spectacular to watch, the heave of the ship didn’t allow us to progress with our scientificprogramme. Watches continued but where there were once frantic hours of deploying and retrieving sediment corers, there were now just noisy jamming sessions and energetic games of badminton and volleyball.

In the early hours of Monday morning an attempt was made to complete our sampling programme at station BIF 4, but continued stormy conditions forced us to abandon our plan. 

Sleep was upon many of us when the decision was made to turn the ship and return to station BIF 2 to complete the station and recover the Seabed Lander we had deployed there 48 hours earlier.  My memories of the turn of the ship at 2am on Tuesday morning remains in a little of a daze. Rudely awoken from blissful  sleep I saw several UFOs (yes, unidentified flying objects!) flying  freely around the ship.  “Did that actually happen?” was the question the next morning.  The UFO mistery was eventually solved  when we discovered Kenny Black ’s guitar at the opposite end of the Main Lab and obvious signs of tea bag staining on Suzie's trousers...


Monday, 5th September

by Suzie MacLachlan, marine geology PhD student

The new week started earlier than I am accustomed to, with my watch starting at midnight. I was still feeling quite unwell after missing dinner yesterday and spending the evening in bed clutching my stomach while the weather deteriorated and the ship began to pitch and roll...

I arrived on watch bleary-eyed and undoubtedly unsteady on my feet (while very sober) to join the jabbering members of my watch team. Obviously looking a worse shade of grey than usual it didn’t take long for the barrage of conflicting advice and cures for seasickness to hit me. Recommendations ranged from ‘eat a huge, greasy bacon sandwich with extra fat drippings’ to ‘I read something on the internet that you are less likely to feel sick if your at the helm of the ship.’ As expected at that time of day no one had anything helpful to say.

When travelling been stations during watches, there is very little to do other than watch the waves pass by. It then becomes essential for the watch keepers to provide their own entertainment. This time it was in the form of a DVD and hot chocolate.

Vague excitement arrived at 3.50am when the ship was only a few inches (on the map) away from a sampling station while the sea was brewing something nasty and launched an assault on the ship. With ever increasing swell and waves breaking across the bow, the ship ground to a halt: This was to be our temporary position for the next 18 hours. As the ship’s activities were suspended, there was not a great deal of things to do, except sleep. This - by the way - proved to be the best cure for seasickness - and is also fast becoming my favourite hobby whilst on board...


Tuesday, 6th September

by Katie Doig, marine geochemist

For me, a day starts at midnight when I begin my twelve till four watch; yes, I am another ‘ttf’ person. 

After 24 hours of mountainous waters and crashing waves, which may be very exciting but also somewhat stomach-turning, it finally calmed down sufficiently today to do a CTD drop (to measure conductivity, temperature and depth) and to collect some water samples - yahoo!!  Unfortunately, the waves were still too big to drop the mega-corer, so we have no sediment samples - boo-hoo.  We eventually had to abandon our sampling site and move on. Maybe we can return some day to it when Poseidon will be kinder. 

While we steamed for our next station, we moved on to tea and toast. The rapid U-turn, however, had these end up over laps and computers along with various other essential pieces of equipment...  Thus ended the first part of the day with a drink, Pringles, and chatting to the already wee small hours of the morning.


The second part of the day arrived with lunch, or, for me, breakfast - yummy.  Today the thrill of going to  lunchfast was heightened by the prospect of recovering the  SAMS seabed lander.  Two days ago we abandoned the  lovelingly named ‘Oli Folly’ to the dangers of being trawled   up by the large fishing fleet that was situated over our  original station forcing us to move it.  Will the lander still be  there? Or has it been trawled up? Will it get stuck in the mud? Or will it return to us safely? 

The acoustic release was activated and a nail-biting  moment passed until we identified the lander moving   up through the   water column.  It was then all eyes to the  look out to spot where it would surface.  The ‘Oli Folly’ was eventually recovered safe and   sound. Everything appears to have gone to plan.  A distinct lack of mud, however, was to  follow us here as well, and the box corer had failed to retain any soft sediment on its way back to us. But as we obtained all the water samples and the video footage, this was definitely a successful lander deployment! The lander retrieval was followed by several further CTD and mega-corer deployments. And now it's onward and upward on our tour of the Frozen North.


Wednesday, 7th September

by Dr Finlo Cottier, marine physics (and physical exertions)

Today was our final sampling station in the vicinity of Bear Island.  This station was relatively shallow (only 1000m), so the round trip (deck – seabed – deck) for the corer was just 40 minutes, a fraction of the 2 hours required at our deepest station at 3000m.  The sensation was that the pace of work had picked up and mud was arriving on deck thick and fast.  However, after being woken for the 4am watch, the very last thing I was feeling was ‘fast’.  Now we’re steaming north, through the afternoon and evening, and by tomorrow morning we should be in sight of Spitsbergen.  Here the science will become more physical, studying the temperature and salinity of the water to the west of the island to determine its origins.  Some water comes from the Atlantic and is still relatively warm at 4ºC and salty, whilst other waters have a more Arctic character being colder and fresher due to ice melt.  By investigating how these waters exchange and mix we can understand the variability in heat delivery to the Arctic and the consequences of changing water conditions on the delicately balanced Arctic ecosystems.

Earlier in this series of personal logs, Martyn Harvey enthused about the off-beat nature of the ‘twelve ‘til four’ watch.  I don’t think that we on the ‘four ‘til eight’ watch can hope to challenge them in the whackiness stakes but we’re certainly better fed than they are.  At eight in the morning, having been awake for four hours already, breakfast feels like lunch, and once you’ve wolfed that down … heck! you might as well stay awake through the morning and have lunch (again?!?!), which now feels like dinner (– are you following this??).  A quick cat nap in the afternoon and you’re back on watch at four.  Come six o’clock there is the main evening meal, which, as you are up anyway, you may as well eat.  By eight o’clock in the evening, you’re off watch and there is the opportunity for a few refreshments at the bar before heading for an early-ish bed.  The daily calorie count is high!

Now I’m not the sort of person who gets hung up about their weight.  However, this is the

first cruise where I have felt the need to balance consumption with a bit of exertion.  Fortunately we are ‘blessed’ with the company of Richard Turner, the ship’s catering officer, who organises the thrice-weekly circuits sessions.  Richie really is a tremendous guy, immensely likeable and full of great stories.  He is also about 6 foot 6, lean as a champion greyhound, with steely eyes and a shaven head.  Got the picture ??  Now try and imagine the intensity of his circuits.  Try again!  Imagine them lasting twice as long, twice as intense - and on a moving ship.  OK, now you’re probably getting close.  I am writing this log with aching arms, shoulders, stomach, calves…  But I’ve also just finished a huge, steaming Lancashire Hotpot, so I guess I’ll be booking myself into another round of Richie’s circuits before very long.  This research business ain’t easy.


Thursday, 8th September

by Dr Paul Provost, marine physicist

I get up, cup of tea, and wander up to the main science lab for the watch handover, look at my watch, and it is five to midnight!

The usual discussion about what will happen in this watch and what has happened in the last one takes place, leading to a further discussion about when yesterday finished and today actually began. Does one go by dates, and yesterday runs from midnight to midnight; or are the activities that happened just a few hours earlier, but are separated by a couple of hours sleep and a date change, still part of today? Such are the challenges faced by a twelve to fourer at sea. To confuse things further, the cup of tea made yesterday is still plenty warm enough to drink. This is quite impressive as we are 76º36’ north of the equator or just 804 nautical miles (1489 km) south of the North Pole with the air temperature approaching 0ºC and the sea temperature at 2.5ºC. Through breaks in the cloud I see the first signs of twilight, unfortunately we are slightly too late in the year to get continuous daylight.

The watch passes uneventfully with discussions about sauna etiquette (yes, there is one aboard this ship, and no, I haven’t used it), the use of the gym

(again yes and no answers apply), and a long yet amusing time is spent trying to recount the names of the Muppets and their personalities. As we go off watch for some team and spirit boosting in the bar, we are 35 miles to the south of Spitsbergen (Svalbard) with the prospect of sighting land in a few hours.

Rising at 11am, what I consider the start of the day, I have an early lunch (my breakfast) of “hot pot” followed by rice pudding. When out on deck I am greeted by our first sight of landfall since departing Stornoway, consisting of a spectacular canvas of mountains, glaciers, sea and sky. Most of the complement of scientists who are on the other watches are taking photographs.

A second thing I notice is that part of the aft deck is covered in white foam. This is detergent from the containment and clean-up of a hydraulic hose failure on the starboard gantry sometime during the night (actually between 4 and 11 am). The thought immediately goes through my head that the sampling schedule is now delayed, which means, I suspect, that the planned visit to the Polish Arctic Research Station in Hornsund will also be subsequently delayed. I was hoping this would provide a major contribution to this diary, but sadly not. Unfortunately, describing how I empty the bins and separate the rubbish between paper, plastics, glass and cans, and batteries and aerosols just does not hold the same degree of interest!

Officially the watch lasts until 4 pm, but as usual we keep working until just before dinner at 6 pm, when we retire to our cabins to dress for dinner, a traditionally formal yet very enjoyable affair, in which up to five courses are available. Tonight’s feast includes a mushroom starter and pork and brussel sprout main course. The latter bring back memories of Christmas and lead to John Howe regaling us with a story of a cracker he once pulled... After dinner we retire to the officers and scientists’ saloon to enjoy coffee and discussion of previous and future missions.

And so to bed for a few hours sleep in preparation for the next watch, whether it be tomorrow’s or later today’s remains to be discussed. On reflection,

it has been another good day, with us enjoying our work, rest and play.


Friday, 9th September

by Emily Venables, Neil Macdougall bursary student (and hopefully a marine physicist one day…)

  Well, when birthdays and Christmases are involved, I’ve always been under  the impression that a day doesn’t start until you’ve been asleep.   Unfortunately, sleep is something that I haven’t found to be readily available so far on the cruise… so we’ll go with the midnight to midnight approach. Are you sitting comfortably? You need to be because it’s been a long one!

The new day begins when the ttf’s arrive to relieve us eight till twelvers from watch, and we count down the seconds until we can escape to the comfort of the bar to unwind. Unwinding generally involves the digression in conversation from cutting edge science to underwear. My fellow watch-people are Colin, Eric, Susan, Saul and Charlie.

Meanwhile, the mighty ttfs are doing a grand job of working through our transect of stations along the 200m contour of the West Spitsbergen Shelf. We are particularly interested in the shelf edge contour as the bathymetry ‘steers’ the West Spitsbergen Current (WSC), which is effectively the northernmost extension of what most people will know as the Gulf Stream. CTD profiles through the surface water, the WSC, and the bottom waters will enable us to establish the mixing processes involved between these layers and help us quantify the heat that the current transfers to the Arctic Ocean.

When I say ‘we’, I refer to the physicists of the cruise, namely Finlo, Colin and Paul. I’m working with SAMS for nine weeks, having been awarded the Neil Macdougall bursary. The aim of this bursary is to let me get involved with practical oceanography, and what better chance could I have than to be taking part in such a multidisciplinary cruise. Having worked through many CTD profiles and a mega core, by 4am we are on schedule to turn and head into Hornsund for the Polish Polar Research Station. To reward themselves for their achievement, the ttfs enter the safety and shelter of the bar. Needless to say, when I awake for breakfast at 7.30, I find myself seated with them at a very giggly table while I eat my full English with a fried egg!

Now begins the day in the real world! A day, in which food is to play a major role. Having not missed a meal on board the ship as yet, people are beginning to realise that this is very important to me. After breakfast, I spend a happy hour with my new camera taking lots of pictures of the fantastic scenery. Meanwhile, the landing craft is launched and collects Polish scientists from the shore. They arrive to join us for breakfast… well, I can’t resist the smell of toast and bacon, and anyway, everyone knows it’s rude to watch other people eat. A short while later, we are ferried ashore to view their base. It is very lovely indeed, recently refurbished with a beautiful wood finish inside. Upon our arrival we are presented with their finest chocolate, coffee and freshly baked cakes... In the words of Mike, the comms officer: ‘Marvellous’! Again, it would be rude not to. Thank goodness for Rich and his circuits!

We are given a short introduction to the station's research interests (mostly geophysical), and life at the station. After visiting the labs, watching extreme biking on satellite television, and making a fuss of the extremely cute but very smelly huskies, it is time to leave. We have a tight schedule of science to stick to, especially as we have already lost quite some time due to the JCR's delay in its refit in Portsmouth, the stormy weather reported in earlier entries, and the main gantry leaking hydraulic oil. Just as we are getting used to the stillness of the land, Andy and Jo, the 1st and 3rd officers on board, have the difficult task of getting the more talkative of us back onto the landing craft. So here we are, back to the JCR. And just in time for lunch!

Fortunately for those of you who are bored of my rambling, the afternoon is slightly less eventful. We steam back out towards where we left off. Sighting minke whales is the highlight of my afternoon, even if they are a long way off. After an hour’s nap, some much needed circuits, and a dose of lasagne for dinner, eight o’clock is upon us again and all spare hands help the chemists as water from the many CTD profiles come pouring in. No need for a countdown tonight. All of a sudden, after logging lots of CTD activity and frantically sorting rubbish, it’s midnight and time for the difficult decision: Bar or bed? Bar or bed? Go on then, but just for one… It’s Lindsey’s birthday after all!


Saturday, 10 September

by Dr Kenny Black, marine chemist

It is 5 am on Sunday morning.  We are heading north-west, up the Fram Strait between Svalbard and Greenland, into the teeth of a severe gale. The ship is pitching steeply as it mounts the building waves and plunges down into the grey, glassy troughs beyond.  With every plunge a great cloud of white, foamy spray is hurled back and beyond the ship.  Occasionally the bow digs in, submerges with a shudder and comes up with icy green water pouring across the forecastle.

I am in the Underway Instrument Control (UIC) room with John Howe, we are the only ones up.  John is agonising about our course of action.  The lan is to acoustically survey a 50 km square of sea bed north of the Molloy Deep, where elevations in the topography may harbour patches of thick sediment, undisturbed by sediment slumps and turbidity flows that layer the sediments of the Molloy Deep.  In these elevated areas, it may be possible to take deep piston-cores to study the direct affects of water currents on sediment properties and thus infer changing deep-water circulation patterns over many thousands of years. This is important as these deep return flows are a vital component of global ocean circulation, which has a profound affect on climate.

I step out the back door of the UIC to have my first cigarette and watch the icy water pouring from the deck above and the building slush on the main back deck.  The sea is fully Beaufort Scale 9 with the tops of the waves being blown off into long white streaks on the chaotic, tumbling ocean.  The air is an orgy of flying icy spray. I hang on as the ship heaves, being careful to avoid the growing icy patches. It is -5°C and the wind is howling round the superstructure at 45 knots with gusts to 60.  I don’t know what the wind-chill calculation is but I feel its numbing grip through my thick fleece.

I return to the UIC, where we confront the decision: our slow progress into the gale means that our current course to the north-west corner of the survey box will take another 12 hours at least, cutting the time available for the acoustic survey itself.  Agonising, we decide to suggest a more modest plan – starting at the south-east of the box and reducing its scale to focus on a submerged seamount.  But that will mean an immediate course change.  We go up the navigation bridge to discuss this with the Chief Officer, Andy.

On the bridge, we see the full extent of the seascape, and hear the wind twisting through the air, grasping at wires and stays.  Each crash of the bows brings a wall of frothy sea onto the bridge window. Freezing on its short path through the air, it arrives as wet hail and builds around the windows, caking the wipers with a pebble-dash of frozen, salty beads. 

Andy plots our new course and turns the ship to see how she will react to taking the

wind on the starboard quarter as opposed to full on: will the ship roll and wake the slumbering souls in the accommodation below, exposing us to sleepy oaths?  No, she takes the new direction with ease, shouldering diagonally across the hugeswell – the increase in apparent wavelength reduces the shuddering impact at the bottom of each trough, and the ship picks up speed, less impeded by the oncoming slabs of frothy-topped grey sea.

Later, and over a short period, the sea suddenly flattens, although with no decrease in wind speed.  The Arctic pack ice has moved south in the gale.  On the bridge we see the first grey-white chunks, driven south by the bitter wind.  Even in the grey dawn light these little bergs reveal their wonderful deep green interior

as the ship pushes them aside.  Up ahead, we can see the huge rafts of slab ice scheming to bar our progress.  The gale has dragged the ice much further south than shown on yesterday’s satellite image.  As the ice increases and progress slows, we sense another imposed change of plan.  The ship rears groaning and grinding over another huge slab of floating ice as I turn for breakfast and my bunk, leaving the next part of the decisions to better minds, refreshed by sleep.

Sunday, 11 September

by Dr Lois Nickell, marine biologist

Yesterday, the weather worsened and the sea began to pick up whilst we were working on a CTD transect down   the West Svalbard Shelf.  Difficult decisions had to be   made and rather than sitting out the weather hove,   wasting valuable science time, we set off north towards   the ice edge hoping that we might be able to return    later to finish the transect.  We then spent the night and early   morning beating a path through rough seas in the Fram Strait   towards Greenland.     I woke at 0700 this morning to the sound of something    (later identified as the frozen strop) pounding on the    wall of my cabin.  I looked out but could see almost    nothing because of the ice now covering the porthole.  There had been a lot of sea spray last night but the    temperature must have dropped to make it freeze.     I couldn’t sleep any longer so decided to get up for only the    third breakfast I have eaten on board.  This is because I do the twelve to four watch and am never usually around until after 1000.  There were few people around and having had only a few hours sleep, I retired to my cabin to try and get a little more shut eye. 

When I got up for the second time, my heart skipped a beat.  Out of the cabin port hole I could see nothing but a sea of ice!  This is the moment I hadwaited for and I ran to the UIC to be confronted by a huddled group of people around the chart table, all with worried faces.  Not wanting to disturb the decision-making process that was clearly in operation, I picked up my camera and headed for the bridge.  The Captain, Jerry Bergen, was at the helm guiding the ship through the dense pack ice (nine tenths cover, I was informed).  I have few words to describe standing there at the centre of a panorama of white frozen water, the dramatic snow storms and the grey leads of seawater marking boundaries between sheets of pack ice.  The JCR, herself encrusted now with ice, would shudder beneath us as she hit each slab, which turned and buckled beneath the weight and power of the ship.  Although the pack has the overall appearance of being white, I had not expected the intensity of aquamarine colour, which the ice occasionally takes on when there are no bubbles of air trapped within.  The visibility was not great, with snow and sleet lashed by the wind, but I stood mesmerised, feeling hugely privileged to witness this sight and somewhat overwhelmed by a sense of insignificance in this frozen sea.

The day has been spent slowly but steadily under way, stopping some 30 miles into the pack.  We are here to carry out work for our geologists, John Howe and his PhD student, Suzie MacLachlan.  Plans have had to be revised and reduced because of the unexpected early encounter with ice, which has been blown south by the same gales which forced us to abandon the CTD work at Svalbard.  Acoustic surveys have been in operation whilst in transit across a defined box of seabed, and with skill and professionalism, Jerry and his crew have succeeded in getting us on station.  Next will come attempts to piston core.  Richie Phipps and Kevin Smith from UKORS have spent the day preparing the corer.  This would have been no insignificant task in fine weather but has been made many times more difficult by the freezing conditions.  Gusts of up to 66 knots have brought the windchill down to around -30°C and this evening a decision has been made not to start coring until first light tomorrow in order to give everyone a much needed break and hopefully a few hours of sleep.  In the interim, a plankton sample has been collected and the net was brought aboard clogged with organisms. 

Although temperatures are sub-zero, these waters can be highly productive and Nuria Navarro, our Spanish colleague, is collecting samples of phyto- and zooplankton for the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa back at SAMS.

As for my own work, I feel this is the calm before the storm.  Myself and Martyn Harvey are carrying out process studies on the macrobenthos along a transect from the Voring to the Yermak Plateau.  We have collected cores from the seabed at Bear Island Fan and are currently incubating these at -1°C in the JCR’s cold room.  Using experiments designed to simulate the influence of a phytoplankton bloom, we hope to understand changes in benthic organism responses to algal deposition to the seabed. 

The sampling is 12 hourly at the moment but this incubation will finish tomorrow, when we will slice all the cores retaining the sediment for further analysis back at SAMS.  We still hope to core at a minimum of three more stations and will have a hectic schedule to fit all these in and be packed before arrival at Immingham on the 24th.  But plans must always be flexible because we are at the mercy of the weather and the ice.

This has been an exceptional and unforgettable day in my life.

PS And I just saw these two polar bears!


Monday, 12 September

by Heather Muir, marine ecologist

I’m sure by now you are fairly familiar with what life on the JCR is like. There are small variations on the themes of sleeping, eating, being on watch,

and eating, sleeping, eating, and being on watch again...  As my day follows a very similar format, and as I struggled with what to bring with me on my

first cruise, I have decided to devote my journal entry to helping you cope, should you ever find yourself on an Arctic cruise.

‘The Arctic Cruise Survival Guide’

  1. Eye mask: Working shifts and sharing cabins never mix; there is a power that always ensures that you will be working different watches to your cabin mates.   Wandering about in the dark trying to get dressed at 4am usually results in numerous bruises from unidentified obstacle collisions. Bring an eye mask to ease the pain of your cabin mates, so that lights can then be switched on without the fear of waking anyone up.
  2. Ear plugs: As above, especially important if you forget the eye mask.  Helps mask out the subsequent cries and jumping about of cabin mates after collisions with unidentified obstacle in the dark.
  3. Stereo: The radio officer selects a radio station from the internet and transmits it throughout the ship.  Tuning in your stereo and listening to what is going on in the outside world keeps you sane. My personal favourite is the travel reports on Radio 2. It's comforting to listen to, especially when there’s not another ship in sight.
  4. CDs: As it's always a bit of a gamble to rely on the radio officer's taste, especially if you are not a football/cricket fan, it's good to have a selection of music at hand you actually like.  Note:  If you are of a nervous disposition, ensure that your CD collection is not aired in a communal area, as nobody  will ever agree with your taste, and a barrage of abuse will ensue.
  5. Slip-on shoes: When you’re cold and wet and your fingers are numb from slicing sediment cores on the back deck for hours, you just can’t be bothered with laces...
  6. Spares of ... EVERYTHING: Double - or better still triple - the items your boss tells you to pack (eg bags, vials, pens, tape).  Ships must have a black hole, where useful things disappear into never to be seen again.  Spares are also vital as bosses seem to have a habit of suddenly deciding to get in some extra samples - and expect you to have foreseen this eventuality.
  7. Warm clothing (and lots of it): Never believe those that say  ‘Oh, it’s not too bad, you don’t need gloves, hats with earflaps, or a really good jacket’. These are the same type of people that walk about in T-shirts and shorts in the winter. Their opinions don't count!  It's minus 6 degrees today with added windchill, think about that!
  8. Sleep: Try and sleep as much as you can beforehand, and train yourself to power-nap and to sleep in chairs (albeit big, comfy Star Trek-style chairs). Sleep deprivation is the name of the game onboard.   It’s hard to juggle watches, meal times, exciting views, and sleep. As sleep is generally lowest on the list of priorities, it’s important to make the most of any opportunity you get.
  9. Camera: Although much of this cruise has had limited photo opportunities, it has been more than made up for now.  When you do get a view other than sea, sea, and more sea, it's absolutely stunning, and well worth the wait.
  10. Chocolate: Despite the food onboard being great, and there being plenty of it, sometimes only some Cadbury will do.  Especially at 4am, when you’re just about to start your watch, and you’re tired, cold, and it’s still 3 hours until breakfast.  A chunk of Dairy Milk and you’ll turn up with a smile on your face...

Note:  No offence to my cabin mate (Susan), my boss (Kenny), nor our radio officer (Mike)... Above points are just general advice that might make life aboard for the next first-timer more comfortable.


Route of the Arctic cruise to date

Wednesday 14th September

by Peter Lamont, benthic biologist

Our first morning in Kongsfjord (Svalbard) started with sunshine that stayed with us    for most of the day.  As usual, there was continuous activity on the ship. Amongst   the notable events of the day, our director, Graham, managed to get himself    suspended - but I'll come to that in a moment. First off for me, just as I'd settled    down to some meditative mud sieving, was the upheaval of my sieving station. Our    sink was tied to two cages against the wall in the scientific workshop and these had    to be extracted to the deck.

One of the features of shipboard life is that objects and gear constantly gets shifted about - like a milder version of moving house except that it goes on for a month. Sometimes there comes a point after a few days of calm, when the ship starts to    move in larger waves and suddenly folk can be seen scurrying around tying loose, slithering items down and generally tidying up. This morning there was gear to be packed for offloading later in Ny Alesund, a short distance away. The cages, literally square, metal mesh, open-topped boxes, were placed on the deck to hold wires and the other gear required. From there they could be craned onto the quayside at Ny Alesund once we were alongside, scheduled for the next day.

The aftermath of the upheaval left my sieving station on its own in the middle of    the floor. You will have heard the expression 'everything but the kitchen sink'. Well, there is no 'BUT' for us benthic mud slingers - we actually DO take a kitchen sink to sea! It once belonged to a colleague and is a half-drainer, domestic sink.

The study of small macrobenthic animals falls into that unhappy gap of fauna size range that requires large amounts of mud collected to catch enough of the animals we seek, ie those retained on a mesh of a quarter of a millimetre square. All ships' sinks have traps, but our objective is not to trap any sediment but to wash the finer material overboard, and hence we take our own sink without a trap but with a hose that can be led over the side.

The ship's pumped seawater supply is termed 'non toxic' and is uncontaminated by the ship's systems. It is pumped from a pipe projecting from the bottom of the hull. Surface plankton in the supply are filtered out by a filter fitted to our sink so that we do not contaminate our samples that are taken from the deep-sea bed mud. Our sink also has a freshwater tap and a shelf to hold a container of alcohol, in which the samples are finally preserved. In fact, our sink comes with all mod cons including a light, with the whole lot packing down into its own box when transported.  With some assistance, the sink was moved against the wall and I was able to wash some more of our samples collected in the preceding days. Today it was a disadvantage to be inside - but most days a covered position inside enables sediment washing to take place when it is too rough to core or, as yesterday, when the temperature was sub-zero with some light snow and a wind whipping across the working deck. Yesterday there was a queue to use our sink!!

All this while the piston core was in action followed by the CTD against a splendid, sunlit backdrop of the snow-covered mountains of Spitsbergen.As a break from sieving, there was time for a first look at a sample collected from 3300 m water depth and to photograph some of the smaller animals. The largest benthic beast so far, in the form of a 12 mm sea cucumber (holothurian), had come from one of the cores from this position on the edge of the Bear Island fan.


Besides finding new and strange animals one of the pleasures of shipboard life is the enforced leisure time due to bad weather or changes of plan.

Often this is occupied by swopping tales of previous voyages with crew or officers in one of the messes. On this expedition, since it is such a nice ship,

I decided to make a new game to be left onboard in the officer's lounge. In the lounge (i.e bar with duty-free 1960's prices !) there is a small assortment of board and quiz games. After making up some megacore racks from wood brought with us, there were enough spare moments to make a board for a game called 'nefatavl', sometimes called 'Viking chess'. To add some authenticity, the playing pieces are white and dark grey pebbles collected from Ullapool beach before we left. The captain on a ship likes to know everything that is going on, so I felt obliged to take it up to the bridge to let Jerry see it before leaving it in the lounge. Maybe there'll be a moment in the next few days to see what it is like to play!

Meanwhile a party were readying to go off in the cargo boat to the end of the fjord to sample. This is like a small landing craft and can hold quite a number of people or gear. The JCR is used as a supply ship as well as for research and is thus well equipped with cranes to off load gear. The cargo boat normally resides in a cradle on the fore deck from where it can be craned over the side into the water - complete with everyone onboard ! The same procedure is used for the inflatable boats housed on the upper stern deck. Graham had a visit ashore in one of these, hence his temporary suspension!

Thursday 15th September

by Mark Shields, PhD student in deep-sea benthic biology

My day this morning began at 8.05am when I awoke to the smell of a cooked breakfast.  Lucky me, you may think, but not so: I had missed breakfast by a mere five minutes.  My rumbling belly was not impressed!  I thus got up and - after a quick shower - headed down to the duty mess for a disappointing breakfast of cereal and toast.  The bacon smelled so good…  I know food is a common theme in this weblog, but we really enjoy meal times here; it is an important socialising time when everyone who doesn’t sleep in gets together.

I will now tell you a bit about my work.  I am collecting samples for my      PhD, which is in deep-sea benthic biology within the Arctic. This   involves collecting samples of mud from the seabed using the mega   corer and box corer.  Once onboard, the benthic team (made up of   Peter Lamont and me) gets busy slicing these cores, setting up incubations, and sieving mud in search of animals. We don’t work a rota   like most others onboard, which means that we both have to be awake   whenever benthic samples are collected for us, whenever these arrive.    This has often resulted in me doing a typical 9 to 5 shift – but with the   twist of it being through the night, with a little bit of overtime added on   at either end.  My bed is never more appealing than after a successful   hard night’s work.  Anyway back to today, our second day in the Kongsfjord.  Throughout   the night we had sampled water and mud using the CTD and mega   corer, so that I awoke while many tired people headed off for a   deserved  sleep.  As I am not collecting samples within the Kongsfjord,

I have a bit more time than normal to enjoy the stunning scenery, and offered to help John and Charlie with the piston coring.  This involved me getting covered in mud, which has become the most common activity for me on this cruise.  The core had to be sliced in regular sections, and I helped out although John and Charlie have the whole process down to a fine art.  It was good fun, although a bit chilly and somewhat smelly…  Soon after finishing it was time for lunch, but in the mean time the physicists were turning around the mooring in Kongsfjord.  It was impressive to watch the array of instruments being attached to what seemed like a never ending length of wire.

Eventually the mooring was deployed and we got to do what we had all being looking forward to all day: visit Ny Alesund, the most northerly settlement in the world. This allowed us to be tourists for the day and have a break from the science.  After docking at Ny Alesund I headed into the village with Peter, Nuria, Heather, Susan and Lindsay, my camera at the ready.  We enjoyed being back on land, even if only for a few hours.  We had a walk around the settlement. As there is only one road circling the 30 or so buildings, this didn’t take very long... 

Ny Alesund began life as a coal mine and is now home to an international team of researchers.  As well as spotting many scientists, I also got to catch a glimpse of my first reindeer, half a dozen in fact.  And then we went shopping!  They opened the tourist shop especially for us for one hour. It was more than enough time though for us all to run up our credit card bills.  After leaving the shop I bumped into Emily and Chris, who had just been diving into a snow drift.  It looked like fun, so thought I would give it a go. It was a very refreshing experience indeed.

After a tour of the new marine laboratory (of which SAMS is an investor), the inhabitants of Ny Alesund came onboard the JCR to look around. 

We eventually said goodbye to our new friends and headed off into sunset towards Krossfjorden to collect another piston core and continue with the science programme.  The day had come to an end.

Friday 16th September

by Charlie Wilson, BSc (Hons) Marine Science undergraduate (& keyboard player)

You join me as I sit in the Swath/TOPAS corner, one eye on the three computer screens around me, the other on my laptop as I try to gather my thoughts about the last 24hrs.  The display furthest to my left shows the progress of JCR across the West Svalbard Shelf, underlain by depth measurements from a swath of 191 beams of sound transmitted and received by an array of transducers built into the hull of the ship. 


Beside that, a second monitor shows the image generated by the TOPAS sub-bottom profiler.  The series of light and dark layers indicate reflective boundaries in the seafloor, which can be interpreted as laminated sediments on the gently rising continental slope some 1100 metres below the ship.  Lastly, to my right is a workstation dedicated to processing the Swath data, a job guaranteed to cause madness, blindness or both, involving as it does the careful study and manipulation of page after page of red and blue dots.  The results, however, are impressive.  During the last couple of days in Kongsfjörden and Krossfjörden, Peter M has carefully pulled together and processed the data from this cruise and JR75 in 2002 to produce stunning acoustic images of the basin floor.  Throughout the cruise, Peter’s patience, experience and sense of humour (especially in the face of repeated early hours phone calls from panicky swath operators) have proved invaluable.

Teamwork is very much part of life on JCR, and so thinking back to last night we find Peter standing in for yours truly at the swath station, while John, Suzie, Kevin, Richie and I (aided and abetted by several beautiful assistants – you know who you are) set about securing our final piston core of the cruise.  The site is a small basin in Krossfjörden, which we hope will provide a high resolution record of climatic variability since the Little Ice Age (c. 600-100B.P.).  The piston corer is a long metal tube (12 metres in this case) lined with plastic tubes that is lowered slowly towards the seabed with a large weight, or bomb, on top.  From one side hangs a similar but much smaller “trigger” corer that touches the seabed first, simultaneously collecting the top metre or so of sediment and triggering the freefall of the large corer.  The long tube, tipped with a circular cutting blade, penetrates the sediment and is driven home by the bomb.  At the same time, a piston at the tip of the corer slides back up the tube, drawing with it the sediment to create (ideally) an undisturbed section through the sediment that can be pulled back up to the ship.

Once on board, the corer is dismantled section by section, and each of the four 3m plastic liners, complete with mud, are cut into 1m sections, capped, taped up, labelled, run through a magnetic susceptibility loop (which gives an indication of the amount of terrigenous vs biogenic material in the core), boxed, and finally placed in the cold store.  Sounds straightforward enough, but in reality the whole process involves more heaving, grunting, swearing, mud, blood, sweat and tears than I have the time or energy to describe.  Needless to say, without the

expertise of Kevin and Richie (and Richie’s “persuader” – a steel-lined croquet mallet that comes in particularly handy when attempting to remove recalcitrant sediment-filled liners from the corer), the entire enterprise would have fallen at the first fence.  It is a matter of pride for our hardworking UKORS techs to get the best cores they can – and they certainly can afford to be proud of themselves.  Thanks must also go to everyone who wielded hacksaws, labelled caps and boxes, wiped down filthy core sections, dismantled and reassembled trigger cores, and generally helped us out in our hours of need.

So, what next for our muddy historical record?  The final week of the cruise will see the cores brought out of the cold stores and split lengthways (and you thought routers were for making skirting boards…), described and logged, and finally wrapped in clingfilm, heat sealed in plastic and returned to their boxes in the cold store for the journey home to Oban.  Once there, a variety of proxy indicators will be used to help us unravel the climate history of the Arctic – shouldn’t take long!

On a lighter note, one of the advantages of 24 hour internet access on JCR is being able to keep up with news from around the globe, including the world of entertainment.  However, while the wider world may have been caught up in the birth and naming of Britney Spears’ baby or the breakdown of Renee Zellweger’s marriage, we on board have been more concerned with whether or not the band will be playing at the end-of-cruise party.  An almost comical lack of talent and/or practice, an increasingly acrimonious rift between the hardworking rhythm section and the foppish lead guitarist/vocalist duo, and the kind of prima donna-ish behaviour that would make Jennifer Lopez blush (think redecorating cabins in peach and black while demanding brandy glasses full of red M&Ms) seemed to have dashed all hopes that a frenzied prog-rock wigout might be on the cards.

Thankfully I am able to report that common sense, boredom and an insatiable lust for glory have won the day: the rift is (mostly) healed and the gig is back on.  The JCR family will not be denied the opportunity to drink deeply from the goblet of rock!


Saturday 17th September

by Susan McKinlay, marine geochemist (aka gofur)

Getting to go to sea on any boat I class as a bonus, but this is my first trip crossing the Arctic Circle by sea. I’m very impressed with the JCR, not only the ship herself, but all her high-tech equipment and excellent communication links (we receive e-mails every 20minutes), as well as the large deck space and the control temperature room. Going down to the simple things in life, she’s good for her power points, toilets and powerful hot showers, not to mention three hot meals a day, the bar, DVDs, and sauna: this is luxury – you may scoff. Before now I mostly worked on fishing boats doing science, spaced between winches, nets, wires, and the previous day’s trawling debris, with a bucket serving as the toilet: so I really do appreciate the JCR’s luxuries.

 I’m working mostly in the controlled temperature room, which, depending on the temperature of the seabed, may be as low as -2oC. After five or six hours in there I tend to be a bit on the chilly side, especially as the work involves sitting at a table with my hands in a glove bag (an enclosed clear bag, with gloves inverted and filled with oxygen-free nitrogen.). I really can’t jump around and flap my arms to keep warm. This may explain my particular fondness of the warm showers as the quickest way to warm up. At 3 am I sometimes wonder how it all happened that I end up sitting at -2oC slicing columns of mud…

As most staff onboard are from SAMS, there is a really strong feeling of teamwork, of ‘being in the same boat’, which contrasts nicely with some previous cruise experience, when even sharing blue roll or gloves could cause frictions. The ship’s crew are excellent. They leave meals out in the duty mess when we have to work out with meal times, which makes our jobs a lot easier. All of that can only be good for the science.

I haven’t yet mentioned the surroundings, the scenery, the air, the wildlife. I suppose working in a cold room without any portholes I sometimes miss the odd whale or dolphin. But it was truly amazing to go through the ice. It makes you take your hat off to previous explorers, who did all this many years ago, and without the luxuries of the JCR. They were fighting the elements for basic survival. Visiting the Polish Institute on Spitsbergen last week, I realised just how isolated these scientists are, with hungry polar bears for company trying to get in the windows of their wooden accommodation.

Unfortunately, we could not achieve all our science plans because of gale force winds, but that is well out of anybody’s control (apart, perhaps, from Him upstairs, who, difficult as it is to imagine out here, is even higher than the Director or Captain of the JCR).

On this cruise I’m often muddy, cold, wet, tired, in need of a manicure, and more often than not, crabbit. Still I class myself as one lucky technician to see this beautiful part of the world. Not many people get to cruise the Arctic Circle at 80oN, just 600 miles short of the North Pole.



Monday 19th September

by Dr Nuria Navarro, marine biologist

From bacteria to polar bears

We are now at the Voring Plateau (west of northern Norway) at our final station. My day, as many others, started with a CTD sample. With this equipment we measure salinity, temperature, chlorophyll etc throughout the water column. Plotted profiles of these parameters aid us decide the depths from which to collect water samples with the twelve water bottles mounted on the CTD frame.

What do we do with the water? Well... I am investigating the workings of the microbial loop in these frozen waters. The microbial loop is a micro-food chain that works within (or alongside) the classical food chain. In the microbial loop the smallest organisms, the heterotrophic bacteria and picoplankton, are key to maintaining the flux of carbon and energy within marine ecosystems. They consume dissolved organic carbon that cannot be directly ingested by larger organisms. In this process, bacteria also release nutrients that facilitate phytoplankton growth. When these marine bacteria are later eaten by micrograzers such as flagellates and ciliates, the formerly "lost" carbon and energy is recycled back into the marine food web. Little is known about how the microbial loop functions in general, and vey little work indeed has been done on the microbial loop in Arctic waters.

While I am collecting these tiny organisms I think about the three polar bears we saw earlier. The Arctic is one of the few places in the world, where you can switch suddenly from bacteria to such a large, dangerous, beautiful mammal as the polar bear. It has turned this cruise into something very rewarding, where the scientific challenge is mixed with the beauty of the frozen landscape.

Tuesday 20th September

by Saul Reynolds, SAMS marine science graduate

As we move into the final days of the cruise and begin to steam south I have had some time to reflect on the events of the past three weeks aboard this excellent ship.  The incredible things we have been so lucky to see spring immediately to mind: a ship surrounded by sea ice, polar bears, the breathtaking scenery of the west coast of Spitsbergen, the isolation of the research base in Ny-Ålesund, and possibly one of the most unforgettable skies I have ever seen.

Though amazing, these things are really just an added bonus to the reason that I am really here.  This is my second major research cruise, but my first aboard the JCR, my first north of the Arctic Circle, and my first working with my colleague and friend Eric Breuer on the seabed LANDERS.  My role has really been to assist Eric in assembling and preparing the LANDERS for their journeys to the sea bed (and hopefully back again!).  The learning curve has been steep and there have been some hectic and tense periods.  This aside, we have worked well together and the results have been four successful LANDER deployments - and recoveries!  As this is such a multi-disciplinary cruise I have also had the opportunity to learn about some other areas of marine research, helping out with the CTDs, the corers and the mooring.

At times the skills and knowledge of the crew and engineers aboard the JCR has been inspiring.  It has been great to watch and appreciate a team of people with a multitude of talents, working in often unkind conditions, in order for our science to be carried out.  Indeed without such talented people much of the science would never have taken place.  I have mostly had contact with the deck crew, who have been helpful, funny and friendly.

Due to some unfavourable weather conditions further north, a decision was made to steam south to revisit some of the stations that we were unable to complete earlier in the cruise (again due to bad weather).  The last two days has been spent following the sea southwards.  During this time, the LANDERS have been dismantled and packing of the boxes has started.  Football practice with Colin has also resumed on the afterdeck and today some of us received a tour of the JCRs impressive engine room from the Chief Engineer, Duncan.

We have now arrived at our penultimate station on the Voring Plateau to carry out the final megacores and CTDs, weather permitting, before our final push south back to the UK.  Overall it has been an amazing trip and a totally unforgettable experience, it’s not everyday you get the opportunity to spend four weeks on a ship in the Arctic.


Thursday, 22nd September

by Professor Graham Shimmield, PSO

Cruise reflections

I am writing this on the last day before being dropped off by pilot launch at Aberdeen harbour.  I have a good excuse for departing a day early, having been asked to give a keynote address tomorrow morning at the annual meeting of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES). In this case, results will be ‘hot off the press’ within a presentation on the changing marine environment of the Arctic Ocean.  However, it is also with some trepidation that I will stand there with wobbly sea legs, given the audience, and the time to prepare the talk...

The time underway from the last station has provided some moments to reflect on what has been achieved. We have taken a group of scientists and technicians to one of the most hostile environments on the planet. For some, this was their first cruise. The seasons had begun to turn during the cruise, with depression after depression dogging us all the way up to and within the Fram Strait. We witnessed at first hand the beauty of ice forming on the ship’s superstructure, the howling of the wind in the radio masts, and the numbing of flesh at a windchill exceeding –30oC. Under these conditions, we were privileged to see the iconic symbol of the north – the polar bear – in its wild habitat. For how long will such conditions exist in the face of rapid climate change? It is a sobering thought that, for some of the younger members of the cruise party, such sights may be consigned to the history books within their lifetime. As the 3rd Assessment Report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently stated,

“Climate change in the polar region is expected to be among the greatest of any region on Earth. Twentieth century data for the Arctic show a warming trend of as much as 5oC over extensive land areas”. “The Arctic is extremely vulnerable to climate change and major physical, ecological and economic impacts are expected to appear rapidly”


Winter has come early to Svalbard this year. The first heavy snows fell at Ny Alesund whilst we were there. Our visit coincided with a perfect Arctic day when the clarity of light, the majesty of the glaciers, and the deepest blue of the sky and sea combined to create a vivid landscape burnt into many of our memories. We carried out some excellent scientific deployments of the landers, moorings, coring and CTD sections. All the equipment was safely recovered (unlike our previous expedition on JR75!). Over 80% of our scientific objectives were met despite the weather: almost uniform grey skies of the high Arctic, and a mean wind speed of 20 knts throughout the cruise (see figure)! Such expeditions depend on some luck; the right call was made to break off stations off west Spitsbergen and head for the pack ice. Our Norwegian colleagues were not so lucky and were unable to fulfill all their objectives.

Going to sea reminds me of why I wanted to be an oceanographer. There are few opportunities that combine the sense of exploration and discovery, the teamwork of a dedicated organisation, the excitement of new sights, and the ability to find time to think about the world around us. By Monday, I will be back behind the desk, but grateful to all my friends and colleagues, and the officers and crew of the James Clark Ross, for making JR127 an experience never to forget.


  - THE END -

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