All hands on deck!

05/07/17

After convening in Gatwick Airport early on Sunday morning, our enthusiastic team of scientists finally made the flight over the Atlantic, and landed in St John’s, Canada; the starting point of research cruise ‘ICY-LAB’ (Isotope CYcling in the LABrador Sea). Spirits were high as we were greeted by a chilly 7 °C breeze, but a much warmer welcome from passport control. Located on the easternmost point of Canada and the fringes of the western Atlantic, St John’s in Newfoundland will be the starting point of our expedition that has been in the works for over a year. Shortly after arriving, we made little work of scouting out the RRS Discovery, huddled amongst fishing vessels and cargo ships along the dockside. Since then, our time has been spent stocking the labs with fresh bottles and tubing, tying down hulking pieces of equipment in defiance of the raging waves, tinkering with remotely-operated submersibles and stocking up on copious amounts of sea-sickness medication. Wifi has even been secured, despite an originally unyielding server onboard, so count it as a major success that you’re able to read this blog!

We’ll be setting off tomorrow for our first pit stop- a seamount off of the Canadian coast called Orphan Knoll- to explore seafloor ecosystems of the area whilst taking water samples and measuring the behaviour of the water masses across the Labrador Sea. While measuring profiles of the water column over its entire depth is a primary task in most oceanographic expeditions of this sort, knowledge of the creatures that crawl along the deep remain a big mystery. By collecting an assortment of corals, sponges and invertebrates, we hope to gain information on the sorts of environments some of these poorly-known species thrive in, how they interact both with each other, and how they might be affected in a warming world. Understanding how vast swathes of glaciers crumble into the icy waters between Canada and Greenland from high latitudes, altering global-scale circulation trends and transferring nutrients to the ocean represents the overarching aim of ICY-LAB. Few seafloor sampling efforts in this dynamic region mean that uncovering the bustling biota represents a gold mine for new discoveries, and we believe the Discovery is more than capable in accommodating our efforts.

For such a wide-ranging mission, a mix of scientists with varied backgrounds are eager to learn about many aspects of the marine environment. While researchers from US, Canadian and UK universities will be working round the clock, there are many things to gain from the privilege of spending time on a world-class research vessel.

“Seeing the Greenlandic scenery once we reach the coast will be really exciting. Hopefully we won’t be hit by too many storms beforehand!”- Dr Stephanie Bates from the University of Bristol, equipment and data manager.

“The amazing food onboard is definitely great motivation to keep working! This cruise will be a great chance to learn about different aspects of the marine sciences I haven’t had much exposure to- particularly using the geophysical equipment we’ll be deploying to map the seafloor. It’s definitely an awesome opportunity to develop skills fast, as the five weeks will fly by!”- Dr Hong Chin Ng from Bristol, member of the chemical oceanography team.

And so, as the minutes tick down, the atmosphere on the boat is one of excitement as we’re all raring for to get going. Come along for the (hopefully not too bumpy) ride, as we’ll keep you updated with our findings!

ICY-lab image 1

L-R: George Rowland (University of Bristol), Kate Hendry (Chief Scientist, UoB), Hong Chin Ng (UoB), Allison Jacobel (Columbia University) by the dockside in St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

ICY-lab image 2

Hong Chin (UoB) and James Williams (Cardiff University) organising equipment in the chemistry lab.

Written by Adam Cooper, MSc student at the University of Southampton

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