CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons offshore Portugal


Daily diary

Tuesday 1st June 2004

Weather;  air temp 17oC warm, still cloudy, wind @10m/s, swell increasing

Ian writes...

Main achievement

Successful core samples from today’s first sample site.



For Ian, strawberries for breakfast. For Elena opening the core samples in the early morning to reveal the secrets of the past. For us all, everyone enjoyed answering the questions from the students. Please keep them coming [click here to send a question to the ship].



I don’t use my mobile often but it has come in really handy as an alarm clock. I hang it on the light switch of my bunk so it dangles about 1cm above my head – we sleep in compact bunks as you may see on the diary pictures. So a quick shower and shave and then to work – this takes about 10 minutes if the ship isn’t moving about too much. However, in a wind it’s like trying to shave a wildcat and it takes a bit longer!

I must get to start my shift – called a watch, for 4.00am [0400hrs] to relieve the folk who have been on watch up until then. It’s important not to be late, the previous watch are very tired and it can be busy.

Ian hard at work in the lab...

My job this morning was to monitor the information from sensors that tell us very precisely how deep the water is – within a few metres and what the seabed might be made of, sand or mud. We are over 5,100m of water.[See the website for details] We are trialling a new piece of kit. I sit in an area which is surrounded by computers, wires and TV screens.

As I type this the ship has just lurched over and one machine has nearly rolled off the table. [This is Duncan’s project, he is finishing building it at sea and it will be trialled later this week. We won’t tell him it nearly broke!]

While I do this the technicians have launched a piston corer – a long metal tube which has a big weight on top. This is lowered on a winch into the sea until about 150m above the sea bed, from here it is lowered gently until it hits the seafloor where it drives itself in – sometimes up to 20m. I try to imagine what it must be like down there. If you have any ideas send me an e-mail. Dan – our on board biologist, has shown me some pictures taken of animals on the sea bed. Some of these will be appearing on the diary photos later –keep your eyes open, they are very interesting.

The core takes 1.5hours each way for the core to travel. The key moment is when it hits the bottom and we try to haul it out. It is quite possible that it could anchor us to the sea floor! In which case we will be stranded here and I won’t be able to make it back to work. Sorry!

When the core came back to the surface at 0800hrs it was empty. This is a big disappointment after all the time and energy that has to be put into launch and retrieval. Phil, the chief scientist and Russell can use some of the sediment from the trigger core and they have decided to cruise to the next survey site. The sea floor was very sandy and too hard for the corer to penetrate too far which is why it bounced out without a sample.
Belinda and I have to cut the core sample in half, this involves using a router and a hoover – just like home! Once we have done this Russell cleans and describes the section. From this we learn what has been going on under the sea in the distant past. More about this later.

Right, it is 11.30 and lunchtime. I’ll stumble down the corridor from the lab which is at the rear [aft] of the ship to the mess which is at the front [prow].This involves squeezing past anyone coming the other way and using the wall as a support. Just back - soup, quiche or barbeque ribs and strawberries! [I also had strawberries for breakfast – don’t tell my wife.]

Now I’ve had lunch I’m off to bed -  1215hrs.

Sunset from the ship

Russell explains the finer points of coring to Ruth

Elena and Dan chilling out on deck

Elena writes...

Working on board the RRS Charles Darwin is an experience I could have not anticipated, it takes a while to get used to- the thing I find the strangest is the structure of the day; working on a four- eight hour rota (from 12.00 to 16.00 and then from 20.00 to 04.00) . The night team is led by Doug, the others are Veit, Tiago, Ruth and myself (check the photos below!). Our working responsibilities are broken into a variety of tasks all relating to the coring process. I am getting the feel for it! Last night at 03.00 we brought up a core from the end section of the canyon and I felt really excited when I had the opportunity to cut it open; there were many turbidites (turbidity current related deposits) in it; layers of sand and mud that explain the history of events in the canyon. I’m starting to sound like a true geologist - I even taste the deepwater mud to check the sediment size - don’t ask!

The night shift is a good laugh; apart from splitting the cores we also have time to edit the day’s photos (blond wigs, green tans, the whole works!), raid the mess cupboards in the search for eatable goodies, and most importantly discuss answers to the questions you’ve sent us!! It’s our biggest pastime, please keep them coming (and no Andrew, I don’t know where the car keys are!). I’ll name the scientist (Russell) that today suggested sending a question back to you when in doubt of a unit conversion.

Working the night shift...

Tiago gets to grips with a hacksaw...

Whilst Elena plays with the core splitter...

And Veit gives the thumbs-up!


Doug and Rith show off the latest cores

Working hard to keep you all posted...

And to answer your questions!

It’s now 03.30 in the morning and my daytime memories are becoming a bit vague. We’ve just brought up a core- I don’t know if you’re aware of what an amazing event this is; the corer travelled to a depth of 5,640 metres, took a core that’s around six metres long and then travelled all the way back to the surface, this process takes around three hours and involves a lot of planning by a whole range of specialists; ships crew, technicians and scientists. This is not always easy; we’ve had a couple of failed attempts today when the corer was either unable to penetrate the deep sea surface or if it did, it lost the content on the way back up. It was very interesting to observe the multi-disciplinary team discuss the reason for this and how to overcome the problem. I’m off to see if we do have a sample in this corer, see you tomorrow!! [Click here to see pictures of the coring process]

Home -



Latest news

For teachers
Contact us

© Challenger Division for Seafloor Processes
October 2003
Contact the web editor