CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons offshore Portugal


Daily diary

Monday 7th June 2004

Weather :Very sunny and warm, air pressure 1012mB, wind from SW, sunglasses and lotion weather

Ian writes...

Main achievement

Staying alive! In the early part of the watch we were hauling in a piston core and Rhys and I were keeping the tension on the cable whilst Steve was about to undo the shackle. Suddenly there was a jolt and the cable started flying back to the sea. We all jumped out of the way, a bit surprised and puzzled. The piston tube which is 12m long, 150mm diameter and 10mm thick steel fell back into the sea with a mighty thump!

Fortunately we had followed standard safety rules and kept our feet clear of the cable loops [bights]. We followed this adventure up with a new core which came back ‘totalled’. The cutting end had hit a boulder dead centre. This wrecked the cutter (below left) and drove the tube back into the weight and wrecked the join. When this was raised to the surface the corer parted into two pieces (below right). The next challenge was to get these back on board without losing any parts.

Who says science can’t be exciting?

Hitting a boulder wrecked the cutter...

...and split the end of the corer in two!



The results of yesterday’s polystyrene experiments are intriguing. Look at the photos of before and after immersion (below). You may be able to draw your own conclusions. Take a look at the report of the experiment to check some of the ideas that shaped the planning.

The squares of polystyrene before being sent down into the ocean

The polystyrene pieces after being submerged to different depths - you can see that the greater the depth, the higher the compression, and hence the greater amount of shrinkage. Click on the photo to see a bigger version.

It has been very sunny and warm for the first time on the trip. As we have had some spare time on our hands today whilst we cruise between sampling sites, we have had time for sunbathing and water fights. Belinda has shown that she is not to be tangled with in a water fight! Scroll down for more pictures of this!


Capturing high quality scientific data is challenging. In your school experiments you have the chance to start to experience this. How many times have your experiments gone wrong? Probably at least a few times and this is after your teacher and technicians have supplied the equipment and prepared an experiment that has been trialled before. You know that if the experiment fails to produce the expected results you need to either re-think your prediction or try to identify if there was a problem with the method.

At school, you may do this for homework or try out your ideas next lesson and it costs very little in time or money. The type of investigations that occur at a more advanced level incur greater penalties. The problem described above illustrates the risk factor and cost us about six hours of data collection time and forced us to sample a different area, so add on a couple more hours. We then had to select a different sample site and so adjust the prediction for the particular site selected. This type of  problem makes scientific research in any area very expensive. We, as a society, have to allow for failures in order to benefit from the successes.

Without risk or imagination, science would progress at a very slow pace.

Elena writes...

Today I really enjoyed getting feedback from students back in the UK. It’s great to be part of a scientific team researching underwater canyons offshore Portugal, but it’s even better to be a teacher reporting back to students on the science and life on board a Research Vessel. I think everyone here is enjoying having us on board; different people come up to me every day with ideas of things to include in the website. Question time is exciting for all of us, I enjoy watching the scientist struggling with some of the questions. I encourage you all to continue to send more challenging ones [click here to send a question to the ship].

Earlier today we got close up to the Portuguese coast in order to receive a part required to repair the SHRIMP (underwater camera system). This part was sent all the way from the United States and was meant to be delivered to the ship by a water taxi, unfortunately it never got to us. Apparently the part itself was in the port but the import customers papers were left in Madrid? Don’t ask! It’s a shame to waste valuable data collecting time and it’s an ever bigger shame not to be able to use the SHRIMP on the cruise. The good thing about it was that we saw some beautiful coastline and were able to use our mobile phones to call home.

After finishing all the coring in the Setubal Canyon we are moving north to our next sampling area in the Nazare Canyon. We will arrive there at around 1.00 o’clock in the morning and will start sampling immediately.

We got some interesting results from the effect of depth on pressure experiment, check out the results and the before and after photos of the polystyrene slabs.

We had some really good weather today (almost as good as the UK by the sound of it!) and to their shame, some of the scientists had a water fight... I kept dry and took some photos!

Russell gets a good shot at Belinda

Belinda waits in ambush
to get her own back

Whilst Dan reloads
with more ammunition

We had a beautiful sunset but no sign of the legendary green flash. For those of you who have never heard of it, it’s a green flash across the horizon that happens only when it’s extremely clear and very calm. I have heard a few explanations of why it happens but I’m still not very clear.

At around 2am, five dolphins came up to the ship attracted by the lights. They were playing around for ages and responded to our clapping and whistling, we got a really good view of them. This was really a perfect end to the day.

A happy ending to a perfect day...

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October 2003
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