CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons offshore Portugal


Daily diary

Wednesday 9th June 2004

Weather: Hat, glasses, cape, sun umbrella, lotion and iced drinks

Ian writes...

Main achievement

Compared to yesterday, today has been very quiet. Its not through lack of trying. We are now trying to sample the active part of the Nazare canyon, this is called the ‘thelweg’ - a target that is no more than 200m wide. We can position the ship over the canyon, 4500m down through the sea. However, during the descent of the samplers ocean currents push on the cable and can move it a large distance which could cause it to miss the target.  Even if we do hit the target, we are expecting it to be hard to sample - because it is high in energy all of the fine sediment may be washed away leaving larger, harder material behind. We have had three attempts so far today and will shortly be making our fourth. This has just returned empty. Nevertheless, a negative result does prove something: that the thelweg has a surface layer of large grained sediment.


I have been contacted by some of my pupils at Wyvern Technology College, who designed some of the experiments I’ve brought out to sea.

The sea sickness survey, designed by Amy Middleton, has received about 20 replies. We did it retrospectively because quite a lot of the science and technician team were too ill to fill it in! You try asking someone who is feeling sea sick to fill in a questionnaire. The respondents were interested in the outcomes which we will publish soon. They all enjoyed filling it in. [Click here to see the results]

Our wildlife watch, put together by Jess Simons and Mike Kurn is coming on superbly. You may have read Elena and myself recording sightings of birds and whales. We see other creatures too. For example, today we saw a Painted Lady butterfly and several hoverflies. Can one get blasé about whales? Well, today we had about five Minke whales swimming around us!

I must also mention Emily Donneruma, who worked hard on designing an experiment which, on a disc, wouldn’t load into my PC. She did help with the polystyrene experiment, as did Rachel Lewis.

Let’s not forget Peter the Pigeon who now has a pink perch. He has just been allowed a ‘test flight’ in Russell’s bedroom ready for a possible release from Vigo in Spain.



I was asked my opinion about the ship. What can I say? I’ve received nothing but he best of help and warm greetings. It is the crew that make the ship. This question made me think about workplaces and how the quality of the environment not only reflects the value placed on people, but also determines how well they perform. The ship has a few rusty patches and I’m the least qualified to compare. What would you expect from a ship at sea? However, the cabins, bathrooms, mess, laundry, computer lab and other labs are equal to or better than I expected.

Back at school we work hard to spend the budget wisely. Some money is always put aside for improving the pupils’ learning environment. Most respect this although, typical of teenagers, it is easily taken for granted.

What is your working environment like?

Calm seas

Elena writes...

We’ve had another beautiful day! It’s been really hot and sunny with a lovely breeze as we cruise through the waters.

There has been some interesting progress with the coring. Our last five coring attempts have failed, but this is actually good news because it supports the idea that some of the canyons are active. You can basically find two types of sediments in canyons, mud or sand. Mud deposits in low energy conditions in the sea, if there is sand it’s been transported from land or beaches. Mud is soft and easy to core, sand is coarse and much harder to core. The fact that the corers are collecting no sediment in the canyon probably means that there is sand in them, therefore they are active. Watch the video of Doug explaining this.

Working at sea at night has a special attraction that is hard to explain. The lights from the ship reflect on the water and create a spectacle of light. Every night we observe different sea creatures attracted to the lights. A few days ago we saw sandeels being hunted by squid. The next day we saw dolphins playing around the ship. Yesterday it was swimming crabs being hunted by squid and today, the best so far, we saw shoals of what looked like saandels being rounded and eaten by three dolphins.

As we approach the last part of this adventure Sara has started to plan the end of cruise party. Apparently it’s going to be fancy dress? I could always wear the fire suit; my students commented it really suited me.

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October 2003
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