CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons offshore Portugal


Daily diary

Thursday 10th June 2004

Weather: Today it started off cloudy and we even had a bit of rain. Thought about the old wellies and a So’wester but luckily the sun shone and a snooze in the sunshine was possible at the end of the watch

Ian writes...

Main achievement

We cruised down the canyon today and so we were expecting to find smaller grained sediments. A couple of mega cores later and we hit a lovely spot. The layers in the top of the sea bed were clear to see.

I helped Dan sort out his biological samples. This was not as disgusting as it sounds but it does help you get to know someone better.  He is collecting the sediment from the top few centimetres in 0.5, 0r 1.0 cm layers. Back at SOC another scientist will examine the genetic make up of the Foraminifera – a microscopic animal, from each sample. The hypothesis is that there may be genetically different populations of the animals living in the different canyons. This will help our understanding of evolution.

Another use of these samples is to produce a seafloor map of Foraminfera types. This is not going to help you navigate the Atlantic or find your way to Basingstoke. However, as these organisms are useful indicators of oil deposits, the oil companies are very interested. So they may help you to get to Basingstoke after all!



I’ve been getting on with my homework today, no whale watching or anything too exciting. I did observe a shoal of sand eels being attacked from below at about 0500h. They were swimming into the ship’s floodlights – it was quite mesmerising.



From where I sit my horizons are huge, and unless I stand up they can’t get much bigger; the sea, the sky – that’s my view. However, my world is very small – 70m long and 18m wide give or take a few centimetres. Is this how things should be? Imagine it in reverse, your life being led all over the place and having no spot called home. I can’t imagine too much satisfaction in that sort of lifestyle. But a life so focused on one small spot is restrictive and unadventurous. We need to go and explore the unknown as well. Perhaps that’s why I’m here.

The photos will illustrate where I go during my day, the schedule of which looks like this:

0330hr alarm goes, turn off, wait for the snooze alarm,
0335 get up, go across corridor have a shower, back to cabin - clean teeth
0355 down corridor, fetch a cup of tea from the duty mess,
0400 down a different corridor, turn up in the main lab,
0415 chat with the previous watch, check current status, record in my log book,deal with any coring work, position logging, labelling as a priority through the day
0430 wander around ship looking for sealife, the moon, the stars...
0500 open last nights e-mail, reply to Vikki (who looks after the website) back at SOC
0530 Write up news from yesterday; articles, profiles etc
Go for breakfast, compiling the most interesting cereal combo, avoid bacon!
Sit with our watch and Rhys, banter with galley crew.
Go to bedroom, clean teeth, collect camera.
0800 Return to main lab, drink coffee on rear deck area
0815 Continue with articles etc., possible briefing from Russell or Phil
Go to pre- arranged interview with member of crew or science team, take a few photos
1030 Possible coffee time, more report writing, coring work or wildlife watching for wildlife survey.
1130 Lunchtime – with most of watch,
1200 Coffee on working deck, more core work, take samples to deck, photographTake samples to cold store.
1300 Another interview, tour or photo session
1400 Next watch are up and about, chat, more coring work or article writing
1500 If no cores sit on deck, photograph probable mud fight or water fight
1600 Knock off watch. Read book , sunbathe, watch for wildlife, interviews, reports
1700 prepare for supper
1730 Go to scientists and officers’ mess for supper
back to main lab, download photos, complete daily diary, process selected photos for e-mail
2000 Must send e-mail before this time, usually cutting it close!
2015 Get some fresh air
2030 Check incoming e-mail
2045 Help to organise question answering session with all scientists
2130 Wash, shave, clean teeth, read, go to bed --- set alarm.


My corridor

The shower!

Fast asleep in my bunk

Getting the lowdown at shift changeover

Elena writes...

Today we got the final batch of polystyrene cups back after they travelled to a depth of around 5000metres. The polystyrene cups and shape were packed in pillow cases and carefully attached to the megacorer. We were lucky to retrieve all of them back from the deep sea.

Cups tied to the megacorer

Lowering the megacorer into the sea

Here are some photos of a polystyrene cup before and after its immersion into the deep sea.

Above: Before immersion - cup diameter 7.5cm; height 9cm

Above: after immersion - cup diameter 5cm; height 5cm

So, following immersion, the diameter of the top of the cup changed from 7.5cm to 5cm and the height of the cup changed from 9cm to 5cm.

The expanded polystyrene cups shrink as the air is expelled out of them as the pressure increases when they descend in the water column. For more information on the results from the experiment check “what effect will pressure have on polystyrene”.

As the cruise is reaching an end we can start to draw some conclusions from the results we’ve obtained from the coring. When we sampled the Setubal canyon we found mainly muddy deposits - this gives the idea that at present the canyon is not actively transporting sediments. At present we’re sampling the Nazare canyon that is situated further north. We aren’t able to take many cores from this canyon, probably because the sediments are mainly sands that are harder to get into. The presence of sands in the surface of these canyons tells us that they have been recently active.

Today Ian and I spent a long time answering your many questions. All the scientific team had an input in the responses. The only question we couldn’t find an answer to is do fish fart?? The possibilities were debated but we couldn’t really make our mind up - if any one actually has an answer please let us know! I leave you with this thought...

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October 2003
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