D341: Porcupine Abyssal Palain cruise 2009


D341: Porcupine Abyssal Plain cruise 2009

RRS Discovery, 8 July - 13 August 2009

RRS Discovery cruise 341 will visit the Porucpine Abyssal Plain (PAP for short, see location map on the right). During the PAP mission, the scientists will study the entire water column from the surface to the bottom from every angle!

The team will recover the PAP mooring which records seawater properties at the site for a full year, and prepare the redeployment of the new mooring line, whcih will be retrieved in 2010. Scientists on board will study the composition of seawater using bottles which plunge to thousands meters under your feet, and sample sea floor animals which live up to 4000 meters deep.

Also on the agenda for this cruise is an encounter with the infinitely tiny! The scientists will use plankton nets to catch these little animals drifting with the currents. The will also use giant funnels to measure the quantity of particles falling through the water column, a process outwardly innocent which in fact is an essential part to understanding climate change.

Millions of minute plants grow in every cubic meter of surface seawater, feasting on atmospheric carbon dioxide which has diffused into the surface ocean. As they die they clump together and sink, taking the carbon with them and storing it away from the atmosphere. This process, the so called biological carbon pump, is such a large term in the global carbon cycle, that if it did not occur atmospheric CO2 would be much larger and the global warming problem even more pronounced. Surprisingly our knowledge of some aspects of this process is poor: for example as this material sinks organisms consume it yet we do not know which organisms; our best estimates are that both bacteria and minute shrimps consume over 100% of the material: a situation which clearly cannot be correct. Cruise D341 aims to attack this problem by making over several weeks observations of the downward flux, the mechanisms sustaining this flux and the organisms eating this flux.

Follow the progress of the cruise via the cruise blogs or send the team a question using our Q&A page.

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