JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


The JC10 expedition on RRS James Cook

In May 2007 NERC's new research vessel, the RRS James Cook, will set sail for an 8-week scientific expedition to visit some of Europe's most exciting submarine landscapes as part of the HERMES research project. Equipped with the ROV Isis, the trip will be split into three parts: the first leg will investigate the fascinating mud volcanoes in the Gulf of Cadiz, where fluids, gases and mud ooze out from volcano-shaped features on the seafloor. The ship will then cruise northwards to the vast Portuguese canyons to continue our work on understanding how they transport sediment from the coast to the deep sea and how this affects biological communities in the canyons. Finally, the James Cook will continue northwards to the Whittard Canyon offshore SW Ireland, where we will carry out a number of experiments to see how active the canyon is, and what lives down there. We know very little about this canyon, so it will really be a journey of discovery!

Your eyes and ears on the ship

This year, 6 science teachers will join the team on board the RRS James Cook, with 2 teachers on each leg of the cruise. They will be working as part of the scientific team, and will be sending daily updates, stories, videos and photos to the Classroom@Sea website so that you can follow the progress of the cruise - everything from the scientific activities to what it's like to live on board a research vessel. Here's a brief introduction to your "tour guides" for the trip:

Gillian McGahan

Gill is a biology teacher at the Downs School in Compton, Berkshire, where she has taught biology GCSE and A-Level for the past 8 years. She has a keen interest in practical fieldwork and ways to make it exciting and interesting to students.

Gill will be taking part in the first leg of the cruise (14 May - 2 June 2007).


Eduard Vives Mayol

Eduard teaches chemistry, geology, biology and physics to kids aged 12-15 at the Escola Esperança in Barcelona, Spain. He has a passion for deep-sea ecosystems, and is looking forward to experiencing real deep-sea research first hand and working alongside the scientists on board the ship.

Eduard will be joining Gill on the first leg of the cruise in the Gulf of Cadiz (14 May - 2 June 2007).


Helen Candy

Helen works at St Anne's School in Southampton, where she teaches chemistry and physics to girls aged 11-18. She is an enthusiastic and adventurous teacher, always on the lookout for new ways to bring science to life in the classroom. Helen has a degree in Chemistry and is now in her second year as a full-time teacher.

Helen will be joining the team on board RRS James Cook for the second leg of the cruise (3 - 21 June 2007).


Virginia Martins

Virginia is a teacher at the Dr Mario Sacremento secondary school in Aveiro, Portugal. She has been a teacher for 16 years, and has a PhD in geology. Virginia is very interested in communication of science to the wider public, and is involved with a number of natural science projects back home in Portugal.

Virginia will be taking part in the second leg of the cruise (3 - 21 June 2007).


Richard Ingram

Richard teaches applied science to pupils at the Mountbatten School in Romsey, near Southampton, where he has been teaching since September 2005. Richard is a keen scuba diver - an activity that has increased his interest in marine biology and the submarine world, and has allowed him to work as a volunteer marine conservationist during his holidays.

Richard will be taking part in the final leg of the cruise (22 June - 7 July 2007).


Tina Hedger

Tina teaches science at the Costello Technology College near Basingstoke. She has a background in Environmental Science and has a keen interest in Information Technology, and how it can be used as a learning tool. On this trip Tina’s particular interests are in marine ecology, looking at the food chains and evidence of human impact on the ecological systems.

She will be joining Richard on board the third leg of the cruise (22 June - 7 July 2007).


Countdown to the cruise

The build-up to a research cruise is a very busy time - equipment to load onto lorries to meet the ship in port, organisation of medical examinations (compulsory for everyone!), purchasing safety equipment and work gear and, of course - the dreaded Sea Survival Course!

Date Event
Thursday 5 April 2007 UK teachers undergo their sea survival course! [More...]
Thursday 26 April 2007 Eduard undergoes the sea survival training course
Thursday 3 May 2007 Virginia does her sea survival training
Friday 11 May 2007 The team taking part in Leg 1 fly out to Vigo in Spain to join the ship
Sunday 14 May Ship sets sail from Vigo to the Gulf of Cadiz
Saturday 2 June Ship arrives in port in Cadiz: end of Leg 1. Ship re-fuels and loads new supplies; science teams change over.
Sunday 3 June Ship leaves port for the portuguese canyons: Start of Leg 2
Thursday 21 June 2007 Ship arrives in Lisbon: end of Leg 2. Ship re-fuels and loads new supplies; science teams change over.
Evening reception for VIPs and media
Sunday 22 June 2007 Ship leaves Lisbon for the final leg of the cruise
Saturday 7 July 2007 Ship arrives in Southampton: end of cruise party!

More about the science on the cruise

Leg 1: Mud volcanoes in the Gulf of Cadiz
The Gulf of Cadiz is famous for its mud volcanoes and cold seeps - features on the seafloor that spew out methane, mud and fluids rich in hydrocarbons and minerals. The team will use the ROV Isis to carry out geochemical sampling on and around the vents, examine the weird and wonderful beasites that live in these extreme environments, and investigate the geology of the seafloor.

Leg 2: Submarine canyons offshore Portugal
The Nazare and Setubal canyons are vast: think of the USA's Grand Canyon underwater! These canyons have been the focus of NOCS research for a few years now, but this is the first time we've had the opportunity to use the ROV to investigate them. We will be looking at the way in which sediment moves down the canyon and how this affects the different types of creatures living in different parts of the canyon and the areas adjacent to the canyons.

Leg 3: Submarine canyons offshore Ireland
The Whittard Canyon is somewhat smaller than the Portuguese canyons, but no less interesting. Again, we will be looking at sediment movement and using the ROV to film and sample the biology found on the canyon floor and terraces.

About the HERMES project

Our research on this cruise is carried out as part of the Europe-wide HERMES research programme. HERMES is investigating Europe's deep marine ecosystems and their surrounding environment, and involves 50 scientific organisations from around Europe. It is one of the largest marine science research programmes in Europe today, bringing together experts in biodiversity, geology, sedimentology, physical oceanography, microbiology and biogeochemistry.

HERMES study sites extend from the Arctic to the Black Sea (see map, right) and include biodiversity hotspots such as cold seeps, cold-water coral mounds and reefs, canyons and anoxic environments, and communities found on open slopes. These important systems require urgent study because of their possible biological fragility, unique genetic resources, global relevance to carbon cycling and susceptibility to global change and human impact.

Map showing HERMES study areas

With thanks to...

The HERMES project and the Natural Environment Research Council for supporting Classroom@Sea.

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© Geology & Geophysics Group, NOCS, 2007