JC010: Mud volcanoes and submarine canyons


Cruise diary

Day 6: Thursday 7 June 2007
Position: 39° 34.34055N, 10° 18.09757W
Weather: A misty start leading to a clear, calm day

Virginia writes:

"Overnight the ship moved from Setubal to Nazare canyon, arriving in the Nazare Canyon at about 7 am.

I can work on my laptop and write the daily diary in my cabin. You can see here some photos of my cabin. It is a very pleasant space. My cabin’s window is behind the deck area where the ROV is lowered into the sea. I am in the same corridor as Helen and Sarah, and between us we share two shower rooms. You can also check out Helen's video tour of her cabin to see what our living space is like.

Views of Virginia's cabin and living space

However, I normally prefer to work in the main lab, where there are several people working. I can pay attention to the scientific work on board and collaborate or get information about the news on board.

On the ship, there is very good collaboration between the crew and the scientist’s team. Yesterday, for instance, I had some problems with my portable but Eamonn Ilett gave an important assistance. Eamonn (right) is a science system manager on RRS James Cook. He has been working on the ship for a year. He enjoys the job, doing interesting work with interesting people.  As Head of the Scientific Department on board he is responsible for ship-fitted scientific equipment which includes the echosounders, meteorological station on board, the entire computer networks and the overside handling equipment that is used to put the scientific equipment in the water.

When not on the ship he lives in Bournemouth and spends time working at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. When Eamonn is on board he is very busy and on call 24 hours a day. When at home and has some free time he likes cycling and dinghy sailing. Previously he worked as an electrician in the mining industry, a manager in a factory and has studied Engineering, Instrumentation and Computing at universities in Nottingham, London and Edinburgh. All these disciplines are very useful in the work he does on board the James Cook.

Yesterday I also had the opportunity to know little bit more Professor Doug Masson, the Chief Scientist on Leg 2 of the JC10 cruise. He coordinates the activities of all the scientific teams and I think that most part of researchers’ success will depend on his decisions and work. Find out more by reading the interview that I and Helen prepared for you.

One of the HERMES project aims is related to government and management of the environment. Sybille (left), a socio-economist, is also working in this cruise. The research interests of Sybille are very interesting. Sybille has a small company in Barcelona where she does research on environmental governance: all the different ways we govern and manage the environment at different levels, from the local to the international level. She is particularly interested in the interface between science and policy for biodiversity: in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. She is also a visiting professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, in the Centre for Environmental Science and Technology.

Sybille is in this cruise because she is a partner in the HERMES Project where she is in charge of the science-policy interfaces and of socio-economic research on human activities impacting on the deep sea. This cruise will give her first-hand experience of deep sea scientific research and its challenges, which will help her when linking with the policy world. This is also a new and enjoyable experience for her.

Because the deep sea is so far from our reach we think that it is still protected from human impact, but it is not true. There are already many human activities and structures in the deep sea: fishing, oil and gas extraction, pipelines, telecommunication cables, etc. The deep sea is also already polluted with chemicals, plastics, radioactive materials, etc. For example yesterday we deployed Sarah’s experiment (to measure the respiration of starfish) on the sea floor at 1400 m depth, then the ROV came back two hours later to put a starfish in the experimental chamber and there were two plastic bags on the equipment. And a bit later one of the ROV’s arms got entangled in an old fishing cable.

Views from the ROV camera: On the left, we can see Sarah’s experimental chamber littered
with two plastic bags, and the ROV’s arm with a starfish to be used in Sarah's experiments.
On the right, we can see a fishing cable in front of the ROV’s arm.

The deep sea is also impacted by climate change, in particular acidification. The development of organisms with calcium carbonate tests and shells, for instance, could be harmed in more acid environments.

So it is very important to ensure that the policy-makers are aware of the need to protect and sustainable use the deep sea. It is also important that all of us are informed about the environment from the top of the atmosphere down to the deep sea because it is our life support system. It is everyone’s responsibility to act to minimize one’s impact on the planet.

The R.R.S. James Cook is very careful with waste. Food waste is thrown into the sea - a tasty meal for something! Paper is incinerated on board and glass and metals is kept on the ship and delivered at the next port to be recycled..."

Helen writes:

"Today I saw a different side to life on a ship: the waiting! The 12 hour steam didn’t begin until 8pm, so we didn’t arrive at our site until 8am (hoorah! A lie-in for me!) and then some surveys had to be done. This meant that many of the ship’s crews and scientists didn’t need to be on their early morning watches, and so last night, a very sociable evening was had by all. There isn’t always the opportunity to gossip and chat with those that you work closely with, so the bar/lounge provides a central meeting place where everyone can chill out and wind down after a busy day.

The ROV then didn’t head down to the seabed until about 3pm today, finally reaching the sea bed at 5pm – it had descended over 4km, and took two hours to cover that distance. So, it meant that I had a whole day, essentially, to fill. Many of the scientists took the opportunity to catch up on sleep and ensure they were well rested before the next couple of weeks begin – there will be some very long days in store as experiments are deployed and monitored. I spent the morning going through the frame grabs and stills shots (photos taken by the ROV), and selected some which you can see below, and also made a presentation for my school so that everyone there can see what’s been happening. I visited the gym for the first time, and had a stint on the exercise bike with my reading book.

Then it was lunch – yet another delicious meal from Mark and his team: wraps with salad.

The afternoon was spent by many (including myself) reading, sleeping and enjoying the sunshine on the fo’c’sle deck. It’s really important to get outside when there’s the opportunity – inside, the ship is air-conditioned and kept at a fairly constant temperature and can get very dry (some of us fill our sinks with water at night so the air can gain a little moisture!). Also, because there are very few portholes, and the whole ship is lit artificially, you can go for days without seeing the sun. I felt so much better after an hour outside, but, because the sea breeze keeps you deceptively cool, my skin is looking a little pink this evening – nothing to worry about, but I will make sure I’m wearing my highest factor sunscreen next time I venture out!

At 5pm I entered the ROV van for the last 3 hours of the watch, as the ROV had finally reached the sea floor. There were some amazing geological sights, and we were taking hundreds of photos in addition to the videos of the whole dive. We have seen some incredible life forms too, some of which couldn’t be identified on screen, so in a few days we’ll head back to the site to collect some samples for identification in the lab.

The ROV is staying on the sea floor for a long period, so it looks like there’ll be plenty to do at 4am tomorrow! I’ll let you know how my day goes, enjoy the pictures..."

The view from Helen's cabin porthole this morning

Brisingid sea stars on the seafloor

Stanley - Sarah's starfish that took 4 hours to collect!

A toadfish photographed earlier in the week

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