Cruising – What scientists get up to out at sea

Back in November and December 2016 I went out on a cruise on the National Oceanography Centre’s very own RRS Discovery!

RRS Discovery in port in Tenerife

We spent three weeks off the North-West African coast, just south of the Canary Islands.

The main objective of the cruise was to test the piston coring system and train the crew in how to use the equipment to get ready for a full research cruise early in 2018 in the South Atlantic.

A piston corer is a device that retrieves sediment cores (essentially long tubes of mud!) from the bottom of the ocean.


Deploying the piston corer in beautifully calm seas
The piston core is brought back on deck.


I was on board, along with Steve Bohaty a Scientist and Lecturer at NOCS, to help with handling the cores once they were on deck, i.e. cutting, labelling, recording and storing them.

On Board the Discovery with some fresh sediment cores all labelled up and ready for storing

Sediment cores are Invaluable for palaeoceanography research. In the sediment we can identify layers representing further and further back in time. By measuring various different properties of the sediments at these times (such as what type of tiny animals were living in the sediment, the type of sediment itself or concentrations of different elements) we can build up a picture of what the oceans and climate were doing in the past.  The ultimate goal is to understand why changes occurred in the past in order to understand how they might happen in the future.


It’s not all work on board however, one evening we had a bbq out on deck, with a slightly different view than a back garden!

Having a BBQ on the rear deck

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