NERC's state-of-the-art research ship James Cook heads to the Porcupine Abyssal Plain to collect climate change data

RRS James Cook sails out to explore climate change

An international team of scientists from the National Oceanographic Centre set out to analyse water in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean to advance understanding of climate change.

The international team of 23 members, led by Professor Richard Lampitt, has boarded the Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Cook to cruise waters of the Porcupine Abyssal Plain and collect samples throughout the water column - from the surface to the ocean floor in the depth of some 4,800m.

“Our mission is of considerable interest to the scientific community and of particular relevance to current concerns about climate change. The basic question is to understand what controls the downward transport of carbon from the surface sunlit layer, and from the atmosphere, into the deep ocean”, Professor Lampitt explained. “We will try to examine the link between the structure and function of upper ocean biology and this sinking flux of carbon – marine snow.”

RRS James Cook, a state-of-the-art oceanographic research vessel acquired by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in 2006, carries the team to a heavily instrumented area of the open ocean known as the Porcupine Abyssal Plain sustained observatory.

Located 350 miles southwest of Ireland and in the depth of 4,800m, the instruments measure a wide variety of properties of the environment above the water, within it and on the seabed, while immediately transmitting data via satellite links.

“We have been planning this cruise for three years, and although I have been coming to sea for a good while, I always find this period just before we start work to be a particular thrill. In this case it is even more so, as much of the work is really novel,” Lampitt said.

The team is particularly interested in data on meteorology, biology, physics and chemistry of the upper water column and the downward flux of particles known as marine snow, which is measured using sediment traps at 3000m depth. Underlying seabed is observed using a time lapse camera system.

The expedition is part of the EURO-BASIN programme (Basin-scale Analysis, Synthesis and Integration) that aims to advance understanding of the dynamics of the North Atlantic, focusing on climate change and its effects on ecosystems.

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