Monthly Archives: August 2014

A smooth encounter with a Porcupine’s back

By Rich Chiverrell

Thirty seven days ago we sailed from Southampton, a journey that has seen us tackle five of the target transects for the NERC Consortium Research Project Britice-Chrono. As the days and nights of hard work pass we have ticked the transects off one-by-one, T4 Irish Sea West – Celtic Sea (53 cores), T3 Irish Sea East (35 cores), T6 Donegal Bay (21 cores), T7 Malin Sea (43 cores). 06:44 hours Friday 22nd August the last of the transects bit the dust, 65 cores stretching from inner Galway Bay, the coast of Connemara out to the Outer Edge, the Porcupine Bank, many many miles of survey line and hundreds of dolphins (keeping Marion happy where is a mammal observer without mammals)……

T5 in the bag

T5 in the bag

Our strategy was to collect three survey transects radiating out from Galway Bay, the first involved our skirting the northern sector and sampling enigmatic ridges fronting the continental shelf break, recovering diamict and shells, but as we progressed west diamict proved harder to find, though we have had some successes. We wonder and debate what age is this glacial terrain? It could be old, very old? Or maybe not, I guess we will find out. Journeying landward we completed one of many criss-crosses of the large ‘Olex’ moraine that appears to front Galway Bay. Popularly named after a survey system fitted to ships, the Olex system collects sea floor morphological data and is fitted to many commercial and private vessels sailing waters around the globe contributing a commercial data collective and providing a valuable window on our sea floor. This moraine often mooted as the maximum limit, but some of the outer moraines we encountered and the shells within their sediments may challenge that conclusion. The terrain that caps the moraine is hard and we expend some time trying to capture datable materials. It feels a little like being between a rock and a hard place, but as night-watch passes the baton onto day-team and vica versa, we are all in the same boat…..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Weather and sea state intervenes and interrupts our sampling, with the vibrocorer becoming too challenging to safely recover to deck. No rest for us, we head for calmer waters in the shadow of Connemara, with the Twelve Pins in view. A chance occurrence driven by the weather but very useful, as we collect vibro and piston cores from these waters recovering glacigenic materials and some inner marine datable materials that will link well with terrestrial fieldwork in the mountains and rocky lake-strewn lowlands of coastal Connemara. NOC team set the piston core record for the Cruise at just under 8m, we some very enigmatic coarse shelly units in stratified sands…. Eventually the seas relent and a grand voyage to the outer edges of Porcupine Bank is planned to test an extensive glaciations hypothesis, sadly we are confounded by sands, but there is certainly some diamict on the inner sectors of the bank that need explaining. Our final transect is our departure route from Galway Bay, southwest flanking the coastline of County Clare and across a series of moraines, potentially the southern equivalent of the ‘Olex’ moraine, more cores, more diamicts and shells ensue. We are complete 5 transects, 218 cores slightly over the pre-cruise conjectured 75 (?), ‘scientists!!!’ A very big thank you to the BGS and NOC core teams on both legs, the crew of the RRS James Cook for their friendship, good will, humour, company and fantastic support throughout this endeavour. The core length guessing competition has two winners: Stephen during the Day and Riccardo at Night. All that is left is our journey around southwest Ireland, crossing the Celtic Sea once again, but can we resist the lure of the moraines of Bantry Bay………….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock rock (well…compressed mud), you can rock around the clock….

By Margot Saher and Lou Callard

Take some of the ‘finest’ brains in the country. Put them on a state-of-the-art research vessel which is filled to the brim with geophysical equipment, and has its own core scanning lab. Imagine what one could do with that! And what do we do with it? What is the scientific treasure we hunt? Mud. Six weeks at sea for mud (occasionally sand…)? We’ll be scrutinising it for years to come! Without mud the whole endeavour would be a failure; the mud must be treasured, cared for. It is the sedimentary archive that could answer the question of when and how the British-Irish Ice Sheet vanished. It is the wet lab coring teams that handle, care for and love the mud. There are two shifts: the Night-watch from midnight to noon, and the Day-team from noon to midnight. Whilst in the lab and, more importantly, out on deck, these have to wear armour: PPE (Personnel Protective Equipment) – a hard hat, hobnailed boots and some rather unflattering (generally oversized) overalls. The overalls are optional, but a sensible option at that; the job is a messy one, so unless you have an endless supply of clothes…. As the British Geological Survey (BGS) core team recover the mud to deck we have to wait – impatiently. How much have we recovered, and is it the right stuff? Even before the barrel is laid down we swarm expectantly around its end to get the first glimpse (and touch) of the treasure. The strength of the mud gives us so much information; we prod it, taste it…. Does it feel like silt, sand, clay; is it stiffened, reflecting the weight of former ice sheet bearing down on it? We recover everything from the core shoe, the core catcher; whatever sticks or falls out of the liner gets bagged, labelled, photographed and stored cool. But what is inside the liner is what we really want, it contains the story of the ice coming and going from the waters around these islands.

The liners are not easily released from the barrel; muscles are needed to get it out, and a tug-of-war ensues of scientists, BGS engineers, crew, random passers-by, anyone versus the barrel. But once the liner is out, it’s ours. The muds we desire are only useful if we know exactly where they are from, so labelling is everything. Every single core section has its own unique label, which will end up on its liner, caps, wrapping material, and the box it’s stored in. There are yellow caps for the tops and black for the base of each segment; which way is up matters! And that is only the beginning; there is no such thing as over-labelling, and that holds for cores sections, record sheets, scanned records, spreadsheets, photographs……

Lou: “The day shift consists of Steve, Zoe, Catriona, Kevin and me. Whilst Colm and Katrien spend the day planning where we will core next, we collect and process the cores. Generally our day starts at 11:20 with breakfast, which also happens to be lunch for the other crew members. Breakfast can be anything from a curry to fish and chips. Today’s option was Thai fish cakes, with noodles and sweet chilli sauce. Although having such a large meal first thing was rather odd to begin with, six weeks in it seems quite normal and a bowl of cereal would now disappoint. Shift begins with the midday handover meeting and our goodnights to the night team.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then work begins! We spend most of our shift either out on deck collecting and cutting the cores, or in the wet lab splitting, logging and packing the cores away with a constant dual stream of material either from the deep or from the MSCL cave. Frequently we split over 20 sections during our shift, and often it’s more than 25. Each section is 1 m long with each 1 m weighing between 10-12 kg, so after 12 hours of carrying, splitting, logging and packing it is a good workout. So the coring job may seem rather unglamorous and exceptionally mucky, and involves hard manual labour; it is also an exciting and rewarding part of the cruise. The sub-bottom profiles and bathymetry data provides a tantalising look at what might lie beneath, but it is only when the core is taken and the material viewed that you know whether or not we have captured the right material needed for the project, and whether there is something we can use for dating. Sometimes we are disappointed normally if we fail to guess correctly in the ‘guess-the-core-length’ sweepstake (Steve is slightly in the lead at the moment), but when a good core is opened, it changes the mood of everyone involved.

Our work still isn’t quite complete, cleaning and maintaining the lab ready for the night team, labelling, cropping and archiving all photographs, and Zoe dutifully scans all of the deck sheets. At midnight the night team relieves us and then we head either straight to bed or take a detour past the kitchen to get a post shift snack. A day shift favourite is Nutella (somewhere in the multi-verse other nutty spreads might exist) on toast. It is hungry work, coring!”

Margot: “the Nightwatch consists of Kasper, Riccardo, Jenny, myself and occasionally Richard (if he can drag himself away from the Geophysics, picking core sites and mostly chatting on deck). As we start our shift, we tend to find ourselves in the middle of a coring transect that has been planned before, so we of the night often start our shift on station, vibrocoring. We’ve discovered that Riccardo has a special talent for working hard but still staying clean, while Richard has the useful talent for removing almost any sediment from an unwilling core catcher. Kasper’s Danish (or Viking) muscles come in handy for removing the liner from the barrel, and Jenny has useful BGS contacts (which saves us, for instance, from running out of sample bags). I myself have developed the modest knack of writing upside down, for liner labelling purposes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Splitting and description has to wait until we receive cores from Elke and the core scanner cave, and she works 6AM to 6PM. The early part of the shift can be quite calm, if the core stations we have picked are far apart. Quite often nature festoons such a quiet early part of the shift with an amazing sunrise. The pace picks up dramatically as the cores start to emerge from the MSCL cave. It can get a bit hectic if we’re busily splitting and describing, interrupted by receiving new cores from the seabed. Core sections everywhere! But the splitting is exciting, as we get to see the whole sedimentary sequence for the first time. Do we have the ideal core, which consists of a subglacial till at the bottom, conformably overlain by marine sediments deposited after the ice retreated? Are there perhaps some nice shells in it for radiocarbon dating? When we see something we could use for 14C dating, we take it out. As we are coring, we have a competition running: guess the core length. It is very tight at the moment; Riccardo is in the lead, closely followed by Jenny, and Richard is trailing miles behind, but it all can still change, even with only two days to go. Eventually noon arrives, when we hand over to the day team, and then plonk down tiredly for lunch, which, for us, is more like late supper. After lunch and a cup of tea it’s bedtime! And then at around 11PM (ish) we get up again, and the sequence repeats.”



As we both write this, the 212th core has been recovered from the large moraine in outer Galway Bay. There is some 6 tonnes of mostly mud in our refrigerated container, and we have picked more than 100 shells for dating. But we know exactly where every kilo came from, what it looks like, and which ones we want to target for further research. When we get back on land, we can hit the ground running…..

Photography mostly by Alex Ingle, except where it isn’t….

An Engineers Apprentice

By Claire Mellett and Jenny Gales (British Geological Survey)

A typical day for us usually involves sitting behind a desk staring at a computer in the basement of the BGS Edinburgh office. As marine geologists we are tasked with mapping the seabed and sub-seabed for government and commercial interests. Fundamental to this is an understanding of how geological processes such as ice, rivers, wind, waves and tides have shaped the seabed over long periods of time. Our field area is inaccessible to us as it is drowned beneath sometimes thousands of metres of water and we rely on remote sensing data such as bathymetry and seismic to image the seafloor and make our interpretations. Once we have “guestimated” geological conditions we need to prove them with physical samples and this is where the BGS Marine Operations team comes in.

When carrying out our own research we focus on finding the most suitable site that will provide an answer to whatever question we are asking and we don’t spend too much time thinking about how the sample is recovered. Luckily we have a BGS Marine Operations team comprising electrical, mechanical and design engineers that can build and adapt equipment to meet our expectations. However, ignorance isn’t always bliss and by understanding how different rigs work and the logistics involved in transporting, fitting and fixing equipment on different vessels all around the world, we will have knowledge of how our data was collected and the limitations of its use. Claire: “I thought I would be fairly useless as a member of the operations team given that I am a typical “pen pusher” but I went in with an open mind willing to try anything. As the weeks have gone by I find it easier to lift the barrels meaning I must be getting stronger. I also seem to have started a scrap metal collection as I keep finding bolts and washers in all my pockets. This apparently proves your worth an engineer (according to Garry, one of the BGS engineers)”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a while we decided to formalise our training so made ourselves engineer’s apprentices. As part of the apprenticeship we came up with list of skills that needed to be developed. These include tasks like winch operation (which is the most stressful part of the apprenticeship), vibrocore assembly, vessel awareness (Claire: “I can now distinguish the bulkhead from the deckhead”), health and safety and vibrocore driving. This last skill is obviously very important as when carrying out this task you get the comfiest seat in the container right next to the heater (which also reclines for when you’re on night shift). Additional skills every seafaring apprentice must have include coffee and tea making (including biscuit acquisition) to keep the team going on twelve hour shifts, rope skills (Jenny: “we can now both tie a rolling hitch with two half hitches to get the core liner out of the barrel”) and radio etiquette which varies greatly depending on accents. The final part of the training is tool recognition. We are getting good at this although there appears to be a nomenclature issue depending what tradesman you get e.g. a “toffee hammer” is apparently the same as a “quarter pound ball pein hammer”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We do have it easy in comparison to the rest of the BGS engineering team as when things break down, which is likely to happen when you’re at sea for a long time, they surprise us by just fixing things. As engineers, this is their job, but it still gets us each time they make something work. For example, we are running low on core catchers as the geology keeps destroying them so we decided to just make some. A bit of improvisation and some welding and we have a new supply of core catchers, voilà!

The work day for an engineer’s apprentice is so refreshing yet tiring. We are outside all day which is delightful when the sun (or moon) is reflecting off a reasonable calm sea with big white fluffy clouds on the horizon. Even when the rain is horizontal and the waves are crashing over the deck, we still look forward to getting out to work. When compared to the often solitary life of a scientist where you exist in your ideas, it is a welcome change to be working outside as part of a team of engineers and ship’s crew physically collecting the scientific data you spend most our time working on. Claire: “I must add here that the ship’s crew on board are all extremely patient with helping us in our training (especially when it comes to winch operation!)”.

We keep being asked if we prefer being a scientist or part of the operations team on a research cruise and it’s a difficult question to answer. Claire: “It is a bit of a holiday for me being an engineer’s apprentice as it is not my profession, therefore all the pressure is on our trainers (Iain and Mike’s) shoulders. I do appear to spend a large part of the day laughing (usually at myself) which is a sign I am enjoying the work. However, if I had a 90 m research vessel at my disposal, as a scientist, I can only imagine the fun I would have!”.

(Selected photography by Alex Ingle)

It’s all about communication and planning – life on board as PSO

By Colm Ó Cofaigh

It is Saturday August 16.We have just completed a mammoth vibrocoring transect on the northern Porcupine Bank and are heading east across the shelf in choppy seas and overcast skies towards County Clare, Ireland. We have about 7 days of science left now and I occasionally find myself starting to think that we might be near the end. This is ‘dangerous’ thinking though – best not to count your chickens etc! There is still a lot of science to be done, seafloor to be surveyed, cores to be collected, handover meetings to be had, instructions to be written for the Bridge, the Deck Crew, the Science team and plans to be made, possibly unmade and then made again. Life as PSO (Principal Scientific Officer) on the ship is different for each cruise in that the science objectives, goals and methods obviously differ between different cruises but in my experience two things remain fundamental and constant to the job of a PSO whatever the cruise; they are communication and planning.

Come on shells

Come on shells

On JC106 a big part of my day as PSO is about communication. We have a morning meeting with the Captain and key members of the Bridge, Engineering, Deck and Catering teams. At this meeting any issues that have arisen in the last 24 hours are discussed as well as the science plan for the next 24 hours, where we will survey, where we will core, how many cores we will take etc. At midday we have a handover meeting between the outgoing ‘night shift’ and the incoming ‘day shift’. Again this is all about summarising what we have done, our progress measured against the current plan and what we are going to do next in the short and medium term, as well as airing any problems that have arisen or general housekeeping matters like flagging up to the science party that there is going to be a fire drill or that the tail end of Hurricane Bertha is about to slam into the western Irish shelf and we will be changing the science plan…(thankfully that last one, although predicted, did not happen). At midnight you do the same thing again with the outgoing ‘day shift’ and incoming ‘night shift’ and in between you inform the crew what is happening or going to happen, talk to the bridge, talk to the BGS coring team, the NMFSS piston coring team, write up the plan on whiteboards around the ship, make numerous decisions about when to move on from a core site and when to core again, where to survey, when to cut a survey short, as well as generally trying to ensure that everyone who needs to know, does know what is going on!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While everyone else on the science team is divided into two shifts of 12 hours (the day team and the night team) as PSO you straddle both shifts. So that means long days and you never really switch off mentally. In your head and with your plan you are always, at least ideally, a minimum of 24 hours ahead of real time, sometimes less, sometimes more. In fact you find yourself constantly living life in the future in your head on the ship. Even if you have one plan and the cruise is operating on that you usually have a second plan for when the present one ends or to act as a contingency in case things go awry and the plan needs to change. The one thing to avoid at all costs is to suddenly find yourself in a situation where present time and the end of your current plan actually coincide because then there is a pause in data collection! This is bad and when it happens it can make for a somewhat stressful time. It usually coincides with when ‘things go wrong’, usually due to problems with equipment or weather. Classically this also happens when you are in bed asleep. The phone goes, you fumble for the receiver in the dark and the voice at the other end tells you that there is a serious problem and you need to get up. There then follows a fairly ‘intense’ period while you think about various alternative plans, make a decision on what you consider to be the best one and then pass it on to the Bridge to execute. Trying to get back to sleep after that though is usually a non-starter….. So as a PSO ‘the plan’ is critical for the success of the cruise. If it is good people are happy, if it does not work out then you need to change it promptly and keep people motivated to achieve it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So far JC106 has been highly successful (I am touching wood with my left hand as I type this with my right…). We have collected great data and have had relatively little bad weather (again touching wood). The success has been due to the hard work of everyone on the ship: the science team for their never ending hard work, their good humour and motivation; the Bridge team and the Captain for their skilful manoeuvring of the ship onto core sites and overlapping swath tracks, the Deck team for their professionalism and ‘can-do’ attitude, BGS and NMFSS for their ability to recover great cores, fix whatever is broken and make core catchers from twisted pieces of metal, and finally, but oh so importantly, the catering team for keeping us all well fed. Only one more week to go now so I had better get back to planning….

A footnote....

A footnote….

Photography in part by Alex Ingle

Cruise 1 Leg 2: Transect completions coming thick and fast…..

By Richard Chiverrell

The leaving of Killybegs

The leaving of Killybegs

The Britice-Chrono Cruise through the Celtic, Irish and Malin Seas, and onwards around Ireland takes, in order, the Transects T4 (Irish Sea West), T3 (Irish Sea East), T7 (Malin Sea – Barra fan), T6 (Donegal) and T5 (Galway – Porcupine Bank). Leg 1 ran from Friday 18th July to Monday 4th August culminating with three cores as part of the Malin Sea transect, before our efforts in Donegal Bay were curtailed by rising seas and inclement weather. The port stop in Killibegs in northwest Ireland was a welcome break and chance to recharge batteries. It was also change time in terms of the Science Crew, with James Scourse, Sara Benetti, Fabio Sacchetti and Dan Praeg taking leave of the ship. Joining in Killybegs were Stephen Livingstone and Kevin Schiele, and Jenny Gales switched from BGS crew to the Science team for the second leg. Alex Ingle joined our throng as Film-maker. It was all change for the BGS core team, as we bade farewell to Davie, Alan, Keith, Mike and Joe, and welcomed (Day team) Iain (Rab) Pheasant, Apostolos Tsilligianis and Claire (taciturn) Mellett (Night team) David Wallis, Garry McGowan and Connor Richardson. Somehow I failed to leave the ship in Killybegs, either a desire to runaway to sea or perhaps oversleeping.

T6 Donegal Bay: the weather and seas relented for our time in and departure from Killybegs. we sailed in not the glorious sunshine that greeted our arrival and days sampling the shops and tea-rooms of this pretty fishing /industrial port in northwest Ireland. Our departure route was a sprint west, before a crisscross survey along a pronounced inner moraine from which seven cores were identified and sampled along and either side of this moraine complex. A further 13 were picked and recovered from an ~80 mile breakneck transect to the shelf break moraines fronting Donegal Bay. All in we were pretty pleased, another transect in the bag, a total of 20 vibrocores, just leaving the high risk more exposed locations: Malin Sea and Galway Bay – Porcupine Bank. Highlights included excellent thick sequences of laminated glacimarine muds, with occasional drop-stones and shells, some high priority targets for radiocarbon dating across the sea floor moraines preserved in Donegal Bay. In particular the blitzkrieg coring marathon 20 vibrocores in 27 hours to gently ease the 2nd leg BGS core team into the Britice-Chrono / RRS James Cook way of life, they loved every minute of it…..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

T7 Malin Sea – Barra Fan: it is amazing what can happen while you sleep; go to bed mid afternoon on the 6th Aug, when you wake midnight 7th Aug it is the start of the survey 100 miles further north in the Malin Sea (T6 sampling complete). The dynamism of a 24 hour work programme and day/night teamwork keeps you on your toes. The morning meetings chaired by the Captain (John Leask) focused on all manner of boat matters from plumbing to safety and our dynamic science plan. Featuring heavily as we approached the Malin Sea survey was the approaching remnants of Tropical Storm Bertha, though not actually to affect us that much, it reminded us how fickle weather and sea state can be, and how subject to conditions our programme could be before we would go alongside in Southampton on the 25th August. All in the Malin Sea T7 research saw us complete 40 cores, including 3 piston cores, and what felt like thousands of miles of geophysical survey. The transect saw heroic maintenance actions by the BGS team, repairing the electronics that drive the hammer system and a retraction winch cable (replaced in the 30 mins between core stations). By the end of T7 our tally of cores stood at 154, with >75 hours of hammering on the sea floor, devouring core catchers and our stocks of core tubes, and putting a heavy workload on our trusty vibrocorer. Hammering through diamict stiffened beneath the pressure of ice 24-26,000 years ago and smashing into the occasional lump of rafted bedrock, all contribute to a less than easy life. Highlights included thick sequences with glacimarine muds and possible diamicts at or near the continental shelf break, thick (>7m) piston core profiles from the deeper ocean and continental shelf slopes (>1500m of water) and further excellent cores in the outer sector of the Sea of the Hebrides, selected as we had to shelter from some choppy waters. A very satisfied team could take leave of the Malin Sea for pastures new……

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Selected photographs by Alex Ingle

Two bits of wood, a clothes-hanger and some sticky-back plastic……

By Richard Chiverrell

2-3 days ago the RRS James Cook voyaged towards the deeper waters of the Porcupine Bank, a lesser known quarter of the continental shelf off western Ireland. Leaving the coastline of Donegal and Mayo in our wake for our remote destination 213,000 m west of dry land, but with key essentials to sustain us. Stocks were replete with plentiful willpower, pineapple juice, fresh water, vibrocore tubes, melon, bacon and eggs. As we progressed south the harder grounds that lay ahead, our target to sample the sediment of the seafloor continues to make mince-meat of the steel core-catchers. We use these to ensure the valuable muds and shells do not fall out of the vibrocore chamber as we return it to deck after the radio call sign ‘….bottom operations are completed, over, roger…’. The core catcher is an ingenious device that fits into the base of the vibrocore tube, as we hammer into the sediments its’ metal talons open to allow material to enter the vibrocorers’ lair, but then grip tight there should be no escape….. Science team have however been confounded and are confounding the BGS crew by their selection of hard and sticky sediments, which attempt to escape under suction as the vibrocorer is retracted from the sea floor before recovery to the ship. This destroys core catchers it appears at will…..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stock check, eight sciences days to go, one transect remaining, 70 vibrocore tubes, 33 core catchers and 45 targets for sampling. This maths does not stack up…. In mission control concern is rising about our supplies of core catchers, particularly as night team chew through three in two core sites) leaving Donegal Bay(two in one core to catch this stuff, Science Team are picking well, we have diamict, but this is seriously tough stuff. But on Porcupine Bank there is no hardware store, no core catcher shop, we are on our own…. Brains were being exercised, contingencies discussed, meanwhile the BGS scoured their stocks, NOC’s piston core team’s and the RRS James Cook materials on board; was there a way to make extra core catchers?….. The piston core catchers, what about them…. the wrong size and a different fit to the chamber….. so near but so far…. Again it was the BGS crew to the rescue as Garry, Iain, Connor, David, Claire and Apos exercise their ingenuity and welded new, more resilient tougher core catchers using the spare parts from torn, contorted remnants of the existing broken one’s and parts from piston core catchers. Once tested and in production, they can make them in 5-10 minutes… If successful this might see us through the target list of sites for the Galway Bay and Porcupine Bank transect…. Night shift see the first deployment of the ship-made catchers, and they work well and survived three-four visits to the sea floor compared to one currently by the less robust originals. A huge sigh of relief from Science Team, and a well earned pineapple juice for the BGS….

Credits: Photography by Alex Ingle (except for the badly lit one by me)

An ugly ducking emerges from the ashes……

A blog from the early hours of the morning on the RRS James Cook


Midnight, not a creature was sleeping and it was all noisy all around the ship…. The handover for the Science Team juddered (dynamic positioning in full flow) into view as day-watch passed the baton on to night-watch, Principal Science Officer or PSO (Colm Ó Cofaigh) having formulated and briefed us on the plan (Plan A)for the next 24-36 hours. It can be tiring as the science lead on the Cruise, and so retiring for a well earned rest at the end of shift is a much encouraged seldom realised dream…..

We progressed rapidly to the fourth of nine vibrocore locations on the overnight plan (Plan A) about 10 miles from the break in slope at the edge of the continental shelf in the Malin Sea. BGS night team lowered the vibrocorer to the seabed and prepared to commence operations. There was no response from the seabed, something was clearly amiss. After a quick abort and return to the deck, the BGS team set about analysing the problem, sparks flew; clearly the fault lay with the electronics. After checking timescales for assessment and repair, and that this could be undertaken under steam, we woke PSO about 2.30 am, no doubt fully rested after 1.5 hours sleep to formulate an alternate plan…

Plan B quickly emerged and comprised several components, first hopefully fixing the vibrocorer, and second the Science team switching focus to other activities. We commenced a programme of sub-bottom profiler and multibeam survey heading northwest ~35 miles to possible piston core locations, and there we completed a 25 mile survey from >1600m of water across the shelf break into 300m of water, our challenge was to find some piston corer targets with possible glacimarine sediments. Meanwhile an at times nine person strong team of BGS team and RRS James Cook crew worked through the early hours to isolate the problem and hopefully to fix it (Plan C). With the JC106 Cruise schedule including further work out in the Malin Sea and the entire work programme for T5 Galway Bay including work on Porcupine Bank we could little afford a port call (Plan D) in the Western Highlands of Scotland. We also very much needed the vibrocorer which had delivered ~130 sediment profile from very tough glacigenic muds. If it had failed completely, an outside chance, we would be limited to geophysical survey and piston coring on Porcupine Bank (a much dreaded Plan E) and some rethinking for Cruise 2…..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dawn came and went, as we waited on smoke signals from the back deck (well more accurately the absence of smoke signals….) the good news arrived at breakfast things were looking less terminal. The fault had been isolated (a very well hidden cable uncoupled and affected by sea water) and promptly repaired, all that remains was reassembly and some testing first on deck and then in the water. BGS team and the deck crew get some very well deserved and earned rest. The wet vibrocore test then lay ahead, with 2 piston cores in 1575 and 1200m of water for day watch who took charge in the midday clouds…. Somewhere the sun set, the moon rose, apparently a supermoon – not bad at all, and we awoke to news of two successful >7m length recoveries for the piston cores in deep waters and on the continental shelf slope, plus critically a deepish water deployment of the vibrocorer on the shelf break ~500m of water. Success….. >3m of mud recovered, 136 vibrocores collected and going strong…..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A relieved, tired and happy PSO could take leave of the watch, with an invigorated and expanded Plan C trending forwards into the foreseeable feature, vibrocore four of nine (3.92m), five of nine (0.4m), six of nine approaches…..

We are on schedule as always, the Plan is strong, the Plan is all-knowing, the Plan are legion, the Plan are many…..

Kasper's moon....

Selected photographs by Alex Ingle