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National Oceanography Centre, Southampton undertakes first research cruise

Published: 29 April 2005

On the first day of the new National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, Sunday, 1 May 2005, the Royal Research Ship (RRS) Charles Darwin leaves Bermuda on a research cruise across the Atlantic.

This is the first cruise to be carried out under the name of the new National Oceanography Centre, Southampton - formerly Southampton Oceanography Centre - at the University of Southampton.

The scientists, led by Dr Elaine McDonagh from NOCS, will be taking measurements of the Atlantic Ocean along 36 degrees north. The research brings together a consortium of UK scientists from NOCS, the University of Liverpool, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of East Anglia.

Dr McDonagh said: "The last time this section of the Atlantic Ocean was studied was in 1981. The data collected on this expedition will tell us how the ocean has changed over the last two decades. Time series research is important as it shows how ocean currents are evolving over time.

"The current that we are most interested in is the Boundary Current, sometimes called the Gulf Stream. As well as modulating the climate in Western Europe this current also mixes nutrients throughout the water column. We are very interested in how the biology and chemistry are interacting within the current."

During the 45-day expedition across the ocean RRS Charles Darwin will be stationed every 50km to take full ocean depth measurements. Instruments will be lowered through the water column collecting data from the surface waters to the ocean floor, down to 6,000m (about 4 miles) in the deepest parts of the Atlantic.

At each station physical properties such as water velocity, temperature and salinity will be measured and a variety of biological and chemical samples will be collected. These include nutrients which carbon absorbing plants need to grow; the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide; and CFCs that act as tracers showing movement of water masses. Some 150 full ocean depth stations will be worked throughout the cruise.

The cruise forms the second component of a large UK experiment to examine the current role of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre in global climate regulation. The potential of the region to store heat and carbon dioxide and to assimilate carbon dioxide by plankton growth will be assessed by combining the results with similar observations from a cruise conducted on RRS Discovery the same time last year.

Notes for editors

  1. For more information about the research on the cruise please contact:
    Dr Richard Sanders on 023 8059 6643 or email rics@noc.soton.ac.uk,
    Prof Harry Bryden on 023 8059 6437 or email hlb@noc.soton.ac.uk,
    Press Officer Kim Marshall-Brown on 023 8059 6170 or email kxm@noc.soton.ac.uk
  2. Dr Ric Williams of the University of Liverpool has been leading the pre-cruise research. Of the 14 scientists and research students onboard RRS Charles Darwin, eight are women.
  3. The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton is a joint venture between the University of Southampton and the Natural Environment Research Council. The Centre provides all aspects of research, training, teaching, technology and support services in ocean and earth science and hosts the National Oceanographic Library.
  4. The Royal Research Ship (RRS) Charles Darwin's home port is Southampton, where its berth lies alongside the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

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