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The University of Southampton

New Year, New Horizons

Published: 20 December 2017
Scientists on board ship
Professor Maeve Lohan and PhD researcher Korinna Kunde chart the course the RSS James Cook will take

It’s the holiday season and whilst most of the staff and students from the University of Southampton will be with their families and friends for the festive period, a number of others will spend time away from home in pursuit of their research and new horizons to start 2018.

Christmas in the Atlantic

The Southampton-based Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Cook will start the New Year in the North Atlantic with an international team of scientists on board.

The ship will spend 42 days on an expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge ( GA13 FRidge ) where a group of researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Liverpool will work to measure the widescale dispersion of hotspots of iron and other key trace elements that are injected into the deep ocean from hot hydrothermal vents along the volcanic Ridge.

GA FRidge 13 ( @FRidge_GA13 ) is part of the international GEOTRACES effort which is expanding our knowledge of the marine biogeochemical cycles of trace elements and their isotopes at an unprecedented scale by co-ordinating international projects to generate global ocean coverage.

Aboard the RRS James Cook, the Southampton team will focus on sampling the ocean over the rough topography of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, taking water samples all the way through the water column along a track that starts south of the Azores and follows the volcanic mountain chain southwards.

“Iron is important to sustaining life in the sea and each of the vent sites in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge has differing underlying geology resulting in different amounts of iron being released,” explains Professor Maeve Lohan , the University of Southampton’s Project Principal Investigator on the expedition. “Our goal is to understand what stabilises this iron - what keeps it in solution and allows it to be transported further afield and then impact on oceanic animal and plant life and, ultimately, the carbon cycle. We also want to improve our understanding of how different vent chemistry impacts the iron distribution.”

Southampton Professor Rachel Mills is also on board and excited by the prospects of continuing her work on deep-sea hydrothermal vents. “What inspired me most when I became a scientist is the chance to explore the deep and seeing things that no one has ever seen before,” she enthuses. “We now know that the metals coming out of these hydrothermal vents – which were first discovered 40 years ago – are being dispersed over hundreds, even thousands of kilometres and are having a really significant impact on the overall ocean.

“We’ll be collecting water samples at varying depths above the Ridge, some of which will be analysed on board ship while other samples will be brought back to our labs in Southampton and around the world for further study,” Professor Mills continues. “The researchers and PhD students on the expedition will be using these samples to answer new questions about how the oceans work and to kick off their careers in oceanography.”

Professors Lohan and Mills - both graduates of the University - will be joined on board by Southampton postdoctoral researcher Alastair Lough, PhD researchers Wenhao Wang and Dakota Gibbs together with researchers from the across the UK, USA, France, China and Malaysia who will also share the experience of spending the holiday period at sea.

“We will be at sea for six weeks including Christmas and New Year but we will ensure we have time to celebrate,” says Professor Lohan. “It is very hard to be away from home especially at Christmas as this is the time of year for family. However, at sea the scientists and crew become one big family who will sit down like everyone else for a very tasty Christmas dinner.

“Having spent a Christmas before on the RSS James Cook in 2010 I know how much fun this can be,” she continues. “After dinner, like in most houses, we will sit in the large lounge and play board games and card games and generally have a good laugh. As it Christmas fairly early in the cruise it is a good chance for everyone to get know each other well before the hard work starts.”

Updates from Professor Mills and her colleagues aboard the James Cook will be available via the ‘Exploring our Oceans’ MOOC blog throughout the expedition.

Related Staff Member

Related Staff Member

Southampton researchers onboard the James Cook
Southampton researchers aboard the RRS James Cook.
Liverpool researchers
Liverpool researchers aboard the RRS James Cook.
RRS James Cook
The RRS James Cook docked in Southampton just hours before embarking on its latest expedition.
Researchers on the bridge
Professor Maeve Lohan with Southampton PhD researcher Korinna Kunde on the bridge of the RRS James Cook.
Researchers on the deck
PhD researcher Korinna Kunde assists Professor Maeve Lohan on the deck of the RRS James Cook.
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