Blog: Science in the Sea – Pt 1: Journey to the JCR!

Science in the Sea – Ryan Scott

29 November 2017 – RRS James Clark Ross

Thursday 16th November and finally the time had come for me start my journey south to Antarctica! It was time to set off on the long trip to the RRS James Clark Ross, which is affectionately known as the JCR.

The taxi from Cambridge to Heathrow seemed relatively short, compared to the next two steps on my travel itinerary. First, we caught a 12 hour flight to São Paulo in Brazil and then a 4.5 hour flight from São Paulo to Santiago, Chile.

Our next flight wasn’t until early the next morning, so after checking into our hotel a group of us went to explore Santiago. This turned out to be more complicated than we’d imagined as none of us spoke Spanish and the driver (understandably) didn’t speak English!

At 4am the next morning we were up to catch a flight to Punta Arenas in Chile. At last, the final leg of our journey was upon us, just a short 1.5 hour flight to the Falkland Islands. Arriving at the military airport, we were greeted by weather which was surprisingly similar to the UK – rain and temperatures around 12°C. We travelled by taxi to the Falkland Islands capital, Stanley. The route was mostly along a gravel road which took us through old minefields and moorlands; the experience very much reminding me of Dartmoor!

After roughly 9505 miles we had finally finished our conventional travelling and most importantly managed not to lose any luggage!

A group of Magellanic penguins on the beach at Gypsy Cove, Falkland Islands. Photo Credit: Ryan Scott

Although Stanley is a small place, the walk along the main street is only about 5 minutes, it is known as the “Gateway to Antarctica”. The Falkland Islands capital is the main port for the JCR, therefore, it is very important for BAS and the scientific community!

Seeing the ship for the first time I was awe-struck, in front of me was the world-class research ship that was to be my home for the next month. I feel excited to start the cruise and proud that I am one of the lucky few who gets to go and do science in Antarctica.

Scientists admiring their home for the next month. From left to right: Rachael Sanders, Dafydd Stephenson, Ryan Scott. Photo Credit: Rachael Sanders.

On this cruise, the science party is made up of three teams. I am part of the underwater glider team on the cruise, onboard the JCR we will be deploying ocean gliders to collect data as part of the ORCHESTRA project. We will work closely with the hydrography team, who are also collecting data as part of ORCHESTRA. The biology team is working towards the ICEBERGS project, which aims to look at the response of sea life to glacier retreat along the western Antarctic Peninsula.

I think the two projects are both really interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how the science progresses… stay tuned!

Blog: Science in the Sky – Pt 1: Packing

Science in the Sky: Ella Gilbert

14 November 2017

Last week I got emailed a very exciting travel itinerary, and realised that I’m going to Antarctica next week. It shouldn’t be a surprise, having been planned for months, but it’s only just started to sink in.

I’ve been thinking about the science we’re going to be doing in detail, but I hadn’t given much thought to the practical things (like: how am I going to fit my whole life into a 23 kg bag? How many pairs of socks do I need? How much space are my boxing gloves going to take up? Who’s going to water my plants?).


Ella beginning to pack for her trip to Antarctica. Photo credit: Ella Gilbert

One thing I have been thinking about though, is how amazing an opportunity this is. I’m so incredibly excited to see the environment I’ve been studying during my PhD, and which has captured my imagination for almost as long as I can remember.

Antarctica is a land of extremes. It is the driest, coldest, windiest and most remote continent on Earth. It is also critical for regulating Earth’s current and future climate. That’s why I, and many other scientists at BAS, are interested in collecting data there.

I am going South to help with the ORCHESTRA campaign, which aims to understand the role of the ocean in regulating the climate. As atmospheric scientists, my team are especially interested in the exchange of energy between the atmosphere and ocean, particularly in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, called the ‘boundary layer’.

To understand this, we’ll be flying on MASIN, BAS’s meteorological aircraft, kitted out with all manner of instruments to measure lots of atmospheric characteristics – temperature, pressure, humidity, winds, radiation – you name it, we’ll measure it.


British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter (AZ) with MASIN turbulence probe fitted. Photo credit: Rod Arnold.

This field season, we’re going to be flying out of Rothera research base on the Antarctic Peninsula. Some of the flights will be over the western side of the peninsula, while some will be over the east, in the Weddell Sea. The idea is that we will be able to coordinate with scientists on board the RRS James Clark Ross, one of BAS’s research vessels. She will be deploying ocean gliders which collect data in the sea, as well as taking direct measurements as she steams along.

If we can fly over the ship, our measurements will be complementary. We will be able to determine how much energy is going in and out of the surface of the ocean using observations from above and below the surface. This will be vital for understanding the processes that are occurring in the Southern Ocean and the seas around Antarctica, which are very poorly understood. With luck, we’ll come back with data that will improve our knowledge of this fascinating region.

Watch this space for more blog posts and videos of what we’re up to at the bottom of the world.

Blog: Science in the Sea – Pt 2: Busy Biologists

Science in the Sea: Ryan Scott

12 December 2017 – RRS James Clark Ross

First thing I learn as I begin my trip aboard the RRS James Clark Ross is that, scientist on research cruises need to be able to adapt quickly!

Within two days of setting off from Stanley our original itinerary was completely reshuffled. With a large storm heading our way, it would have made surveying and deploying gliders in Drake Passage almost impossible. So instead, we began heading straight to the two biology sites along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Our first destination was Marion Cove, which is close to both the South Korean base King Sejong on King George Island and a Chilean Base. As we travelled towards the cove I picked up both Korean and Chilean phone signals within an hour – there aren’t many places in the world where you can do that!

Looking out of Marion Cove at sunset. If you look closely you might just be able to see the Korean base King Sejong on the shore (centre-left). Photo credit: Ryan Scott.

During the survey, the biology team worked almost continuously over 48 hours collecting data using a variety of methods. Measurements included the depth to the seafloor and the temperature and salinity of the seawater. A shelf underwater camera system, deployed off the side of the ship, recorded live footage of the seafloor and samples of seafloor sediments and creatures were collected.

The trawling net being deployed at the back of the ship. This net is used to collect creatures from the seafloor. Photo credit: Jennifer Foster Davidson.

Photograph of sea star, collected using the Shelf Underwater Camera System. Photo credit: David Barnes.

All this information was collected as part of the ICEBERGS project and will help scientists understand what lives on the seafloor in areas recently exposed due to glacier retreat along the western Antarctic Peninsula. Scientists will be able to observe how abundant various species are in the newly uncovered regions compared with areas that have been uncovered for much longer. They will also be able to gain an insight into how much carbon gets stored in sediments when sea creatures (unfortunately) die.

Sampling at the second site, Börgen Bay on Anvers Island, went ahead in a similar manner to Marion Cove. The bay itself was breathtaking, I thought that Marion Cove had amazing scenery but Börgen Bay blew us all away!

The scenery at Börgen Bay was amazing and provided pleanty of photo opportunities. Photo credit: Ryan Scott

Next up, glider deployments!

Blog: Drake Passage Cruise

Drake Passage – Yvonne Firing

24 November 2016 – RRS James Clark Ross

Follow ORCHESTRA project scientist Yvonne Firing’s amazing fieldwork blog from the Southern Ocean here.

On the 2016/2017 Drake Passage cruise on the RRS James Clark Ross, we sail south from the Falkland Islands across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, repeating the measurements of ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, and currents that have been made here since 1993. We also deploy some new autonomous floats, which will keep making these measurements as they drift through Drake Passage, the Scotia Sea, and onwards, and recover several moorings that have been monitoring temperature and pressure at the seafloor. All of these measurements help us better understand how much heat and freshwater the Southern Ocean contains, how it moves them and other substances in the water around, how this changes in time, and what role it plays in the global climate. In addition to the science at sea, Yvonne and the cruise volunteers describe some of our adventures visiting Antarctic field stations to support research based there, and the spectacular scenery we see along the way.

The JCR bow, heading into the seas in Drake Passage (Image: Y. Firing)



Blog: Investigating the Southern Ocean

Investigating the Southern Ocean: Dan Jones

10 April 2016 RRS – James Clark Ross

Oceanographers Dan Jones and Erik MacKie are onboard the RRS James Clark Rosscarrying out a hydrographic survey in the Southern Ocean as part of a long-term study to understand the impact of ocean circulation on global climate. Find out what living and working on the ship is like for them.

We are currently on a research cruise to help improve knowledge of the role played by the Southern Ocean in exchanging heat and carbon with the atmosphere.  Our cruise is part of the BAS Polar Oceans team’s long-term hydrographic survey programme that begain in 1995 with the the World Ocean Circulation Experiment.  We call our survey area A23 and we conduct experiements every year to measure changes in ‘Antarctic bottom water’ (ABW) as it leaves the Weddell Sea, and circulates within the Weddell Gyre.  Our job is to understand the natural variations in oceanic conditions and disentangle these from any that may be connected to long-term warming.  This research gives us a clearer picture of the impacts that ocean processes have on the climatic evolution of the planet and helps with the international scientific effort to reduce uncertainty concerning the future trends in climate and sea level rise.

Our ship – a great platform for science

Using the ship’s “Wor Geordie” (a basket-like contraption that can be used to move people and supplies on and off the ship), we collected some ice samples from the sea ice itself.  For a little while, we were actually standing on sea ice, floating on the surface of the ocean.  The ice cores we retrieved will be used to better understand how precipitation, sea ice, glacial ice, and ocean circulation act together to influence global climate.

Our view of the Weddell Sea, with sea ice and icebergs

Antarctica – a very special place to work

Going to work everyday on the ice Weddell Sea is such a special experience for the scientist – we see incredible icy landscapes and get amazing views of wildlife.  Check out these photos of our science in action!  Luckily, we were able to find a large piece of multi-year sea ice that was solid enough to stand on.

Powerful search lights help night-time navigation













In addition to collecting sea ice samples, we deployed a CTD (a conductivity-temperature-depth probe) that allowed us to collect water from different depths to be analyzed back on board the ship (and later in laboratories in the UK).

It was an exciting and productive day – we did lots of science and got to see some wildlife along the way!

A lone emperor penguin on the ice












(Adapted from Erik Mackie’s cruise blog)