Friday, 25 May 2012

Deep-Sea Science at the Outer Hebrides

So, after spending two years of my life working on the Isle of Lewis looking at fisheries bycatch I’m back in the Hebrides again doing deep-sea research. This time around we’re here for one week of a four week cruise investigating the effects of global climate change and ocean acidification on the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa (yes, Scotland has its very own coral reefs!). Or at least, that’s what everyone else is studying – my interest in this cruise is to collect video transect data from the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and use that to look at how fish use the reefs and surrounding areas as habitat.

The James Cook docked in Glasgow

Looking out from the JC bridge deck down the Clyde

Sunset over the Hebrides

So far things have been going pretty well, and it's been crazy busy with collecting samples, hosting a BBC film crew and school group from Benecula and dealing with the constant stream of video files coming out of the ROV! We had a few teething problems with the ROV during the first couple of days of the cruise, but they seem to have been more or less sorted out and we’ve been able to conduct some good long dives for sample collection and filming plenty of video footage for me to go through when we’re all back on land! I can’t put up any of the underwater images as yet since they belong to the cruise, but we should be putting a few up on the official cruise blog some time soon. In the meantime, I can share some of the surface shots of the gear we’re using.

This is our ROV and the most important (and expensive) piece of gear we have. With this we're able to collect precise samples, film everything we see underwater and even conduct experiments on the seabed.

Recovering the box corer. This piece of kit goes down on a winch cable and activates when it hits the bottom forcing the scoops closed and (hopefully) bringing us back up a big box of mud!

We did some maintenance work today as well for one of the long-term monitoring stations out here. This is the team preparing to put everything back.

As far as the wildlife goes, it’s been fairly quiet around the ship so far with relatively few sightings (which is a bit surprising considering that the perfectly calm weather we’ve been having is ideal for whale and dolphin spotting). Still, we have seen a few common dolphins and were visited by a basking shark a couple of evenings ago which was very cool!

Basking shark off Mingulay

I’ve been experimenting with taking some video footage with the 7D too, and I’ve got a few nice clips which I’ll get up online when I get home. Sadly the internet connection out here is far too limited to allow any kind of video upload, but to be honest we’re pretty lucky to get anything at all so I’m not complaining. We’ve also got a new mascot on board which doesn’t seem to want to leave the ship and has been here for about 3 days...

Anyone recognise this pigeon? It's still on board...

Anyway, we’re heading offshore now so the next update will be from the middle of the Rockall Trough (that’s about 200 miles west of Scotland).

The last land we'll see for 3 weeks. Could definitely be worse!