Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 7

Sunday 7th September, 2014

We have successfully completed the CUMECS-2 expedition! Our team mates are on their way home, but our work is far from over.  Our research is only just beginning...

We collected 8 sediment cores that we will now analyse in the laboratory by looking at the age and physical properties of the sediment. We hope that these data will provide pertinent information about past canyon and earthquake activity.

We also mapped more than 5000 km2 of the Malta-Sicily Escarpment, equivalent to 20 times the size of Malta. Our new map reveals a fascinating and complex landscape that consists of hundreds of valleys and small landslides. The most impressive feature of this landscape is a big submarine canyon, which has a length 3 times that of Malta and a depth of 3.5 km.

Furthermore, we found that the floors of most of these valleys are associated with high acoustic response. That means that the seabed here likely consists of very coarse material, which may indicate that the valleys have been subject to erosive flows until recently. The implications for ocean current flow patterns in the region as well as the type of marine life that inhabits these deep habitats could lead to interesting discoveries as we move forward. 

In the meantime, we would like to particularly thank Marie Curie Actions for making this research cruise possible, and the captain and crew of the R/V OGS Explora, who were so professional, efficient and fun to work alongside. We are grateful to Liz Smith, a Fulbright scholar at the University of Malta, for her help with the outreach activities related to this expedition.

And we would also like to thank our many followers from all over the world. We welcome you to join us on our next adventure! 

The CUMECS-2 team

The CUMECS-2 team.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Day 6

Friday 5th September, 2014

We are now heading back to Porto di Catania after an extremely successful day out at sea, surveying and coring the Malta Escarpment. 

During this research cruise we surveyed an area of over 5,000 square km and we have obtained cores at  8 different locations. The total length of cores obtained is over 11 meters. These cores will be transported to Ireland where they will be analysed and archived. From our preliminary observations we could note that different location yielded different types of sediment. A very clear example can be seen in picture 1, where this atypical core produced some unexpected coarse material.  

The cores collected from this research cruise
Below we can see some examples of state-of-the-art, high resolution bathymetry maps. The different colours seen on these maps represent different depths with blue and red corresponding to the deeper and shallower bathymetry respectively. These maps are the result of processed multibeam echo sounder data. 

Stunning 3D imagery of two canyons along the Malta Escarpment.

Multibeam data has also been used to generate this backscatter map of the canyons. Back scatter maps are very good indicators of the nature of the seabed. Lighter areas are areas of high backscatter indicating hard rock or sand. On the other hand, darker areas are zones of low backscatter and represent finer materials such as clay

A backscatter map of one of the surveyed canyons 

We are grateful to the +5,000 readers who visited this blog and our Facebook page. This was very encouraging for us especially because we often had no other means of communication on board.  Our most popular post was that of "The OGS Explora making its way through rough sea", we wonder why that is. Is it because people truly liked our footage or is it because they felt sorry for us? ;)

Day 5

Thursday 4th September, 2014

After 4 days of continuous 24-hour seafloor surveying, we have got into the daily routine of work and life on the OSG Explora. The expertise and synergy of the different international people on board is fascinating and play an important role for the success of this mission. This expedition is funded by the Marie Curie Actions and is a collaboration between the following institutions:
Here follows a brief description of the different roles of key people representing the institutions above:

Aaron (UoM) is the brains behind this project, and the Chief Scientist of the mission. More on Aaron in an upcoming post. 

Aaron: Happy with his latest core catch.
Isabella, Daniela, and Andrea work for OGS. Their role is to ensure they collect the data of the study area. They monitor the performance of all the instruments (multibeam, GPS, and echo sounder), and give route instructions directly to the bridge.
Isabella, Daniela & Andrea: Planning the next route for the OSG Explora

Riccardo is engineer at OGS and ships/operational manager on board. He handles the deployment and recovery of instruments, such as the gravity coring and SVP (Sound Velocity Profile), from the sea.

Ricardo: Monitoring the deployment of a core down to the seafloor
Joshu is from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. His main role on board is that of preparing and retrieving sediment cores.

Joshu: working on one of the retrieved cores. 

Tim is a researcher at the NOC. Tim spends a lot of time in his cabin, which he conveniently turned into an office. His role is that of processing the multibeam data by correcting attitude and ship movements errors, eliminating echo outliers, and producing unique and beautiful maps of the seafloor. These maps show plains, slopes, canyons and what the seafloor is made of. 
Tim: Processing the multibeam data into detailed, colourful mops.
Veerle and Claudio also come from the NOC. Veerle heads the outreach program for CUMECS-2, while Claudio is in charge of seismic reflection data.
Veerle: measuring the length of our first core.
Claudio: Cleaning a piece of rock collected from one of the cores.
Matthew and Antoniette have joined the scientific crew to get a hands-on experience with marine geophysics.

Matthew under the watchful eye of Veerle
Antoniette: During one of today's three coring operations 
Julie is a Geologist and works as a Senior Scientific Officer in the Continental Shelf Department of the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure in the Government of Malta.

Julie Auerbach, a geologist on board
Aggeliki from the University College Dublin, unfortunately could not participate in this expedition. She will be responsible for the analysis and study of the cores obtained from this voyage. UCD will be archiving the cores.

One of the great things about being part of this expedition is the element of strong communication and team work between all the scientific crew. Whilst the science is taken seriously, we find some time to chat on our personal lives, take photos, videos, and write this blog :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day 4

Wednesday 3rd September, 2014

Everyone seems to have woken up in a good shape, thanks to the calm seas that allowed the resting crew to have a well deserved good night sleep. Meanwhile the night shift made a lot of progress with collecting multibeam and seismic reflection data for most of the northern area, and also filling in missing data gaps. Data collection will also continue throughout the day as we navigate towards an other research area. 

Today we are going to give you an insight into how it feels like to live and work on board a research vessel such as the OGS Explora. The day starts with breakfast between 7 and 8 am and we start the day with selection of savoury pastries such as pizza, bacon rolls and focaccia washed down by tea/ coffee or juice.
Someone already took 2 slices of pizza ?!
Lunch is then served in two shifts between 11am – 12 pm and 12 – 1 pm to feed different people on different shifts. Lunch and dinner consists of two courses, followed by fruit and desert and varies by the day. 

The lounge

All the food is freshly prepared on board by a very dedicated team of cooks and chef.

The masters of the galley.

Our sleeping quarters are traditional cabins with two bunk beds, hand wash basin and wooden cabinets, complete with a table and couch. Science complemented by luxury, what else would one ask for ? :) 

Inside one of the cabins

The research vessel also has a very special spot known as the Monkey Island. Researchers and crew often escape here when off shift for a spot of refreshing sea-breeze and a healthy dose of sunshine (or moonshine)! The Monkey Island is located just on top of the ship's bridge. The bridge is central to the ship's navigation, it is where the captain or the first or second mate steers the ship. 

The Monkey Island
Second mate in control of the bridge

The ship is also equipped with a refrigeration room where all perishables are kept, a laundry room and of course an engine room.

Day 3 - Coring video

Coring operations caught on video! 

Soundtrack: Home sweet home by Flatt & Scruggs

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Day 3

Tuesday 2nd September, 2014

Oh what a night ! Yesterday we sailed through rough seas that had the boat rolling on 3 meter waves. Here is a peek of how things looked like from the upper deck: click video. Weather conditions made it very difficult for some of us to make it through their shift, more importantly this made data collection impossible, so much so that it was decided to sail north and work on another study area there.

At this new area we started again with collecting multibeam and seismic reflection data. From this data we highlighted several locations for possible sediment gravity coring. Coring refers to the process were an elongated metal tube is inserted into the ground. The underlying material, such as the sedimentary layers, is 'trapped' within the tube, and brought back on board. The sediment cores reflect the development of the local seafloor throughout time.

An example of a core from a previous CUMECS mission. See more details here.

It was decided to first take a core on a terrace inside a canyon (Google map). The coring system was first deployed in the afternoon from the back deck. This requires connecting the system (core + weight) to a +2,000 m long cable. The core system is lowered to 10 meters above the seafloor, and then it is left to free fall to the seabed.

The core + 1 ton of weight being moved to the edge of the back deck.

The core system is aligned vertically, ready for deployment.

The core is gently pulled back up to the surface. Once on board the vessel the core is opened and cut into sections, labeled, and stored in refrigerated system to be analysed in a laboratory onshore.

Veerle measuring 1 meter length of core to be sawn off and stored.
Aaron labeling the core, marking the top and bottom of each section, and taking note of the core sequence.
Another core was later taken at the bottom of the canyon, across the channel, late at night. Total core recovery today was circa 5 meters! :)

Working hard late at night. The second core being prepared for storage.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Day 2

Monday 1st September, 2014

Following a 10-hour transit all the way from the Port of Catania we finally made it to our destination – our first site of investigation out five. Most of the day the scientific crew spent their time in the laboratory, located on the lower decks of the vessel. The laboratory is in constant communication with the bridge (from where the captain and officers steer the ship). This is important to ensure that the ship is traveling along the planned route as it scans the sea bottom of the study area.

During this shift we collected our first data from the Multibeam Echo Sounder (on board it is referred to as multibeam for short).  The multibeam records data on the seafloor bathymetry and acoustic backscatter. In principle it sends a series of acoustic pulses in a fan from underneath the ship's hull. This sends a suite of soundings to the seafloor which are then reflected back to the receiver on board. This is used to get an idea of the depth and the sea bottom topography. The backscatter gives information about the reflectivity of the seabed, which is related to the type of sediment (sand and gravel give a much stronger echo than soft mud, for example).

Ship using multibeam echosounder to map a swath of seafloor.
Ship using multibeam echosounder to map a swath of seafloor. Credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Matthew and Daniela analyzing results from the multibeam sonar to produce a DTM (digital terrain model) of the Malta Escarpment

Prior to this, the multibeam first has to be  calibrated using an SVP (Sound Velocity Profile). The SVP sensor is deployed from the boat and records the sound velocity in the water as it is lowered through the water column. We will need this information to convert the times of the acoustic echos into real depths underneath the ship, making sure that our data is producing an accurate representation of the seafloor.

 The SVP device is being lowered into the water to calibrate the multibeam system

On the same principle an independent system of pulses are transmitted to establish the layering of the sediments below the seabed. This sub-bottom profiler, also known as CHIRP,  obtains seismic reflections up to the first 50 meters into the sediments. The two systems, multibeam and CHIRP, are working simultaneously and they do not interfere with one another because of the different frequencies they use.

 Joshu anaylsing the seismic reflections from the CHIRP

Day 1

Sunday 31st August, 2014 (17.00)

And we are off !  As the ship sails out of the harbor we get a breathtaking view of Catania and of the gigantic Etna volcano in the background, partially covered with clouds. We all gather on the decks to enjoy the lasting view, knowing that we will not see land for the next 5 days. As the ship takes course for a 10 hour journey to reach our destination, team members prepare for their shifts. Some of us have their dinner and head for an early sleep. First duty calls start at about 2 am.

[ Music by Pitch Black "Ape to Angel"]


Sunday 31st August, 2014

Seven o’clock in the morning and we start to head down for breakfast in the ship’s lounge. At 9 o’clock we all meet for a safety induction meeting. We are briefed on important health and safety matters: what to wear for the different whereabouts on the ship, where to go in case of an emergency, and how to deal with a man overboard, amongst others.

The mission is planned to set sail at 5 in the afternoon. While preparations are underway, some of us go down town to buy closed shoes to fulfill safety regulations on board, followed by some excellent Sicilian cannoli :) We all meet again at 3:30 pm, this time for the scientific meeting headed by Daniela, who is the Party Chief, and Aaron, who is the Chief Scientist of the mission. We are handed our work schedules and grouped into shifts. Technical procedures are discussed and duties described.