The STEMM-CCS controlled release experiment involves two ships – the UK research vessel James Cook, and the German research vessel Poseidon. Both ships are carrying scientists from the STEMM-CCS project, and the ships will work together to make all the necessary measurements and surveys to make the experiment a success. Below are the updates from the team aboard RV Poseidon – you can read the original blogs in German here.
23 May 2019
My last day on board – blog entry by Saskia
Unbelievable, but today is already the last day of my voyage. The final days have passed in flight. Somewhat wistful, I stand at the railing and look over the seemingly infinite water. Tomorrow morning two more scientists and I fly home from Aberdeen, our work is done. But the Poseidon will continue her research at Goldeneye for another week.
Today we prepare everything for the departure. The equipment that the scientists do not need in the second part of the journey must be safely packed and sorted into the right sea crates. Each sea chest is labelled with what needs to be stowed. Customs receive a packing list and check the crates for contents.
The equipment is then stored in the load (a storage room in the lower part of the ship) until it reaches Bremerhaven, from where it is loaded onto trucks and transported back to Kiel to the GEOMAR. Of course, the box we need next is always at the bottom. But soon it’s done and everything is safely stowed away.
For three weeks the Poseidon was my home and the ship and all the people on board have grown very close to my heart. It was a really great experience that I will never forget. We had everything with us, storm and nausea, sun on deck, night-long work, a relaxed day to rest and enjoy, the joy of the repaired equipment and much more.
At this point I would like to thank all passengers, science and crew. You made this trip to the super ride it was. Thank you for taking part in my yoga lessons on the top deck, playing darts in the evening, the funny rounds where we sat together, the lessons about the ship’s engines and steering, working in a team. I could continue the list indefinitely.
I hope I could give you an insight into life at sea and research and it was fun to read the blog. Who knows, maybe I’ll be on an expedition again sometime and tell you about what happened on board.
Until then, ahoy and greetings,
19 May 2019 – blog entry by Saskia and Isabelle
More than half of my first expedition is over over now and I have been able to make many exciting experiences. Since it was my first sea voyage, everything was new for me and I didn’t know what to expect before.
On the James Cook, our British partner ship at the Goldeneye area, there is also a student on board. For her, research is a whole new area. We are in contact by email and I asked her how she liked it on the research ship and what was happening on board. Here’s her answer…
Also here on the James Cook, time flies really crazy fast. Meanwhile we are 2 weeks at sea and about the same amount lies ahead of us. We were really lucky with the weather so far! It has not rained a single time and the sea is very calm. Perfect for an optimal execution of our experiments! As you know, we brought a large gas tank with CO2 to the seabed and let it rise in a controlled way from pipes that the team laid 3 meters below the seabed. This allows us to simulate a small leak in the seabed in order to test several measurement techniques and to explore new methods for quickly finding such leaks in the huge North Sea. Jonas, my colleague from GEOMAR in Kiel, and I use two so-called benthic chambers. These chambers help us to track flows of e.g. oxygen and other dissolved substances between sediment and ground water. I have to say, I really underestimated the work for “the little water collecting” at the beginning of the project, because I didn’t know what to prepare and post-process! The chamber is programmed shortly before the dive and brought to the seabed with the help of the diving robot (ROV) “ISIS”. This is totally exciting every time and the atmosphere in the surveillance room of the ROV always reminded me a bit of that during a moon landing. Everybody is staring at the dozens of screens and follows the ease with which the team controls the giant diving robot and its gripper arms.
The team on the ship has meanwhile worked very well together and since there is always work to be done somewhere, you help yourself wherever you can. But if you have a free minute, you like to meet for darts, kickers or card games. We also have a cinema, a gym and sauna, but often you just enjoy a quiet minute on deck in the fresh sea air.
I really enjoy my first research trip – every day brings new, exciting tasks and I learn so much new things…this trip is already a great experience for me!
I send you many greetings 500m across the North Sea,
17 May 2019
There’s fantastic news. After a few days of intensive work on the repair of the broken cable for the underwater mass spectrometer, we’ve found a solution now with which the instrument is ready for use. Keeping your fingers crossed has helped!
Before the device can be used on a station, it has to be tested first. On the scheduled morning everyone gathers excitedly on deck. The final polish is done and then the instrument is ready to dive into the North Sea. We watch with excitement as it is hung on the strong steel cables and carefully lifted from the deck by the winch and towards the open water, while two crew members secure the structure with ropes. Finally it is slowly lowered and eludes our sight as the water becomes darker and darker with depth.
We quickly go into the dry lab where the command centre is set up. Now it’s getting exciting. Do we have a signal, see the results of the mass spectrometer directly and can the control system work? Sergiy, the technician who developed the instrument, is particularly excited; he put so much energy and passion into the project. Then the moment of relief: the monitors show a signal, we see the measurement curves of the mass spectrometer, the camera shows live shots, the pressure displays are in the optimal range and the control also works great.
Joy is spreading, but we have not yet reached the seabed, where conditions are becoming more difficult. The special thing about the spectrometer is that the valves and pumps can be controlled and adjusted via the fibre optic cable, allowing the spectrometer to react spontaneously to any situation that arises during operation.
Slowly we continue towards the bottom until we have the first view of the ground and stop the device. According to the map we are above a former drillhole. This we would like to see and take measurements around it, so the captain slowly steers the Poseidon over the area. Down there we see some old scrap metal that has been sunk. Also an old pipe that seems to lead into the seabed. But since everything is covered by a fine layer of sediment, it is difficult to see anything more accurate. At another station we even find an old borehole
After a few hours our exploration is finished and the instrument we recover the instrument. Everything worked without any problems, what a success!
In the evening, our efforts are rewarded with a beautiful sunset. We gather on deck and enjoy the view. The water is calm and the setting sun is reflected in the sea that starts to sparkle.
15 May 2019
After our last stop we continue across the North Sea. Our destination: Goldeneye!
Another oil rig appears out of the shadow of dusk – we have arrived. But it’s not just us who have set our sights on this target, there is another research vessel here, the James Cook. Our meeting is no coincidence, we will carry out an experiment in teamwork.
The James Cook directs controlled small amounts of CO2 into the sediment, which then rises and is released into the ocean as a fine bubble current. Our task is to analyse the environment before, during and after the release.
In the morning we launched a lander (a device that is placed on the seabed and measures current, temperature and salinity), which collects data for us in the next two weeks until we collect it again.
Then a Video-CTD (remember?) is lifted into the water and lowered to the bottom where it stays until evening. Every 60 minutes the scientists and I take samples from the hose that delivers water directly from the depth.
Later we have an exclusive look into the otherwise inaccessible areas below deck. We climb through small hatches, down ladders and over wooden footbridges down into the heart of the Poseidon. Here it looks adventurous, pipes, boilers and hydraulic systems crowd close together. The noise of machines roars in my ears while I look around curiously. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pierce Brosnan lurked behind a corner ready to fire at this scenery. Really impressive what is neede in order to operate a ship. Great respect to the crew, who keeps their eye on things and make these research voyages possible for us.
The next station of our ship’s tour is the kitchen and its storerooms. For the long voyages some provisions have to be planned and stored. Cold stores and large freezers are available to preserve the food. You can help yourself to fresh fruit at any time and there are freshly baked rolls every morning. The cook conjures up great meals with lots of variation every day. At noon there is also a soup before the main course and on Thursdays and Sundays there is ice cream for dessert. Fridays are traditionally fish and Saturdays there is a stew. On the ship where the days flow into each other and one loses any feeling for the weekdays, this can serve as orientation.
With a dumbwaiter the meals are sent upwards and lovingly served to us by the steward. Not having to worry about cooking, covering up and washing up is a great luxury and I am very grateful for it.
In the meantime, James Cook has made all the preparations for the start of the experiment and placed a gas tank and some utensils on the seabed. Now it’s our turn! In the night we will launch another CTD and start measurements. Via the camera we can see the instruments on the seabed and fly over the area.
Stay tuned…all the best, Saskia
11 May 2019 – blog entry by Saskia
The sea god Poseidon has mercy on our Poseidon and finally releases us from the storm. Slowly the sea becomes calmer and we dare to sail out of the protective land environment into the open North Sea.
But we are not alone there. As I let my eyes wander over the water I suddenly see a metal monster protrude out of the water. Huge and with towers and points. And soon more and more follow, sometimes smaller, sometimes impressively big. But it’s not Poseidon’s Transformer Army, but oil platforms that produce the popular raw material here on the North Sea. At night, the sight is particularly impressive when the metal colossuses are irradiated with thousands of lamps and appear illuminated like a Christmas tree in the darkness.
But it is not only the oil platforms that dominate the North Sea: pipelines, buried under the seabed invisible to the human eye, also run through the area. Some of them have been there for a very long time – the first were laid in the 1970s and there was a boom in the 1980s and 1990s. Meanwhile, the North Sea is crossed by pipelines and production facilities, as well as by offshore wind farms, gravel pits, etc. If you are interested in more detailed information about the German North Sea, please visit the website of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie)
During our expedition we also want to investigate the influence of methane leakages on the seafloor. This includes the detection of methane leaks, and so we sail to an area with known boreholes and cross them in loops. With the built-in echo sounder/ADCP these gas leaks can be detected by the rising bubbles of the gases and the coordinates can be noted. Our schedule is to arrive there at night and cross the bridge, which is done by night shifts to ensure detection. I also get a shift assigned and so I set the alarm clock to be able to take over punctually at the beginning of the shift. At night it is a completely different atmosphere on the ship, only the slight roaring of the machines and the sound of the waves penetrate the silence. I take my seat in front of the monitor and start my shift. In fact, we also run over a gas leak that I record and note.
The next morning we want to take a closer look at one of the gas outlets and take samples there. For this we prepare a wreath water sampler which is equipped with many sensors (CTD). If a scientist needs special values, he attaches another measuring device to the metal ring. In addition, a camera with a downward view and a pump with a long hose are installed to transport water directly from the depth upwards and to examine it. We connect a mass spectrometer to the tube so that we can directly identify the gases dissolved in the water.
Finally everything is ready and the Video-CTD is lifted by the winch boom and lowered into the water.
After it has broken through the water surface and been swallowed by the sea, I go into the laboratory with the control device to be able to look at the pictures of the camera live. A stream of white particles floating through the image is conspicuous, this phenomenon is appropriately called “marine snow” and is caused by organisms that have died in the upper water layers and serve as food sources for other living beings.
When the CTD arrived at the bottom of the ocean, I was amazed to see the video images in the lab. An insight into life in 70 m water depth reveals itself to us. The ground is covered with sand, a floe swims away quickly, and my personal highlight is a starfish that seems to wave to us.
10 May 2019
Hello, landlubbers! Blog entry by Jill
I have settled in well at sea and got used to the peculiarities of a ship. The rocking as a constant companion is now also familiar to me. I enjoy letting my eyes wander over the water and watching the waves break. On the lower outer deck you are hardly higher than the waterline, which creates a fascinating atmosphere. Around us only water and far away the horizon. Some bird species like petrels and boobies accompany us hoping for some food.
To prepare myself for the first correct measurement, I took some time to practice. This starts with the collection of the seawater to be examined. We have different vessels with different characteristics for this, depending on the parameter to be determined. A few parameters, such as oxygen, are measured and evaluated directly on the ship, while others are measured in the GEOMAR laboratory when we return from our voyage.
The samples that we take back with us must also be stored and handled correctly so that the parameter to be measured does not change over time. Adding mercury II chloride, for example, stops biological processes in the sample.
When collecting seawater, it is important that the sample is filled bubble-free and that no air is trapped when the vessel is closed, otherwise the sample could be invalid. It’s still stormy and I’m almost caught by a high wave that washes over the deck. Despite the uncomfortable weather it is fun to stand outside and work, avoiding the waves and splashes of water and filling the vessels.
The other scientists are also busy with test measurements, calibration of the equipment and other preparations. One device fascinates me, it was specially built as part of the STEMM-CCS project and has only been used on the research vessel POLARSTERN in 2017. Afterwards it was further improved and will be used again on this voyage. The special thing about the instrument is that it performs the measurements directly under water at the location to be investigated (in-situ measurement). The results are super-accurate because the environmental parameters are changed when the sample is scooped up and taken up to the surface, which is avoided when using this instrument. A mass spectrometer can be used to detect the concentrations of different trace substances, i.e. to determine the composition of the sea water, e.g. how much CO2 or methane is dissolved.
In addition, a video camera and two lamps are installed so that real-time images can be obtained from the depths. If there are areas on the seabed with outflowing gases, these can be detected directly using the rising bubbles. I can’t wait to see this device in action and catch a glimpse into the sea, but there is still a problem with it. The engineer who built the device is on board and circles the problem further and further until he can trace it back to a cable break in the glass fibre of the winch that supplies the device.
However, special material is required to fix this. The team knows how to react quickly and colleagues on land in GEOMAR are contacted. They organise the material and transport it to us on the ship. After customs has approved the transport, we sail to the nearest port in Hirtshals, where a few hours later the packed sea chest is handed over to us by speedboat. Keep your fingers crossed that the fracture will soon be identified and can be repaired.
4 May 2019
When I woke up this morning and looked out the window, I saw land on the horizon. We are on our way to Denmark, more precisely to Hirtshals. The two Kongsberg engineers who have installed a newly developed echo sounder/ADCP will leave the ship today.
Before they left, we took a group photo. Everyone was standing on deck and finally we saw a small motorboat steering towards us, which picked up the engineers to return them to shore. With the swell it was not so easy to steer the small boat to the Poseidon.
First the luggage was loaded and the two men put on life jackets for safety, before they climbed over the side and onto the motorboat. We waved goodbye as they sailed away. Finally they disappeared into the distance and the Poseidon glided on her way through the water.
The sun was shining and I got a morning coffee, which I enjoyed outside on deck, while the sunrays warmed my face. What a beautiful moment!
But at sea the weather can change quickly, and only a few hours later it looks quite different. On deck the wind whips us around the ears and we have to be careful not to fall over when a high wave suddenly reaches the Poseidon. I am curious how we deal with the situation and what the next steps are, so I go with a scientist to the bridge to inquire.
The bridge impresses me with all the monitors, levers and indicators. We get everything explained and can look around in peace. Unfortunately there is bad news: the weather is against us and we have to stay in the Skagerrak (“weather down” as I learn). To go further out to the open North Sea would not be advisable at the moment, because the swell and the winds are too strong.
The storm is a problem for all of us and some of the scientists, including myself, are struggling with nausea … the crew, on the other hand, are well weathered and have no problems with the weather!
1 May 2019
My first day at sea – by Saskia
When my alarm clock rang this morning, I jumped out of bed excited. Today begins the 3-week research expedition to the North Sea with the RV Poseidon. It is my first sea voyage and I am happy to accompany the scientists on their expedition. I am a student and study physics of the Earth System at the Kiel University. I will support the scientists in their investigations and hope to gain completely new insights into research.
The Poseidon sails today from the Eastshore harbour of Kiel. Once I have arrived there, a friendly dock worker at the safety barrier explains to me the way to the ship through the harbour area. The large area with its cranes and warehouses intimidates me a bit, but I see the top of the mast behind all the equipment. So I set off and finally find the Poseidon. My heart beats pretty fast crossing the gangway. I will live and work on this ship for 3 weeks now.
Arriving on board work starts directly . A few things still have to be prepared and quickly I am engrossed in connecting devices, securing cargo and testing measuring units. I hardly notice my excitement anymore and so time flies. Suddenly we are on our way.
Of course there is also a safety briefing before the start. We gather on deck with our life jackets. Also one of the rescue suits is shown and I am allowed to put it on as an exercise – not so easy! But with the friendly help of my fellow travellers I am finally completely packed.
I have to say, I am surprised, the suit feels warm and safe and not as uncomfortable as you might think from the outside. Nevertheless I never want to get into the situation to need it.
After lunch, a scientist shows me how to use the Winkler device (?) for oxygen measurement. It is strange not to stand in the usual environment in the laboratory at Geomar on land, but quickly I get used to the special atmosphere and the tethering while rocking the waves.
Before we can examine the samples of our journey, we must determine a so-called titration value which is used for the further measurement. But where did we stow the pipette tips again? Fortunately, all drawers and boxes are labeled and organized so that I can find my way around quickly and have all the materials together.
As it slowly begins to get darker outside, it becomes calmer on the ship. The busy hustle and bustle slowly subsides and the cosy part of the day is rung in. One exchanges oneself and gets to know oneself better. The people on board come from completely different parts of the earth and they all have a common passion – the sea.