Farewell Goldeneye

27 May 2019

Today was our last day of work at the Goldeneye site and we certainly made the most of it. We kicked off the morning with the long-anticipated recovery of the lost Devologic lander. An acoustic release was used to activate the floatation device that ISIS attached yesterday. Once on the surface, the crew fished it out of the water and pulled it on board with the ship’s A-frame crane. And when I say fished, I mean that quite literally! It appears a few fish had made their home in the lander and were rather reluctant to leave. No worries though as the crew was able to evict them and release them back into the sea.

After a long stint on the seafloor, the lander is finally back in our hands!

Complete with a passenger, who was duly released back into the sea!

Of course what better way to bookend the expedition than with one last Gavia AUV deployment. Freya returned to the release site one last time to carry out a final survey which will hopefully reveal how the area has reacted to the gas flow stopping.
And with that we’re done, we’ve accomplished everything we wanted to do – and a little more – in what has surprisingly been a relatively painless experiment. The Goldeneye platform has become a familiar site over the last month and we’re all a little sad to see it go but we’re steaming back to Southampton to move on to the next stage of the STEMM-CCS project.

Farewell Goldeneye!

Back in the swing of things

25 May 2019

The weather has finally died down and that means we’re straight back to work. An earlier morning Gavia AIUV survey kicked the day off, returning to the release site to investigate what the site looks like now the gas flows been stopped.

The afternoon was spent picking up the CO2 tank. This was done by first releasing a float attached to the rig via a long rope that we were then able to hook on the surface and attach to the ship’s huge A-frame. This is a rather sad moment as it represents the end of our experiment here in the North Sea… but on the bright side it also represents how well everything has gone over the last few weeks. We were able to simulate a deep-sea CO2 seep because of this big hunk of metal and gas, shame it’s too big to fit in a trophy cabinet really.

Fishing for the float

And here’s the CO2 rig, back on the ship having done sterling service

Tomorrow we’re all set for an offsite Gavia survey and a daring rescue of the long-lost baseline lander.

Happy Birthday

24 May 2019

It’s been another quiet day on the James Cook as we continue to wait for the weather to calm down enough to pick up the CO2 container. Not that there isn’t still plenty of work to do as teams wrap up their cruise reports and start packing away equipment. There was one last school’s session with the kids of Valentine Primary, and – to really keep everyone active – a final muster drill. The 7 blasts of the ships horn summoning everyone and their lifejackets to the hangar.

A muster drill keeps everyone on their toes…there’s never time for complacency as far as health and safety is concerned.

The muster drill wasn’t the only time the whole team got together today. We also spent the day’s science briefing celebrating everyone’s favourite long-haired handsome blogger’s birthday! I turned 24 today and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend it (… well maybe 3 or 4 but they’re certainly not as unique). It was a really nice surprise with the sensors team going so far as to make balloons out of rubber gloves and our chef Charlotte even baked me a cake!

Happy Birthday Ben!

The weather is set to improve tomorrow so fingers crossed we can get back in the water soon!

Packing up our toys

22 May 2019

It’s been a busy couple of days on the James Cook – so busy I haven’t even been able to write a blog post since Monday! The North Sea is back to its old ways with white capped waves slowly filling the horizon as the ship sways more and more.

Stormy skies over the North Sea

With that in mind we’ve decided to wrap up the controlled release experiment. After 11 days of continuous gas injection and an insane number of surveys, we’ve finally turned everything off and have started to pack away our toys.

Final call on the water samples before we pack everything away

Unfortunately, with the swell increasing we only had a few hours to operate the ROV safely before conditions became too rough today. With only enough room on the sled for one lander at a time it was decided to rescue the benthic chamber as its water samples would soon start to deteriorate, and move the other landers somewhere else. So ISIS rushed down to the release site and one by one moved all our landers off site, creating a kind of underwater parking lot where they can wait out the weather and be clear of any coring our friends on the Poseidon might do.

Of course that’s not the only thing that’s been going on. We’ve been continuing our web-based school sessions with high school students from Oasis Academy Mayfield and Cantell School, as well as Birchgrove Primary School where I finally made my big screen debut! It’s been really rewarding chatting to everyone about our work and despite child labour laws I’m really excited to see just how useful they’ll be as data analysts.

Big screen premiere for Ben at Birchgrove Primary School!

The next few days are set to be a little rough as we wait for the weather to improve with little else to do on the ship but we’ll strap everything down and start writing our cruise reports.

Phoning home

20 May 2019

There’s less than 10 days left on the expedition but the team’s showing no signs of lagging as we push on through for our last few days of surveying. The morning kicked off with another Gavia survey, tracing out a rather spectacular spiral pattern above the experiment site whilst collecting seawater pH data, photographing the seabed and collecting seismic data.

Gavia gets back to work…

…and keeps busy with a complicated survey pattern!

Meanwhile back on board, worried that the great news about our experiment wasn’t reaching enough people, we carried out a live Q&A session with a group of Year 8 students from my old school Whitchurch High. We chatted over Skype about climate change, carbon capture and storage, the controlled release experiment and what it’s like to live on a ship. It was a really enjoyable experience for everyone (even if the AUV team tried to take the opportunity to send an SOS!).

Skype call with students from Whitchurch School

“SOS” from the ROV team.

Of course my motivation for arranging these sessions isn’t entirely selfless. I’m personally too busy operating all my landers (and writing the blog!) to process all the data I’m getting, so the students have kindly “volunteered” to analyse it for me. They’ve been sent a short snippet of footage from the optical lander and following our chat are ready to measure the size and speed of bubbles to help inform my interpretation of the acoustic data.

Part of me feels bad for giving them a load of difficult homework right before the school holidays… but in my defence they are now official a part of the coolest CCS experiment ever!


Sample, sample, sample

19 May 2019

It’s been another grey day on the North Sea, though luckily everyone’s as happy as a kid in a candy shop. Well, if the kid was a highly trained scientist and the candy was fresh samples for analyses…

We’ve been collecting 3 different types of samples during this cruise: sediment, water and gas. Together they are giving us a full picture of exactly how the release of CO2 is affecting the area.

The gas samples are collected by the ROV, catching escaping bubbles in a reverse funnel before sucking them into a vacuum sealed bottle. These are then analysed back on board by Anita who’s looking for exactly how the gas content has changed from what we initially injected.

Clever use of an inverted funnel…

Anita working her magic with the gas samples

The sediment samples are collected using push cores. These empty cylinders are slowly pressed about 30cm into the sediment by the ROV before being pulled up, with all the mud and sand from the seabed wedged inside. Once on board Doug and Kate work to dissect the samples so we can later examine how the chemical properties vary with depth.

Keeping samples cold and clean is important in order to get the most accurate measurements – good job Doug has his trusty STEMM-CCS beanie to keep him warm in the cold lab!

Water samples are being collected in a whole manner of different ways. The easiest to understand is probably the benthic chamber lander, which sits on the seabed and sucks in water samples using on-board syringes. Once back on the surface, Jonas sets to work prepping them for later analyses.

Jonas prepares the benthic chamber samples for analysis – delicate work!

Perhaps the most impressive water sampling system we have though belongs to the sensors team of Allison, Sam and Rudi. Their “Lab on Chip” system allows them to collect water samples and analyse them all under the sea. With sensors attached to the baseline lander, the benthic boundary lander and also the ROV, they are able to measure levels of phosphate, nitrate, total alkalinity, pH and dissolved inorganic carbon without even lifting a finger. You’d think that free up a lot of their time but sadly the sheer number of sensors require a lot of maintenance.

The sensors team: there’s not much they can’t detect with their array of super-sensitive sniffers!

Grey skies

18 May 2019

It appears the uncharacteristically nice weather of the last few weeks has finally left us. The beautiful blue skies have been replaced with a shroud of white fog giving the boat an extra spooky feel today. Not that that’s anything to deter us… this far into the cruise, preparing and deploying all of the landers has become second nature to us all. So much so that we’ve begun designing new experiments and different uses for the landers.

Grey skies greet us this morning

Having already proven its adaptability following its resurrection, the optical lander was the first pick for such work. In order to investigate how the size of bubbles changes as they rise upwards, the lightning panel was removed from the lander and turned into a rather unwieldly mace for our ROV ISIS to hold. The screen was then held behind a bubble stream as the ROV slowly rose upwards, recording the shrinking of the bubbles as the CO2 slowly dissolves into the water column. These kind of experiments normally take months of planning, so being able to MacGyver them at sea really shows just how talented everyone on board is.


Planning changes to the benthic chambers

The bubble screen experiment in action

Sadly, the weather did deteriorate briefly enough to delay an ROV deployment but the team on board made the best of free time with a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit. Naturally, I was the winner – even though I had to carry my team mate, project leader Doug Connelly (it’s OK, he’s far too busy running things to read the blog… I hope!)

HIgh stakes on the Trivial Pursuits board

Lights, camera, action!

16 May 2019

It’s been a glorious day on board the James Cook for a number of reasons. First and foremost (for me!) being the successful deployment of the optical lander or, as it was dubbed after its disastrous first dive, the “Zombie Lander”. Our emergency repairs involved all kinds of creativity, including stealing the spring from a clipboard, but it was an amazing job – another testament to all the great people we have working on board.

And here it is – our first up close look at the bubbles escaping from the seabed. We even managed to catch a glimpse of some of the wildlife (it seems everyone wants to be on TV…).

The footage of bubbles will be analysed to determine their size, shape and speed. However, this is an incredibly time-consuming process that either requires a lot of computing or man power, neither of which we have much access to on the ship. So, in order to get some preliminary results whilst at sea, we’re subcontracting the work to a number of schools in England and Wales. Students will examine the footage and relay results to us next week during a live online Q&A session.

Elsewhere on the ship the benthic chambers were placed on the seabed before wrapping up a comparatively easy day for the ROV team. We’ve since left the area to let our fellow research ship Poseidon carry out some water column tests of their own but we’ll be back tomorrow to resume work.

Benthic chambers in action

Dive, dive, dive…dive

15 May 2019

How many ROV dives can you fit into single day? This appears to have become the secondary research objective of this cruise as we continue to push the ROV team more and more as we work ISIS harder and harder. Today we managed not 2, not 3, but an unprecedented 4 dives in a 24-hour period.

A busy day for ROV Isis!

The first dive late last night continued our regular microprofiler surveys, moving the lander progressively closer to seep site. Or should I say seep sites – plural! As the experiment has progressed the area has become a real hive of activity. We’ve seen dozens of small CO2 gas seeps appear and disappear in the area, with a few long-lasting ones forming small pockmarks (craters in the sediment surface, formed by the bubbles). This dive also included the traditional gas and water sampling alongside sediment core collection for analyses back on board.

Microprofiler on the move…

The second dive was comparatively simply as ISIS collected one of the hydrophone walls from the site and brought it back on deck. The hydrophone wall has been recording noise around the seep. This gives us an important insight into manmade sounds in the North Sea – notably the ROV and James Cook itself, but also things like the laying of undersea cables far away. All these data help inform our analysis of bubble acoustics.

Hydrophone wall: wired for sound

The third dive was a classic switcheroo as one benthic chamber was swapped out for another to ensure a continuous time series of data throughout the experiment. And of course the dive was rounded off with more gas and water samples.

Swapping out the benthic chambers…

The fourth and final dive of the day saw the return of a fan favourite, as the newly resurrected bubble frame was sent back down (see the blog entry from 13 May). The team managed to salvage one of the camera housings and dipped it over the side of the boat to ensure it really is waterproof this time before risking our final camera in it. And as a great example of inter-team cooperation the AUV guys have lent us one of their cameras to use on the lander as well. We should know tomorrow whether the newly dubbed “Zombie Lander” has worked or not. Which means Thursday’s blog will either include amazing close ups of bubbles or a new author as I go into mourning…

As above, so below…

14 May 2019

Looks like our luck is back and stronger than ever as we round off another full day of surveying with some fascinating new finds. After spending the night away from the experimental site we returned this morning to redeploy our old favourite Freya, the Gavia AUV. Although initially reluctant to dive she eventually spent a few hours patrolling the site collecting sidescan sonar and sub-bottom data.

Launch of the AUV Gavia, aka Freya, with the Goldeneye platform on the horizon

The sub-bottom data is created by sending out a series of high frequency sound waves into the seabed and observing the strength of the sound waves reflected back, like sonar. However, unlike sonar, the sound waves actually travel into the underlying sediment and reflect off the interior layers in the sediment, allowing us to see what is under the surface. Today’s sub-bottom survey was particularly exciting as it revealed the exact position of the gas pipe we’ve been using in the experiment, and shows our gas escaping from it just as we planned.

Sub-bottom profile data showing the position of the pipe (black dot) and – to the trained eye – the gas escape above it (the fuzzy bit!)

That’s not the only thing going on today though – the sensors team is hard at work processing the data from their landers. Despite the rate of bubble release being relatively low, less than 30ml/min, they’re already seeing distinct changes in the chemical properties of the water and the sediment in response. We’re so pleased with these results we’ve decided to roll onto the next phase of the experiment, upping the flow of CO2 from the tank to increase the rate of bubble release. Stay tuned to find out what happens over the next few days…

PS – How cool is this? Footage from the ROV of CO2 gas bubbling out of the seafloor sediments at the experiment site!

Almost as cool as the STEMM-CCS beanie hats that the team is sporting today…

Everyone is working hard – clockwise from top left: Isabella, Rudi, Paul & Chris, and Dirk. Team beanie hats abound today!