Wednesday, 30 April 2014


Can you predict the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation?   Or would you like to win a RRS James Cook mug?    If your answer to either of these questions is yes then read on and enter our competition.

The AMOC at 26°N from 2004 to 2012.
How has it changed  since then?
Earlier this year we published a paper describing the evolution of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (that is something of a mouthful so we usually call it the AMOC) (ref. 1).     Its been quite variable but the average trend has been downward.    Our colleagues at the University of Reading have published a paper predicting that it will continue to decline (ref. 2).  Are they right? *

Perhaps you have a model that can calculate the AMOC?   Or would you like to make a guess?  Either way we would like to hear from you.

RRS James Cook mug to be awarded to he winner of our competition
Please let us know your estimate for the mean AMOC at 26°N for the period 1st October 2012 to 31st September 2013.     At the end of the cruise we will make a preliminary calculation based on the data we have collected.    The winner of the competition will be the estimate that is closest our preliminary value.    We calculate the AMOC in units of Sverdrups, with one Sverdrup being equal to one million cubic metres per second.   To help you make your estimate here are the mean values for previous years  (these are averages for 12 months starting in April each year).

  Year     2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  
  AMOC(Sv) 17.8  20.1  19.5  18.0  17.5  12.9  16.7  17.5

The best estimates will be listed on our blog and if you win we will ask you for your address so we can send you your RRS James Cook mug (please don't post your address now).

The rules of the competition are:

1.  Entires should be made by adding a comment to this post or by email to with the subject "JC103 competition" and received no later than 31st May 2014. Alternatively you can tweet your entry using  .

2.  Only one entry per person please.

3.  The estimate closest to our preliminary calculation will be the winner.  In the event of a tie a draw will be held to decide who will receive the RRS James Cook mug.

4.  The Principal Scientist's decision will be final and no appeals will be considered

*Jon Robson and co-authros would probably wish us to point out that they were not making a prediction for a particular year but suggesting that the average trend will be downwards.    So even if the AMOC goes up now that would not necessarily mean that they are wrong.    We need to wait a few more years before we can judge that.

(1) Smeed, D.A., McCarthy, G.D., Cunningham, S.A., Frajka-Williams, E., Rayner, D., Johns, W.E., Meinen, C.S., Baringer, M.O., Moat, B.I., Duchez, A., Bryden, H.L., 2014. Observed decline of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation 2004-2012. Ocean Sci. 10, 29–38.

(2) Robson, J., Hodson, D., Hawkins, E., Sutton, R., 2013. Atlantic overturning in decline? Nat. Geosci. 7, 2–3.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

An English experience

A post by Lola Pérez Hernández

RRS James Cook alongside in Port of Spain
After a week I’ve begun to think in English. It might sound strange but I’m the only Spanish speaker on board and soon I won’t know whether I’m speaking English or Spanish. This is an English vessel, a female, not a male as with Spanish ships. Probably English ships complain more, who knows…  It is not my first time at sea but it is my first time on an English boat.  Thus this is the first dining room with a queen instead of a king hanging on the wall, there is no movie/siesta time if you are out of shift, but instead tea at 5, we have eggy breakfasts instead of toast with olive oil or Sunday “chocolate con churros”, an individual cabin instead of sharing (umm I’ll can get used to that), board games indoors instead of yoga or table tennis in the helicopter landing area (yes we’ve lost many balls),…

Cabin on the James Cook

Cabin on the Cornide de Saavedra
There are some things in common though. In every boat I’ve been on, good food is always served. Let me explain “good”: abundant, tasty, the kind that makes you leave the boat gaining some weight.  In all of them there are three main groups of people: the crew, the technicians and us the scientist, although the boundaries between groups are clearer in English vessels. All boats have their TV-DVD room with an amazing collection of movies, a library, a conference room and a peculiarly small gym. This boat has a bar, Spanish boats serve a bottle of wine at lunch and dinner. Here we have free biscuits while the Spanish military boat had a leg of “jamon Serrano” every two weeks. 

Jamón Serrano on the Hespérides
Being in an English boat full of English speakers makes me realize how many English accents there are. The first days I’ve probably looked like an idiot, all those accents were a hard job to follow! There are British from London, Southampton and Yorkshire, American, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, foreign English and a bunch I haven’t identified yet!

So how is being in James Cook as a student? It is a huge boat, I believe bigger than our newest Spanish ship Sarmiento de Gamboa or even Hespérides. There aren´t too many people and everybody knows each other (it’s been ten years of RAPID, you know?). So I wake up, have breakfast, work, coffee, learn, eat, learn, work, eat, eat, tea, work, learn, eat, watch a movie or play board games (did I say I’ve eaten?) and go to bed. I’m exhausted and willing for more, so sorry guys I’m already falling asleep.
BO Sarmiento de Gamboa 
BO Hespérides

The Monkey Nest

View back towards the ship from the monkey nest.  The port-side total irradiance meter is in the foreground (the white disk).  The PAR sensor (photosynthetically active radiation) is just behind it.

Written by Lola, Neela and Eleanor...

Ben and Gerard enjoying the sun.
Today is day four of JC103.  We've been busy setting up the data processing streams and getting ready for the moorings work which starts on the 29th.  One of the things we had to do was to climb up to the monkey nest to inspect the meterological equipment and take serial numbers from the instruments.  This is standard practice on any research vessel, to make sure we know what equipment we're using and how to best process it. 

The monkey nest is at the bow on the forecastle deck.  You can see it in the picture to the left.  To get there, we had to climb two little staircases, and go through a hatch in the roof.  This meant wearing boots and hardhats.  Your first impression when you get up there is not so comfortable--the rails tilt outwards and you're high above the deck, and the water below.   But the view is incredible.  You can see it in the top picture---water water all around.

Neela and Eleanor climbing to the monkey nest.
Lola and the bridge.
Besides light, we also measure winds, temperature, humidity and pressure.   It's been about 77.9% humidity, and 27 deg C.  The wind has been about 8 knots relative to the ship.  So basically, the weather has been amazing.  As you can see in the picture, the cloud cover today was minimal and you could see a good distance.  We passed between the Dominincan Republic and Puerto Rico through the Mono Passage, and overnight will cross the Puerto Rico Trench.  These will be the deepest waters we encounter on the trip. According to the "Atlas 2014" iPhone app, this includes the "Milwaukee deep" which is 8600 m deep, and the deepest part of the Atlantic.  

??? Does anyone know whether this is really called a monkey nest?  Add your thoughts below.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Safety at Sea

Eleanor, Lola, Ben and Neela, in the main lab wearing safety gear.
Research ships like the RRS James Cook are generally quite safe. However, being at sea is not the same as being on land. If someone gets sick or gets hurt, there isn't a hospital nearby. So, we take safety very seriously on board the ship. Whenever we go out on the working deck, hard-hats and steel-toed boots are required. The same goes for in port. When Lola, Ben, Neela and I had to go get our port passes from the police station in Trinidad, we dressed up in our safety gear.

Gathered on the deck near the lifeboat, taking the register.
We also practice what to do in an emergency. On the first day of sailing, we had a safety drill. This is similar to a fire drill at school. Here, the ship's bell rang the general alarm: 7 short blasts followed by one long ring of the bell. This signal meant that we had to gather or "muster" near the back deck and wait for someone to tell us what to do. For the drill, and for any real alarm, we wear our boots, a jumper, a woolly hat and bring our life vest. From there, we went to our assigned lifeboats, and put on our life vests. You can see us discussing safety in the picture.

Lola, Neela and Eleanor in the life boat.
Since Neela, Lola and I hadn't sailed on the RRS Cook before, we also got to try out the life boats. These are the bright orange boats that you can see on each side of the ship. The inside of the lifeboats were toasty warm, and it would be a snug fit with lots of people in them. Each of the two lifeboats on the RRS Cook can carry 54
passengers. There are also 6 extra life rafts. Each of them can carry 20 passengers.  We didn't try the life rafts.

If you remember the Titanic, one of the problems they had was that
there wasn't enough space in the lifeboats for everyone. Since we
currently only have 35 people on board, and two lifeboats with 54
spaces, and 6 life rafts with 20 spaces, there is plenty of space for
everyone. Also, since we are near Venezuela at 13 deg N, 64 deg W,
the water is quite warm (28 deg C) and there are no icebergs around.

Farewell to Trinidad

Its been a few days since our last post.  Since then everyone has been busy preparing for our voyage.    As well as the usual supplies required for the ship ten containers of equipment has had to be organised and prepared.   The final task in Trinidad was to take on fuel over Tuesday night and once that was complete we set off on Wednesday morning.    We now have 3 days steaming till we reach our first CTD station on Saturday.

Unforatunately we did not get to see much of Port of Spain but here are a few photos

Market in Charlotte Street

Our hotel was close to the Parliament building which had this tribute to Trinidad and Tobago's Olympic medal winners.

The RRS James Cook

Our lat view of Port of Spain

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Where's the ship?

The first of the scientists, Gerard, Darren and David, left home early on Friday morning to travel to Port of Spain.  The remaining scientists will travel on Sunday and the technical staff arrived on Thursday.   The RRS James Cook was due to dock here on Friday and we expected to be on board preparing our equipment today.    But things often don't go to plan and this trip is no exception.   There is industrial action by the dockyard workers of Port of Spain and this has caused some delays.     The ship has been waiting off shore for the last two days but has been unable to dock.  We can just about see it from our hotel.

You can see it more clearly in this zoomed in view.

The picture also shows that although we get to travel to tourist destinations such as Trinidad we don't normally stay in the usual tourist locations.

10 years of RAPID

The RAPID 26°N project has been measuring the overturning circulation in the subtropical Atlantic since April 2004.    The instruments required for this work are deployed on an array of moorings spanning the Atlantic from the Bahamas to Africa.   Periodically the equipment needs to be serviced and the data recovered, and this has been done in a sequence of research cruises.  We are currently preparing for the latest of these expeditions and will use this blog to describe our work and life on board the RRS James Cook.   The blog is a personal view for our families, friends, colleagues and anyone else interested in our work.
We are scheduled to sail on 22nd April from Port of Spain, Trinidad, and the cruise finishes in early June at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands.   Once we have recovered all of the data we will have a 10-year record of observations of the overturning circulation, a significant milestone for our work.
We hope you can follow our posts to learn more about the RAPID 26°N project.   You can also find more information at our website