Blog entry by Lisa Skein
Excitement levels were high on board the RRS James Cook as we finally set sail for the Whittard Canyon at 11:00 on Saturday morning. Earlier the morning, the science crew received an introduction to the ROV Isis. In the coming days this ROV, rated to go to depths up to 6500 m, will be fitted with a range of tools to collect valuable biological, geological and chemical samples from Whittard Canyon and the Porcupine Abyssal Plain. In addition, the visual footage from Isis will be livestreamed in the main lab so that everyone will be able to see what Isis is seeing! We cannot wait to share images from the first ROV dive that will take place in a couple of days once we’ve reached our first site in Whittard Canyon.
Within a few hours of setting sail, the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) was deployed behind the ship and will be brought back on board in about two days’ time when we reach Whittard Canyon. The CPR was designed in 1931 and the particular device used in JC237 is a strong contender for being one of the oldest devices currently being used on board. With a clever mechanical design, the CPR is, as per its name, continuously collecting planktonic species as we sail from Southampton to Whittard Canyon. As water moves through the CPR, plankton specimens are deposited onto a layer of silk that slowly unrolls from its coil inside the device whereafter it gets preserved until later analyses which will be performed by the Marine Biological Association. This will give researchers an idea of plankton communities and how they may change as one moves from the coast, over the continental shelf and across the Whittard Canyon.
At the same time, the ship’s underway system is supplying surface water to the eDNA laboratory. From this surface water, the Robotic Cartridge Sampling Instrument (RoCSI) is autonomously collecting genetic samples, one sample each hour. These samples will be preserved until the end of the cruise whereafter molecular analysis will tell us which plankton species have left traces of their DNA in the surface water. As the samples collected by the CPR and RoCSI are essentially covering the same area during the same time, it will be very interesting to compare the results yielded by these two sampling techniques. Samples collected via RoCSI may reveal species not detected by the CPR, and vice versa. A combination of these techniques can therefore give us a pretty good idea of the plankton communities we passed during our transit from Southampton to Whittard Canyon. This work forms part of the AtlantECO & CLASS programmes.
Back to the main lab, where our first night shift team is busy settling into their new routine. We are lucky to have a great weather forecast for the coming days and at the moment everything is smooth sailing! Watch this space for more updates from JC237.