Transatlantic cruise JC134

In March - April 2016 we've set sail again for a four-week's transatlantic cruise on board Royal Research Ship James Cook to recover all moored instruments and buoys that have collected dust and other data during the past four years.

Although this is the last cruise of the two projects TRAFFIC (NWO-funded) and DUSTTRAFFIC (ERC-funded), we managed to secure shiptime for next year, allowing us to re-deploy some of the instruments for another year of dust- and data collection.

On this blog, we'll keep you updated on our adventures at sea. Please drop us a note (jbstuut-at-nioz.nl) if you have any questions!?


Click on the ship to see her actual position.

                                                                            blog by Lydia Sevenster (in Dutch)

blog by Gemma Venhuizen (in Dutch)


We congratulate Nynke de Boer (Groningen) with winning a James-Cook T-shirt. She recognized the glass eel in the blog on the 27 March.

The cattle egret [Dutch: Koereigers] of 2 April and the sea-elephant of 11 April were not recognized.

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16 April: So long, and thanks for the fish!!

This is the last entry of our blog.
Thanks for following us!!

We look back to a very successful and pleasant cruise onboard the Cook.

We thank captain John Leask and his crew for a splendid Transatlantic crossing. We will not easily forget your warm hospitality and extremely nice yet professional working atmosphere!!

On the picture, R2L: Corina, Yvo, Bob, Anna, Kirsten, Laura, Franzi, Chris, Noel, Patrick, Paul, Barry, Toni, Bert, Andy, Monica, Billy, Tessa, Lydia, Gary, Oliver, Dirk, John, Anne, Nick (hiding on the bridge), Catarina, Wally, Mark, Pete, Carl, Michelle, Laura, Gemma, Jaap, Rob, Geert-Jan, Anthony, Bob, Jan-Berend

15 April: Congrats to Wally and Pete!

With Tenerife in the background, we had a small ceremony for cook Wally and steward Pete; they have been working for the company for 30 years! They've been taking excellent care for our well being this trip!! On the picture, L2R: purser Anthony, steward Pete, captain John, and cook Wally.


We will enter the port of Sta Cruz tomorrow morning, so there is plenty of time to do some maintenance and practicing with the life boat. First Mate Stewart and 3rd engineer Noel are having a ball testing the speed of the ife boat. We noticed that the life boat does not have a name and therefore baptised it "James' Cookie".

14 April: Playful dolphins

Today we had great weather: a nice 25 degrees, no wind and the ocean was flat as a pancake. Although we started packing up today, we also took this opportunity to spot some whales and dolphins.

The dolphins were very curious and came close to swim and play at the bow of the ship, such a nice sight!

13 April: Dust collectors at sunrise

So far, we have not encountered a lot of dust, given the time we spent so close to the northwest African sources. We knew that March-April is not really the season for dust outbreaks, so we are happy with the few good samples that we managed to collect. Toni's impactor resulted in some very nice samples which seem to indicate that mineral dust and soot can be relatively easily separated on the basis of particle size. This could have major implications for the radiative properties of aerosols as there is a huge difference in optical properties of black-charcoal and e.g., quartz particles.

12 April: Incubations

To test if we can trigger a phytoplankton bloom with dust, we have filled 6-liter bottles with seawater, to which we added different types and concentrations of dust. These bottles are kept under light conditions in which these bugs normally live (that's why the bath tubs are covered with bed sheets) and at the temperatures they are used to. Each day we take subsamples to see if and to which extent the bugs respond. This experiment is quite labour intensive and Laura does a great job in coordinating it all.

Here you see Oliver carrying a 6-liter bottle from the incubation bath on deck to the lab inside the ship. In the background, Chris puts the bottle into the bath tub, which is darkened by bed linen and mosquito screens.


In the lab, it looks like an organized chaos with L2R: Monica, Laura (S), Michelle, Patrick, and Dirk.

Catarina, Franzi and Laura (K) are hiding behind the fume hood....


11 April: Evening program

In the evenings that we are sailing pieces of the transects, we try to entertain each other by presenting some slides about our work. Last night it was Anne's turn and she gave an impressive presentation about shooting with lasers on coccoliths of only a few microns "big". Just as the discussion faded out somewhat a call came from the bridge: "dolphins on portside, I've never seen so many!". This is what happened:

Anne was so lucky that this didn't happen during her talk.....


This is what we saw, literally hundreds of them!!!

Unfortunately they are a tick too far away and it's a tick too dark to see them well....

11 April: Win a t-shirt!

A closer look at yesterday's catch:

Do you know what beastie this is? Please send your answer to jbstuut-at-nioz.nl and win a Dust T-shirt!

10 April: Catch of the day

We are fishing for plankton almost every day with a so-called plankton net with a mesh size of 100 μm.

The net is being lowered in the water for half an hour, when the net has traveled to about 200 meters depth in the watercolumn. Here, Oliver, Geert-Jan and Jaap are patiently waiting to retrieve the net from the water again.

Catch of the day: what is it!?

See the quiz of tomorrow!


9 April: Sunset at sea

One of the nice things of being at sea is the high chance on a spectacular sunset, especially when there is a lot of dust in the atmosphere, causing beautiful red colours.....

8 April: Searching for smarties


Yesterday it was time to recover the two moorings that were deployed in 2014 and 2015. So, all hands on deck again to look for the orange ‘smartie’ buoys! This time the first one came up very close by, which makes the search a lot easier.



Then after a lot of hard work from the crew on deck an extra exciting moment for the scientists: the sediment trap comes up! And with success, because you can clearly see material in the cups.

7 April: Collecting dust and soot particles


Our four dust collectors on the roof of the bridge together with PhD student Laura Schreuder. As you can see the atmosphere is not very dusty at the moment, and after the dust event around the 29th of March, unfortunately we have not seen much more dust.


However, the dust collectors are not only collecting Saharan dust but also particles from forest fires in equatorial West Africa. In the figure above you see a clear plume of biomass burning aerosols flying from Africa over the North Atlantic, which we hope to catch in our filters.

6 April: A day's view from the bridge deck....

On the deck above the bridge we have installed our dust samplers, as well as a GoPro camera to get an impression of the clouds throughout the day. Here you see a compilation of the pictures that we take every hour, from sunrise at 6.20 until dawn at 18.00. Today was a rather boring day; not too many clouds or even dust....

5 April: Deploying buoy Laura

Today we deployed buoy Laura at a tick different position than she used to collect dust before: we moved her from 49W to 23W, hoping to gather more as well as coarser-grained material closer to the northwesst African sources.

Deploying such a buoy is quite an operation; it involves about 5km of cable, floats, releasers and other heavy gear. The whole deployment requires good team work and collaboration between deck and bridge. All in all it took about almost 7 hours from start to finish. Here you see how the deck crew makes the last preparations before buoy Laura is hoisted into the water, watched closely by her name giver.


The buoys are anchored to the sea floor with a 3000kg steel anchor, which creates quite a splash!



4 April: Dusty dream team


With the buoy still on deck, we thought it was a good idea to make a picture of the dusty dream team of 2016:


3 April: Trap Preparations

The coming days we will deploy another four sediment traps, and before this can be done, they need some preparation. First we start with sampling water from the appropriate trap depths with the CTD, and then this water needs to be filtered. The picture shows how many liters of water we have already filtered the past few days!

Image credit: Michelle van der Does

The next step is to fill the trap bottles with a poison, to prevent larger organisms to eat part of the sample and to prevent rotting of organic material in the samples. Each sediment trap contains 39 bottles, so that means 156 sample bottles!

After one year of sampling, the bottles will look something like this: these we recovered at the first station of this cruise. You see the height of the sediments in the bottles varies throughout the year. The most sediment in these bottles is found in summer and fall.

2 April: Stowaways: what birds are these?

A group of birds were happy to see us; they took a rest of the foredeck and stayed with us a couple of days. A ship's T-shirt for the first person who knows what birds these are? Please send your answer to jbstuut-at-nioz.nl


1 April: Beautiful skies

During the last few weeks we have seen quite some different skies, varying from dusty hazes to clear-blue skies but also rain. Please find two nice views that we enjoyed so far:

Dust ahoy!


Rain ahead!

30 March: Team work

While the scientific team inside the ship is struggling to process all the samples that we're collecting, on deck the technicians do their best to get all our equipment in- and out of the water. This is true team work: cheers guys!

29 March: Bye bye Michelle!

Today we deploy buoy Michelle for another year of happy dust collecting. Here you see how the ~4.5m high buoy is about to be launched. Michelle keeps an eye on "her" buoy.

29 March: Dust ahoy!!


Just past the mid-Atlantic ridge we got what we came for: mineral dust!

On the top deck of the ship we have installed a number of dust collectors, and in addition, we have a GoPro camera to give us an impression of the atmospheric conditions throughout the day. Although it is not very clearly visible, with a little imagination one can discern a yellowish-orangish-brownish layer/haze on the horizon. The filters from the dust collectors clearly show an orange colour, which can only be Northwest African dust!


View from the top deck to the stern: dust ahoy!


After a couple of grey "stuff" on our filters the last few days, probably soot from forest fires in Africa, we now find orange material: mineral dust!

27 March: Fishing for small bugs

At each station, we lower a so-called plankton net to 200m. The mesh size of this net is really small: 100 micrometer, 1/10 of a millimeter. This way we can collect plankton from the upper parts of the ocean.

THe plankton net is being lowered into the sea by Anne and Geert-Jan. Bert is keeping an eye out for the catch.


What are Tessa and Kirsten so excited about that they almost stick their heads in it?


...the yield of one (vertical) tow with the plankton net, washed over a sieve....


Plankton one can really only see well with a microscope. However, now and then there are a tick bigger beasties in the net. Who knows what animal this is? A ship's T-shirt for the first one to send the right answer to jbstuut-at-nioz.nl!

26 March: Happy reunion

During the early morning one of our PhD students Laura is happily reunited with "her" buoy.

The buoy was designed and built in the marine-technics department at NIOZ and initially had some start-up problems. However, the past year she has been collecting dust successfully; there is orange-brown material on almost all of the filters: a great success! Even at a distance of about 2500km to the African coast, we do find Saharan dust and sample it in high temporal resolution!

Happy reunion with buoy Laura


The buoy is covered in all kinds of growth. Here you see a close up of gooseneck barnacles. {Dutch: eendenmosselen]


Next to the barnacles, there are Sargassum crabs and big agressive worms....


What we're most excited about obviously is the fact that virtually all filters (except nr1....) have a orange-ish colouring: Saharan dust!!


25 March: Drifting traps

After having spotted the drifting traps (they appeared to have drifted upwind, thanks to the prevailing current....) we soon have them on board and can have a look at our harvest. These tubes have been out in the water for only 24 hours and look how much material is in them!?

The lowest set of four tubes, which was just deployed by Yvo and bosun John. One of these four tubes contains a cup with a gel, in which so-called marine-snow particles stay intact.


The gel cup collected from 200m water depth. The bigger particles are aggregates of organic matter and land-derived sediments: marine snow.


All the deck activities attract a lot of spectators.... l2r: Bert, Geert-Jan, and Jaap who jointly have probably more than a century's worth of scientific experience and knowledge, of which we profit whenever we can!

24 March: All hands on the bridge!

One of the new instruments, constructed in the marine technics workshop at NIOZ, is a so-called set of drifting traps.
In essence, these are sets of four tubes that are open towards the top. They are suspended in the water such that settling debris that would sediment to the ocean floor, is caught in these tubes. They typically are drifting freely in the ocean for about 24 hours. They are equipped with a GPS sensor and iridium antenna, so that every three hours we get a position of its whereabouts. However, finding them back is easier when all help. This time eagle-eyed Chris spotted them first, although Captain John claims he "just knew" where they were....


Rush hour on the bridge: all hands on the lookout for those drifting traps!
L2R: Franzi, Laura, Lydia, Sam, Chris, Catarina, Michelle, Rob, Anne, Laura, and captain John.



23 March: First results

After almost two days of continuous sailing we arrive at our first station at about 12N/56W. The first instrument that goes into the water is the CTD/water sampler. Obviously, these first measurement are absorbed by everyone with great interest!


Curious scientists gathered around the first results measured ' online'  by the CTD. Operator Billy explains what we're actually seeing. L2R: Laura, Corina, Catarina, Anne, Monica, Laura, Geert-Jan, Billy, Oliver.



More great results on day one: NIOZ technicians Yvo and Barry, together with bosun John and his team smoothly recover the first mooring with sediment traps. Both the traps have worked perfectly; all sample containers have material in them!

22 March: Be safe (part 2)

First we have to get to know the ship a tick; where is my cabin, where are the labs, were are the meeting rooms, canteen...?? Also, we need to know where to go, and what to do in case of....

First we're getting a warm welcome by the captain as well as our safety instructions  by the purser. Later on, we practice the actual safety procedures.

Safety instructions in the conference room.



Safety drill: please proceed to your muster station!!

20 March: More preps

It turns out that we're lucky to have this first day of transit to the study area; we have brought quite a bit of gear!

Slowly, we're getting organized and everything is in place to collect the first set of samples.


Barry and Yvo spooling the first set of lines and cables.


Yvo, Barry, and Anna setting up the bath tubs for the incubations.



19 March: Leaving Antigua

After all the preparations we are now finally leaving Antigua for our Transatlantic cruise.

Everybody is very eager to work with - and learn more about Saharan dust!!

....although we're also a tick sad to have to leave this tropical paradise....


RRS James Cook in the harbour of St John's, Antigua, shortly before departure.


St John's exit to the Atlantic Ocean.

18 March: Harbour preparations

Today is a day to prepare the ship for the work that we are going to carry out; on deck this means that some welding has to be done to fix heavy gear properly. Inside the ship, we set up the labs and divide the ample space in all the labs. We soon realize that this is a very spacious ship!

Barry welding the winch to the deck.


Yvo thinking about how to organise the deck most efficiently.


17 March: RRS James Cook


The research cruise before us concentrated on carbonate sedimentation around Antigua. Here you see how this cruise is finished with the James Cook entering the port of St John's on Antigua. (photo by Monica Martens)


From a distance, the ship looks very nice but not so impressive.

From up close however.....

She's BIG


15 March: Beautiful Antigua

Sun, sea, beach, palm trees, a pleasant 26°C..... We decided that we could get used to this!

Some very lucky few of our team have landed on Antigua to test some Caribbean flavour before boarding the RV James Cook.

24 February: Be safe!

Of every cruise participant that boards a research vessel, certain preparations are required. We all need to undergo a medical check and we all need to do a safety-at-sea training in which emergency procedures are trained.

Here you see a part of our team training with their survival suits at the TvK instruction center in Emmeloord. Fortunately, the water temperature in the waters we'll sail are a comfortable 26°C so that it'd take a while before we'd suffer from hypothermia....


One size fits all?

These survival suits are nice and warm ánd floating!! L2R: Gemma, Oliver, Monica, Laura, Dirk, Tessa, and Lydia



All aboard!A group of frolicking swimmers will be easier to spot from a rescue helicopter than an individual: keep splashing water!



All aboard!!

Entering a life raft is not an easy task.....



13 February: Dusty laundry


For every cruise that was carried out in the project, we have made a t-shirt with a dust-related motto.

Our upcoming cruise has a dusty one as well: All you need is dust!

Dusty laundry

27 January: Tetris for grown ups


In order to find all our equipment on board the RRS James Cook in March, we have to ship everything weeks in advance to the Caribbean. It turns out we need a LOT of stuff and it is a big challenge to pack everything in the two containers that we'd like to ship. Fortunately, Yvo, Barry and Sander know what they are doing and they managed to stuff the containers to the limit!

Tetris for grown ups

Michelle approves what Sander and Barry are doing


22 January: Meet the science team

Today we had our pre-cruise meeting at NIOZ. The team of about 20 scientists, students, and technicians informed each other of their ideas and plans, and discussed questions. Now we all look forward to the cruise even more!

Happy dusty scientists


Chris teaching us about microbes

19 January: Preparing our equipment

Here you see the tower for one of the dust-collecting buoys, which has been put in the open air in order to test the new software; one of the buoys was deployed with a CO2 sensor last year and thanks to colleagues from VLIZ we can deploy another buoy with a CO2 sensor and incorporate the measured data in the daily messages that the buoys send to us twice daily. This new software needs to be tested thoroughly before we deploy the instruments in the center of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bob works on the buoy, Steven gives advise....


During the upcoming cruise, we'll move buoy Laura from 49° to 23° West. During the transit, she needs to be fixed to the deck, for which Barry is preparing a special "foot".

Barry the Fixer

15 January: Cruise preparations

As this is the last of four cruises, we're pretty experienced in what we need on board. This time we're going to carry out incubation experiments: fertilising the ocean with dust! This means we'll have to bring a LOT of stuff....

Stuff in the GEO lab


In the NIOZ workshop, preparations are also made and even complete new instruments are being designed and made (where would we be without these guys!!?).

Stuff in the MTM workshop


Incubation experiments involve a lot of replicate analyses, and hence a lot of bottles are needed. Do we really need all those bottles Jan-Berend? Yes Chris, we do.....

We do need all of them Chris!



23 October: A first impression

To discuss with the ship's technicians and to get an idea what is possible on the ship, Yvo and Jan-Berend went to Southampton to visit the Cook. The National Oceanography Center, to which the ship belongs, has the ship literally at its door step. Our first impression? It's a BIG ship and ANYTHING is possible!! We're very much looking forward to the cruise in spring next year!


Everything is very well organised and administered; we're mighty impressed!


Below you can see the planned cruise track: