East Atlantic cruise MSM48

In November 2015 we'll set sail again on board RV Maria S Merian to service one of our dust-collecting buoys.

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!?


Link to the Sailwx website (ship's actual position).

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26 November: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

After a tick less than two weeks for Lorendz, Bob, and Jan-Berend and about four weeks for the rest of the crew, we are entering the port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Especially the last few days have been a bit of a rough ride thanks to the swell that was stirred up by the Trades. However, the ship is equipped with stabilizing wings (stabi's) that prevent the ship from rolling, a thing that we are quite thankful for!

25 November: Wildlife

During the last few weeks we encountered all kinds of wildlife but mostly they were hard to catch on camera.

Next to the animals that were fished out of the water, here are a few animals that we did manage to catch.

Take a close look at the group picture; the animal was NOT photoshopped in!!!

A turtle approached the ship

This picture was shot by Jörg, indeed during a time when there were dolphins around. Nobody realised that there was a dolphin on this picture. Jörg should have bought a lottery ticket this day; clearly he (and we) was pretty lucky with this shot!



24 November: What’s the weather gonna be?

Did you realize that the weather forecast is depending also on measurements that are carried out from the MS Merian? Twice per day, electronic officer Jörg and system operator Michael are launching a weather balloon. They do this by filling a balloon with Helium gas, which makes the balloon want to rise up into the atmosphere. This rising balloon carries up a weather sensor that registers GPS position, temperature, pressure, wind (direction and velocity) and humidity. These data are transmitted to the ship where they are recorded and passed on to the MetOffice in Hamburg. On the Atlantic Ocean there are several of these weather containers, operated by the ship’s crew of all kind of vessels and together they provide data that go into weather-forecast models. On this picture you see Jörg with the weather sensor.

The side of the container opens up and the Helium-filled balloon rises into the air.

Swiftly, the balloon rises into the air and is picked up by the prevailing wind.

Off she goes, one can still discern the weather sensor dangling on a rope below the balloon. These balloons can rise up to heights of 30 km! Due to the air pressure at these tremendous heights, the balloon may reach a diameter of 30 m (at sea level it is 1 m).

23 November: A Rare Sight

As we want to use every single minute that we’re on this fabulous ship, it happens regularly that people have to work during the night. Somehow, this almost always happens to Daniel (r) and Mario who are operating the in-situ pumps. Here you see these two guys carrying their pump by daylight, which is quite a rare sight!

Image credit: Lorand

Two other guys that have not gotten much attention in this blog are these two: Finn (l) and Lorand. Here you see how they are butchering the sediments in a multicore. They are pushing the sediments from the core up and slice them into 1-cm slices. Lorand is studying the occurrence of live foraminifera in these sediments and would like to quantify the influence of oxygen penetration into the sediments on the faunal composition of these bottom-dwelling fauna. This connects nicely to the work that Annegreth is doing (see contribution on 18/11).

(Image credit: Lorand)

22 November: Floating traps

Image credit: Gerard & Karin

One of the simplest yet very cool instruments that we are deploying is the floating traps. Here you see how basically four tubes are suspended in the ocean for a period of 24 hours. The tubes are open at the top and collect material that is settling through the ocean. We expect to see an impact of the dust particles that are potentially ballasting organic matter, thus dragging it to the ocean floor.

(Image credit: Gerard & Karin)

Image credit: Gerard & Karin

The floating traps are literally doing that: floating around freely in the ocean. They are equipped with a flasher as well as an Iridium beacon, which sends its GPS location to us by a satellite connection. In the 24 hours the traps are floating around, they cover a distance of about 7-9 nautical miles (9-14km).

(Image credit: Gerard & Karin)

Image credit: Gerard & Karin

One of the floats had gotten damaged a tick and needed to be balanced again. Fortunately, the RV Maria S. Merian is also equipped with a little test basin and it was not so hard to find volunteers to carry out this assignment. Here you see how Lorendz and Jan-Berend are trying to balance the trap with shackles, tie wraps, and –of course- yellow tape.

(Image credit: Gerard & Karin)

21 November: Dust collection on the ship’s roof

Image credit: Lorand

The dust collectors (the blue mail-box like devices) are happily sampling the Saharan dust that is flying over the ocean. Air is sucked in from four sides below the triangular hood. The air passes a 20x25cm filter on which the dust particles stay behind. Back home in the lab, the cellulose of which the filter is made, is oxidized so that the dust particles can be studied for particle size, chemistry, mineralogy etc.

(Image credit: Lorand)

Image credit: Lorand

Full filter

Here you see how the (originally white) filter is loaded with dust, already after a couple of hours. The dust collector also register how much air went through the filter, so that we can relate the analyses we’re doing to the concentration of dust in the air.

(Image credit: Lorand)

Das Schiff ist völlig paniert!

Basically, the whole ship is powdered in dust; especially smooth surfaces are covered in an orange-brown veneer. Some scientists are pretty happy with this material, especially the crew is less happy as also air filters in e.g. the engine room and air conditioning are loaded with dust particles.

20 November: Dusty skies

Again, we are lucky enough to be sailing through a dust outbreak! This photo was taken at about 18.00 and one can clearly see how the setting sun is obscured by dust.

19 November: Deep-sea mud

Another multicore is on deck with again 10 tubes filled with mud. The cool thing about this device is that the sediment-water interface stays intact, so that it can be assumed that the top few millimetres have indeed been deposited very recently. For this reason, there is a lot of interest in these samples.

One by one, the cores (N=10) are removed from the frame and the harvest is being analysed; which cores have a truly undisturbed surface? Are there maybe animals that may disturb the top layer? Is there still clear water on top or are some sediments re-suspended? Here you see Weichao proudly presenting one of the cores. Unfortunately, this is not the best sample, see  next photo.

This core is not the best as it managed to catch also a small crab. The poor bugger was brought up from a water depth of about 200m; it is almost certainly its first time on a ship and probably also the first time it sees daylight….

Once all cores have been removed from the multicore-frame, the scientists dive on the material like ducks on a beetle; everybody wants their share of the mud! A true challenge for chief scientist Karin to distribute the samples evenly and fairly.

18 November: Working day and night

The last days we have spent relatively close to the Mauritanian coast and from here we’ll sail towards deeper waters again. This profile offers the chance to study plankton with the multinet (see 10 November). The scientists are interested in e.g. the DNA of the living plankton and therefore, the material has to be washed, sieved and picked directly after the catch has been collected. Here you see (l2r) Barbara, Birgit, Mara, and Fiona working their way through the samples with a microscope. They literally hand-pick the individual plankton of about the size of 0.2 mm (about the thickness of a hair!), select the interesting ones, and freeze them for later studies in the labs at home.

In the same lab, Annegret measures Oxygen profiles in the sediments on a very high resolution. To this end, she uses a sophisticated instrument that carefully pushes in an Oxygen sensor into the sediments in a multicore-tube millimetre by millimetre. Also these analyses have to be carried out as soon as the material is on deck. Especially the last few days, this means long days and even longer nights of lab work as the stations are relatively close to each other…

17 November: Pump it up!

Image credit: Lorand

Another cool instrument is the so-called “in-situ pump”. This is an autonomous pump that can be lowered into the ocean to any desired depth. The pumps are pre-programmed to start pumping after a predefined amount of time. This means that once they are programmed by Daniel, they have to be brought to this depth by the ship’s crew and kept there until the pumping is through. Usually, we deploy a CTD with water sampler first, to determine at what depth the interesting features are. Consequently, these pumps (we brought 4 of them!) are deployed to pump several 100’s of liters through a filter.

(Image credit: Lorand)

Here you see how Friederike carefully removes the full filter from the in-situ pump. The gloves are vital as she is interested in organic material; touching the filter with bare hands would immediately contaminate the sample!

Organic(s) matter!

Here you see the result of 2 hours of pumping; the green “stuff” on the filter floats around in the ocean in a so-called nepheloid layer; thanks to density gradients in the water, material is concentrated and can travel large distances through the ocean before settling out. Friederike is interested in the organic components in this material; mostly lipids and microbes.

16 November: Re-deployment of buoy Carmen

Smelly business

Here you see Lorendz cleaning the outside of the buoy. Most of the growth are gooseneck barnacles (in Dutch: Eendemossel) which are quite sticky!

Image credit: Lorand

Dusty maintenance

Meanwhile, Bob and Jan-Berend cleaned and serviced the scientific parts of the buoy; all the electronics and the actual dust sampler. Luckily, the Merian is equipped with a very nice and large hangar, which is also used as wet lab. Plenty of space to work in!

(Image credit: Lorand)

Image credit: Lorand

Tear and wear

To prevent oxidation of the lower metal parts of the buoy, these so-called “sacrificial zinc anodes” are attached to it. After two years (the buoy was first deployed in November 2013) this zinc anode needs to be replaced!!

(Image credit: Lorand)

Image credit: Lorand

In she goes!

After all the brushing up, filter replacements, electronic checks and new programming, buoy Carmen is ready for re-deployment! We will visit her again in April 2016, which is a relatively quick. This gives as an excellent opportunity to sample Saharan dust on a high resolution; every six days a new filter will be rotated in front of the dust inlet, which is still in sync with the 18-day sampling interval of the sediment trap that is moored below.

(Image credit: Lorand)

16 November: Fishing

Image credit: Lorand

Got fish?

Here you see 2nd engineer Manfred (Manny) proudly showing the big fish (Mai Mai) that he just caught. These fish are also called dolphin fish as they tend to jump out of the water just like dolphins do.

(Image credit: Lorand)

Humans 7½ – Sharks ½

This is the catch of 2 hours of fishing near the buoy. 5 Mai Mai, and 2½ tunas. On its way up to the ship, a shark had a bite of the 3rd tuna. Manny cleaned the fish and Cook Johan prepared them on the bbq; quite a treat!

15 November: Recovering buoy Carmen

Buoy Ahoy!

This photo was taken at sunrise on Sunday 15 November, when we visited buoy Carmen. This buoy is equipped with a dust collector and samples the air every day. Every 18 days the filters are exchanged autonomously, which is synchronized with a sediment trap that is moored at about the same location off Cape Blanc, Mauritania. As you can see, there is plenty of dust around!

Image credits: Karin

Hook up that buoy!

In order to get the 1.5 Ton buoy on board, two lines are attached to it using the Man-Over-Board (MOB) boat. It was not hard to find volunteers to do this assignment, which was finally carried out very swiftly by officers Sören and Björn as well as NIOZ technician Lorendz.

(Image credit: Karin)

Buoy ecosystem

The buoy creates its very own ecosystem; lots of growth on the float and plenty of fish that profit from this food source as well as the buoy’s shade. Now it’s time to clean the buoy and do maintenance on the sampling part of the dust-collecting mast.

14 November: Opening Cores

Weichao is opening a sediment core that was recovered from the Madeira Abyssal Plane (MAP) the week before. By cutting the liner lengthwise, the sediments can be read as an archive of turbidite (mass flow of sediments, comparable to a snow avalanche) activity.

Gerard just opened this section that Weichao cut open. As you can see the sediments are quite soft and there are clear colour differences between the different sediment packages. The colours are measured very precisely with a colour scanner, which allows comparison between the different cores.

Gerard and Catarina are studying a comparison of the colour scans of three different cores that were taken from the Madeira Abyssal Plane (MAP). The turbidites on the MAP are very wide spread but there are marked differences in thickness and composition of the sediments. The cores have been retrieved from transect across the MAP, which allows a detailed reconstruction of the pathways of the sediment avalanches and the consequences for sediment preservation.

13 November: leaving the harbour of Mindelo

This is a picture taken from the harbour of Mindelo on the Cape Verde Island of Sao Vicente. The view on “the sleeping man” is obscured by Saharan dust that is blowing around.

Just after noon we left the harbour of Mindelo and set course to the position of buoy Carmen at about 21N/21W. The air is still hazy with dust and the dust collectors on top of the bridge of RV Maria S. Merian are collecting nice samples of dust.

Bob and Lorendz are helping setting up the second dust collector so that two types of filters can be used in collecting dust. The first type will be used for inorganic studies of dust (particle size, mineralogy, chemistry) and the second one for organic studies such as biomarkers, lipids, and other organic proxies.

10 November: fishing for small creatures

Although the open ocean can be considered a desert in terms of diversity of life, it is very interesting to know what kinds of creatures do live in these barren conditions. To catch these little creatures (varying in size from 0.1 - 0.5 mm!!) we deploy the so-called multinet, five nets that are lowered into the ocean in a closed position and which can be opened remotely at the desired depths. This way, we can profile the water column in a vertical way to conclude that even at large depths there is still life present!

9 November: more deep-sea sediments

Next to the long archives that we managed to retrieve from the sea floor, it is also very interesting to study the processes happening at the sea floor itself. At coring, some disturbance of the top of the sediment core cannot be avoided. Therefore, another coring technique is applied in addition: the multicore (MUC). This technique encompasses a frame in which 10 shorter cores are pushed very gently into the sea floor so as to keep the sediment-water interface intact.

8 November: core on deck!

Thanks to the great team work between the crew on deck (handling the cranes and heavy gear) and the officers on the bridge (holding the ship nicely steady and in position) we managed to get a really nice and long core: just over 10 m of sediment! This is a true treasure from the sea floor and it is treated as such; the long core is cut into 1-meter pieces, cleaned, and archived. It is very important to write the right information like section number, length and order. Later during the cruise we'll open the core length-wise to see the sediment stack inside this plastic tube.

6 November: the Atlantic ocean here is deeeeeep

The Madeira Abyssal Plane (MAP) is a very flat piece of sea floor at great depth: the ocean floor here lies at almost 5.5 km!! Just try to imagine the sediment core hanging from a steel cable that is over 5400m long. This is the same distance as from the free-fall tower on the Bremer campus to the river Weser in the center of town. The winches turn at 1 m/s so you can imagine that taking sediment cores at these depths requires a good deal of patience.....

6 November: coring the Madeira Abyssal Plane

One of the targets of this cruise is to retrieve sediment cores from the Madeira Abyssal Plane. To handle the long (and heavy!) sediment core is not easy, given that the ship is prone to move unexpectedly due to the waves. On this photo you see the core rack in which the core --basically a big steel cylinder with some 800kg weight on top-- lies when it is hauled on deck.

4 November: CTD watch

We realize that shiptime is very (VERY) expensive, and therefore, we aim to use every single minute that we can on board this great ship. This means that sometimes people have to operate pieces of equipment in the middle of the night. Here you see the (l2r) Anna, Catarina, and Friederike in the control room of the CTD. This device is lowered into the ocean to collect water at different depths and measure Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. Using these variables, we can calculate also the salinity (salt content of the ocean) continuously along the depth profile. The CTD is attached to a frame that holds 24 20-liter water bottles that can be closed remotely from the ship. This way, we can sample the entire water column at any given depth.

2 November: Off they go!

On Monday 2 November Research Vessel MS Merian left the harbour of Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel, Azores, on her way to Sao Vicente, Cape Verde. Here you see two affiliated members of our dust group: Catarina Guerreiro (left) and Carmen Friese (right). They are helping chief scientist Karin Zonneveld and her team with all the work that is being carried out on board the ship. Obviously, we are hoping for some nice dust outbreaks from the African continent, now that the air has been washed clean by recent rains!

17 September: Packing up

This is only a fraction of all the equipment that has to fit into one container.... Good luck to Marco Klann who has to pack everything!!

14 September: Cruise preparations

The start of the cruise is on 2 November, when the RV MS Merian leaves the Azores. All the equipment we'll need on board the ship will have to be shipped from Bremen to the Azores first. Obviously, this includes a lot of paperwork and preparations. Here you see a stuffed NIOZ van, full of instruments that we'd like to use during the cruise.

On 12 November 2015 a small team from NIOZ will fly to Mindelo, which is the capital of Sao Vicente, which is one of the Cape-Verde Islands. In the mean time, the ship has sailed from the Azores, where it left on 2 November, with a large team of international colleagues from MARUM-Bremen. During these two weeks they have already carried out a comprehensive sampling schedule, taking predominantly water samples as well as sediment cores.

From Mindelo, we'll set sail towards Cape Blanc, Mauritania, where buoy Carmen has been collecting dust since August 2013. We will service the buoy, collect a hopefully nice set of data and dust filters, and re-deploy it for another half year. In April 2016 we will again visit buoy Carmen during cruise JC134. After another intense sampling program off Cape Blanc we will sail towards Gran Canaria, from where we'll fly home again.

Below you can see the planned cruise track: