I’m surrounded by maps, charts and graphical information in the main laboratory of the James Cook. A monitor to my left for 8 hours a day (whilst I am on watch) records the sea surface waves in relation to the ship – I work 8:00-12:00 and 16:00 to 00:00 on watch duty every day. The waves are mostly from a North Easterly direction (as one would expect – The Trade Winds).

Screen showing surface wave direction.


Above this monitor is a screen showing the depth from the surface to the sea floor. This information is taken from a ‘pinger’  yes, that is its proper name, that displays echo sounder signals reflected off the sea floor. This information is also displayed on yet another screen in plan form with colours denoting the topography of the ocean bottom.

Ocean floor (top and right) and depth from the surface (bottom left).


There is chart on another monitor showing the location of the ship and Autosub (when she is deployed) as well as the roll (sideways movement), pitch (back and forth movement) and heave (vertical movement) of the James Cook.

Pitch, Roll and Heave.


I have two favourite maps. The first are the large paper bathymetric maps (showing topography/shape of the ocean floor) spread out over the main table in the lab. These are colourful maps (artistic in their own right) with red denoting higher relief and dark blue/purple deep (lower) relief. Contour lines as on a land map show the steepness of the oceanic mountain slopes. Autosub very cleverly negotiates these underwater sea-mountains often climbing Alp-like terrain on her excursions. The range in height is amazing with -4600m being the lowest to the highest -1,800 (only about 6 miles apart).

Bathymetric map – the horizontal lines show the path of Autosub and the dots are where OBS equipment is being deployed. The OCC is the large red area near the centre of the map.


The scientists are trying to improve this data to know more about the shape of the ocean bottom. Autosub will collect much more detailed information about the edges of the faults at a much higher resolution. Most of the bathymetry the scientists have comes from surface information. It’s rather like comparing taking a photo of the Alps out of a plane window at 30,000ft compared with flying in a helicopter at low level. A clearer picture will enhance the understanding of the detachment fault and Oceanic Core Complex (the mound with slickensides – scratches) that stands out from the surrounding topography. The Ocean Core Complex (OCC) that we are looking at is larger than Ben Nevis rising some 1,800m from the surrounding territory.

My second favourite map is blue and on a computer screen. It also shows oceanic topography with lighter blue being higher (less deep) and darker blue being lower/deeper oceanic floor. Overlaid on this map is the course of the ship, positions of the OBS deployment and other practical information. As the ship passes over the ocean it fills in the map with data from the acoustic multi beam.

My second favourite map – can you see how the pale blue area is the same area as the OCC in red on the map above?



A recent addition to the wall of the lab is seismogram from one of the OBS prototypes showing the number of earthquakes whilst it was deployed. Please see obsatsea.wordpress.com for more details about this. Professor Christine Peirce has a wonderful blog with the OBS science explained clearly.

I also visited the Bridge this afternoon where Jim Gwinnell, the Captain, very kindly gave me his time to explain the main console (like the Star Ship Enterprise). I’ll write more about that another day.

I’ve have had a request to have the ‘Teacher at Sea’ photographed with sea in the background. I will give you three!! One of me on the Bridge, one with me near the Bow and one with me on the Starboard side.

You can see the sea out of the window. Me on the Bridge. Are you jealous Dad?


Me near the bow


Me on the starboard side – see I do get outside (Thanks Matt for taking pic)



I’d like to thank everyone who is reading and promoting my blog, Facebook and Twitter pages –@teacheratseaMAR. The scientists here are very keen for people to understand what life is like on a research vessel, to promote teenagers to study geology and geophysics, to promote careers at sea and to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the value of research to the wider public. You are all helping me with my outreach – THANK YOU, please keep promoting.




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