Research expeditions

At any one time scientists and technicians from the UK community can be at sea on numerous vessels. Discover where they are and what they are trying to achieve.

Latest expedition

RRS James Cook

Cruise Principal Scientist & Institution Location Duration in days (begins) Aim

Kerry Howell

University of Plymouth


Rockall Trough




May / June

Influence of population connectivity on depth-dependent diversity of deep-sea marine benthic biota

In the deep-sea (>200m) the bathyal region of the continental slope has been identified as an area where the rate of origination of new species is high. The reasons for this are not clear, but key to its understanding lies in understanding how populations are connected and if and how they become isolated. The aim of this NERC funded project is to elucidate patterns of population connectivity in the deep-sea utilising realised gene flow and larval dispersal models, coupled with analysis of community-scale patterns. 

The JC136 expedition will focus on an area of the UKs deep-sea, west of Scotland. The aims of the expedition will be to obtain physical samples of selected animal species for molecular analysis, benthic biological survey data for community level analysis, and a small amount of oceanographic data to validate oceanographic models.

On the expedition will we will use the UK's remotely operated vehicle (ROV ISIS) to collect samples of test species from 6 key study sites and from 4 depth horizons (500m or summit depth, 1000m, 1500m, 2000m). We will then use a type of DNA fingerprinting to look at how closely related individuals of the same species are from populations at different sites and at different depths. These analyses will tell us how well connected the populations are.

Another part of the project will model the dispersal of larvae from the 6 sites in order to gain a mechanistic understanding of population connectivity and to see if this agrees with the genetic understanding. Another aim of the expedition will therefore be to deploy moorings at the Anton Dohrn Seamount (one of our study sites) to measure ocean currents at different depths to provide us with real data to check our ocean current models against.

Finally, we will use the Autosub6000 autonomous underwater vehicle to gather information on the benthic communities at each of the study sites. We are interested in asking whether sites that are more closely connected by ocean currents have more similar communities of species living on them, and if the degree of community similarity varies with depth.

This research not only has important implications for our understanding of population dynamics in the marine environment, it also has important implications for the future sustainable management of the marine environment because understanding how populations are connected helps us design better networks of protected areas.

Further information can be viewed here

RRS Discovery

Cruise Principal Scientist & Institution Location Duration in days (begins) Aim

Ursula Witte

Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen

Rockall Trough and Slope





May 2016

Pressure-dependence of organic matter turnover and hydrocarbon degradation by deep-sea microbial communities

DY051 will visit Goban Spur and Porcupine Seabight, as well as the Rockall Trough, to trial a novel, pressure-coring, experimentation and cultivation system that enables studies of deep-sea prokaryote biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, under ambient or manipulated pressure, temperature and oxygen conditions from any medium sized ocean going research ship with deep-sea coring capability. The MAC-EXP system, developed through a NERC technology development grant, will provide a flexible, cost-effective alternative to in situexperimentation aiming to study the diversity and function of deep-sea prokaryote communities, in particular at the continental margins.

The main aim of the cruise is two-fold:

  • To investigate  the pressure dependence of microbial DOC and POC turnover in deep-sea sediments via stable and radio-isotope tracing experiments (ITEs);
  • To investigate the natural capacity for hydrocarbon degradation in deep sea sediments West off Shetland, and identify the microorganisms involved and their susceptibility to pressure. 

Ship position

This map shows the positions of the NOC operated vessels RRS Discovery and RRS James Cook.  While every effort is made to keep this map up to date sometimes postion updates are not possible.

Update from the ship (PIM)


DTG:  230516  08:00

Zone: Z+1

Subj: PIM DY051


Pos:  56 42N  009 10W

Co:   Autopos DP

Spd: Autopos DP


Wx: NW F4. Cloudy with rain showers. Mod seas.

Status: Vessel carrying out coring activities at Anton Dohrn area, Stn 1.

Intentions: Continue with coring ops in the Anton Dohrn area - seven stations in total.


DTG:  230516  07:00

Zone: Z+1

Subj: PIM JC136


Pos: 57 28.3N  011 08.6W

Co:  DP Autopos

Spd: DP Autopos


Wx: NNW x 15Kts. Slight?Mod sea and swell, fine and clear

Status: Conducting ROV dive at Anton Dohrn seamount

Intentions: Continue with ROV dive. Recover ROV later today andthen vessel will Reposition to Rockall Bank



Learn about the research expeditions that are taking place upon the NOC based research vessels during 2014. Read more about 2014's expeditions


Learn about the research expeditions that are taking place upon the NOC based research vessels during 2013. Read more about 2013's expeditions


Learn about the research expeditions that took place upon the NOC based research vessels during 2012. Read more about 2012's expeditions

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Principal scientists

All updated information for cruise participants can be found using the Marine Facilities Planning website: