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

Stefan Gary

Scottish Association for Marine Science

Eastern North Atlantic






June 2016

The 2016 annual occupation of the Extended Ellet Line

The Extended Ellett Line is a hydrographic section between Iceland and Scotland that is occupied annually by scientists from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), UK.

The measurement programme began as a seasonally-occupied hydrographic section in the Rockall Trough in 1975, building on early surface observations made underway from ocean weather ships. 

In 1996 the section was extended to Iceland, sampling three basins: the Rockall Trough, the Hatton-Rockall Basin and the Iceland Basin. These three basins form the main routes though which warm saline Atlantic water flows northwards into the Nordic Seas and Arctic Ocean. The section crosses the eastern North Atlantic subpolar gyre; as well as the net northward flow there is a large recirculation of the upper layers as part of the wind-driven gyre. 

During its passage through the region, the warm saline water is subjected to significant modification by exchange of heat and freshwater with the atmosphere. The two deep basins (Rockall Trough and Iceland Basin) contain southward flowing dense northern overflow waters, and Labrador Sea Water in the intermediate layers.

The specific objectives of the 2016 Extended Ellett Line cruise are:

  • To complete the annual Extended Ellett Line CTD section;
  • To collect water samples for measuring biogeochemical properties including dissolved oxygen, nutrients, carbon and trace metals;
  • To collect underway measurements of surface currents, surface temperature and salinity, bathymetry, surface meteorology;
  • To complete epibenthic sled tows at a deep location in the central Rockall Trough;
  • To capture water column and sea floor video with a downward-looking camera attached to the CTD;
  • To listen for whales and dolphins with a towed hydrophone; and
  • To deploy Argo floats provided by the UK Met Office as a contribution to the International Argo Project.

Further information can be found here

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 position updates are not possible.

Update from the ship (PIM)


DTG:  230616  12:00

Zone: Z+1

Subj: PIM DY052


Pos:  57 10N  010 13W

Co:   130

Spd: 9.6kts


Wx: SSE force 2, Slight sea and low swell. Overcast with rain showers

Status: CTD  transect running south towards Anton Dohrn completed 0807.

V/L then set course for Greenock. Hydrophone will be towed to shelf break

Intentions: Recover hydrophone this afternoon, continue with passage to Greenock

Other: Provisional ETA Pilot station Greenock 1530/ 24th, for berthing at Ocean Terminal


DTG:  230616  07:00

Zone: Z+1

Subj: PIM JC136


Pos: Berth 26/27 Empress Dock Southampton

Co:  N/A

Spd: N/A


Wx: Lt Airs, Harbour Conditions, overcast & raining

Status: Alongside Empress Dock conducting DeMob/Mob operations

Intentions: Continue with deMob/Mob operations


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: