Research Expeditions

Research Expeditions

At any one time scientists and technicians from the UK marine community can be at sea on numerous vessels. This page provides information on the current research expeditions being undertaken by our two Royal Research Ships Discovery and James Cook. Here you can discover where our ships are and what they are aiming to achieve.


Updates from the ships’ Plans of Intended Movement (PIM)


RRS Discovery RRS James Cook

Vessel: Discovery

DTG:    270717 0915
Zone:   UTC-2

Exped: DY081

Subj:    PIM 

Pos: 60 16N  046 53W
V/L stopped on DP

Wx: SW'ly force 2, Few clouds, fine and clear. Slight sea, low swell. Numerous icebergs, bergy bits and growlers in vicinity

Status: ROV dive aborted yesterday evening due to strong surface currents in excess of 2.5kts. Overnight Multibeam survey, CTD and SAPs

Intentions: Multicoring in progress. Continue multibeam survey on completion to identify further coring and potential ROV sites.

James Cook
DTG: 270717 0800
Time Zone: UTC-1

Position: 22° 20'N 035° 52'W
Course: N/A
Speed: 0kts
Wind: ENE 18kts
Sea: Low sea and swell
Status: SAPS deployment
Intentions: Recover SAPS. Resume overside ops 0230 280717

Ships’ positions

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.


MARS Portal


Latest Expeditions

RRS James Cook

Cruise Principal scientist & institution Location Duration in days (begins) Aim
JC150 Claire Mahaffey

University of Liverpool


North Atlantic

48 days

Zinc, iron and phosphorus co-limitation in the ocean

At present, on-going warming is predicted to reduce the physical supply of essential nutrients, nitrate and phosphate to the surface ocean, and hence control future trends in productivity in the subtropical gyres.

However, this view ignores the significant additions of nitrogen to the subtropical ocean from both natural and anthropogenic atmospheric input that decouples nitrate and phosphate, causing phosphate stress for phytoplankton. This will drive an ‘arms race’ towards accessing alternative forms of phosphorus, such as dissolved organic phosphorus.

Recent work by our team and others suggests that availability of trace metals, specifically zinc and iron, regulates the uptake of alternative phosphorus pools. If such phenomena are widespread, this suggests that predictions of future trends in biological activity are inaccurate and instead we need to consider expansion and intensification of a phosphate-deplete ocean. By combining novel observational and modelling experiments, we will gain a more complete quantitative understanding of how trace metals regulate phosphorus acquisition and thus biological activity in the contemporary and future ocean.

During JC150, our aim is to quantitatively assess the role of zinc and iron in regulating phosphorus acquisition by key phytoplankton groups, specifically the nitrogen fixer, Trichodesmium and the cyanobacteria, Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus. We will achieve this aim by performing a series of trace metal clean bioassay experiments at 6 stations along a westward transect from Guadeloupe to Tenerife at a latitude of ~ 20°N.

In these low phosphate subtropical waters, phytoplankton are known to deploy alternative strategies to acquire organic phosphorus. We will collect seawater using the trace metal clean titanium CTD rosette and sampling bottles. We will add a range of concentrations of zinc and iron (alongside other nutrients) and determine the impact of these trace metals on the rate of organic phosphorus acquisition, growth and carbon and nitrogen fixation and incubate under in situ light and temperature conditions for 48 hours. In addition, we will collaborate with international experts in the field of single cell elemental quotas and proteomics to determine the impact of trace metal additions on cell quotas and protein production.

In addition to trace metal clean bioassay experiments, we will exploit the natural gradients in inorganic nutrients and trace metals along the transect to determine the natural variability in rates of phosphorus acquisition, carbon and nitrogen fixation, cell quotas and proteomics.

Twitter account for JC150    @MahaffeyLab

RRS Discovery

Cruise Principal scientist & institution Location Duration in days (begins) Aim

Kate Hendry

University of Bristol

North Atlantic / Labrador Sea 32 days

Project ICY-LAB: Isotope cycling in the Labrador Sea

The high-latitude regions are experiencing some of the most rapid changes observed in recent decades: polar temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global mean and there are concerns about the impact of sea-ice and glacier retreat on global oceans and climate. The aim of this European Research Council project, ICY-LAB, is to understand the impact of changes in glacial input and ocean circulation on marine biogeochemical cycling of essential nutrients that support oceanic productivity.

Diatoms are photosynthetic algae that are responsible for nearly half of the export of carbon from the sea surface to the seafloor, and they are a sensitive indication of the state of nutrient cycling. Diatoms are one of many organisms that precipitate biogenic opal, an amorphous glass made of silica (hydrated SiO2), in order to form protective skeletons, and one of the essential nutrients is therefore dissolved silicon (Si) in the form of silicic acid.

The approach will be to capture the whole silicon cycle system in areas of marked environmental change using careful field sampling strategies – with research expeditions to coastal Greenland and the open ocean Labrador Sea – coupled with cutting-edge isotope geochemistry methods. During expedition DY081 we will be collecting samples from locations within the Labrador Sea in the NW Atlantic, including seamounts that are influenced by different oceanic currents, and the Greenland shelf. We will collect samples of seawater, particles, sediments and biological specimens, all the way from surface waters to within the seafloor sediments.

From the RRS Discovery, we will deploy Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) rosettes to collect physical oceanographic data and water samples, Stand Alone Pumps (SAPs) to collect particles within the water, and sediment corers. Finally, we will use a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to collect water, sediment and biological samples from near the seafloor. The international expedition team is multi-disciplinary, including geochemists, physical oceanographers, palaeoceanographers, engineers, and biologists – some specialising in algae and some specialising in seafloor dwelling creatures.

The results will lead to an unprecedented and cross-disciplinary view of nutrient cycling, biomineralisation, and the taxonomy and biogeography of siliceous organisms in an ecologically important region of the North Atlantic.

You can read more about the project here

Twitter page here


Previous and Upcoming Expeditions

Learn about the previous research expeditions that have been undertaken.