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

Vessel: Discovery

DTG:   210819  0720h

Zone:   Z+1

Exped: DY107

Subj:   PIM


Pos:  46 04N  012 03W

Wx:  Lt Airs, Partly cloudy, low swell



EK60 calibration today



Continue winch and eqpt trials this week.


Vessel:  James Cook

Cruise: JC186

DTG: 210819 0800

Time Zone: UTC+1


Position: 38° 22'N 012° 26'W

Course: 195°

Speed: 9kts

Wind: N 23kts

Sea: Mod sea and swell

Status: Passage to Mindelo

Intentions: ETA 280819. Clocks back 1hr to UTC tonight

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


Pete Talling

Durham University

Congo Canyon

40 days

(September & October)

First Direct Measurements of Turbidity Currents in Congo Canyon - Cruise 1

This cruise aims to deploy a series of moorings with sensors along the length of the Congo Submarine Canyon offshore West Africa, and these moorings and sensors will be recovered in future cruises. The project will thus make the first detailed measurements of seafloor sediment flows (called turbidity currents) in the deep (>2-5 km) ocean. Turbidity currents form the largest sediment accumulations on Earth, which are deep-sea submarine fans. They flush globally significant amounts of sediment, organic carbon, nutrients and fresher-water into the deep ocean, and affect its oxygen levels. Their deposits host major oil and gas reservoirs, and contain important archives of the Earth’s geological past. Only rivers transport comparable volumes of sediment across such large expanses of our planet. However, one turbidity current can transport more sediment than the annual flux from all of the World’s rivers. There are exceptionally few direct measurements from oceanic turbidity currents, which is a stark contrast to millions of measurements from rivers.

Direct monitoring of turbidity currents that form major submarine fans in the deep ocean has been a major and long-standing challenge for sedimentology, oceanography, and marine geology. This project is timely due to recent successful tests of new methods and technology for measuring turbidity currents in shallow (<2 km) water which can now be used for deep-water submarine fan systems.

We choose to study the Congo Canyon off West Africa due to initial measurements collected in 2010 and 2013. These measurements at 2 km water depth are the deepest detailed observations yet for turbidity currents. Surprisingly, they show that individual turbidity currents lasted for almost a week, and that these flows were active for 20% of the time. This challenges our understanding of such flows because all previously measured shallower-water turbidity currents lasted for just a few hours or minutes, and occurred for < 0.1% of the total time.

Our overall aim is to show how deep-sea turbidity currents behave using the first direct measurements, and understand the causes and wider implications of this behaviour.

We will deploy 8-10 moorings along the Congo Canyon at water depths of 2 to 5 km that will measure frequency, duration, and run-out distance of multiple flows; together with their velocity, turbulence and sediment concentration structures; and changes in water, sediment and organic carbon discharge.

We will answer the following linked hypotheses about flow behaviour:

(1) What controls flow duration, and does flow stretching cause near-continuous canyon flushing?

(2) What controls runout and whether flows become more powerful? We will test a hypothesis that turbidity currents tend towards one of two distinct modes of behaviour, in which they erode and accelerate (a process termed ignition), or deposit sediment and dissipate. This is one of the main ways in which turbidity currents differ from rivers. 

(3) How is flow behaviour and character recorded by deposits?

(4) How does flow behaviour affect the transfer and burial of terrestrial organic carbon in the deep-sea?

RRS Discovery

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

Leigh Storey

National Oceanography Centre

Madeira abyssal plane

19 days


RRS Discovery Recert Trials

It is vital that when NMEP equipment is procured or modified that it is fully tested before being allowed into service.  This way NMF can provide assurance to the science community that our equipment is in a ready to go state and will fulfil the science aims of any cruises it is employed on.

NMF have recently purchased a replacement bespoke winch for the Seasoar system.  This has a unique design and incorporates several features not previously seen on a NMEP winch.  The acceptance process for this winch begins with a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) and culminates in a full Sea Acceptance Test (SAT) which recreates as closely as possible the working conditions for this winch. The sea trial will begin with basic safety and operational checks allowing technicians to become familiar with the features and operation of the winch.  It is only when the PI and Senior Technician agree that the winch can be operated safely that any load will be applied. A series of tests will be run using dummy loads on the wire to build assurance that the package can be deployed and recovered safely.  These tests must be realistic and repeatable.  Only when this phase is finished will a Seasoar system be deployed and used exactly as it would be for science.

NMF has 2 metal free CTD winches that have never achieved full commissioning.  Both of these winches have been removed from service and are undergoing a modification programme in order to resolve the various issues.  They will both undergo a full SAT during this trials period and only be returned to service if this is successful. 

As with the MFCTD winches NMF have modified the design of Stand Alone Pumps (SAPs) and will carry out full functional tests on them before passing them fit for science.

Previous and Upcoming Expeditions

Learn about the previous research expeditions that have been undertaken.