Hunting for treasure in the North Atlantic

1st March 2017, RRS James Cook

Instruments that check conductivity, temperature and depth of the Atlantic Ocean are deposited on the deck of the RRS James Cook

It took me a while to identify the source of the stench. Earlier problems with plumbing, that acrid smell of ammonia, wasn’t what overwhelmed me now. This was altogether more fishy.

A once shiny bright yellow buoy sat stagnating to starboard, hauled up from the deep by the men in red. Barnacle covered and festooned in seaweed, it had the consistency and appearance of a scab left too long in the bath.

Now a defunct starter home for flotsam and jet-sum, this unassuming piece of marine detritus, serves a far higher purpose. Anchored to the seabed by a tonne of steel, its job over the past year-and-a-half has been to support scientific instruments as they bob, suspended in silence.
Scientists retrieve instruments sent more than five kilometres down into the Atlantic Ocean

Small, silver and around £5,000 a piece, one-by-one they arrive slippery and shining at the surface. Like mackerel caught on a line. Handled as delicately as a new born baby, the information they contain helps scientists learn more about how heat is distributed throughout the Atlantic. It’s this movement of heat that affects our weather in the U.K.

Over the next 40 days we will be checking huge numbers of these CTDs, along a route measured regularly since 2004. And whilst my five year old nephew desperately hopes we’ll bring up some kind of long-lost treasure, I am perfectly happy with what we’ve revealed so far. The true secrets of the deep.

– Laura

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