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


Exped: DY090

Exped: DY090
DTG: 080618 11:05

Time Zone: UTC +2

WX: S’ly force 4. Slight sea and low swell. Cloudless, fine and clear

Position: 18° 02'S 011° 01'E

V/L stopped on DP

Status: Acoustic survey, Nets tows and static deployments conducted in last 24 hours.

Intentions: EK60 calibration planned for this afternoon


Other: Fire drill- crew laundry yesterday afternoon, liferaft familiarisation training today.

350.2mT (419.1m3) Rob





James Cook

DTG: 110618 0700L
Time Zone: UTC

Subj: JC165

Position: 49 37.6N 007 31.8W

Course: 088T
Speed: 11.3Kts
Wind/WX: Nly x 10Kts, Fine and clear

Sea: Slt Sea


Status: On passage to Southampton.

Intentions: Continuation of passage to Southampton. ETA 12/0830L

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

Veerle Huvenne

National Oceanography Centre 

Greater Haig Fras Marine Conservation Zone 18 days

Haig Fras 

Haig Fras is an isolated, sublittoral bedrock outcrop in the Celtic Sea, and is the only offshore rocky reef on the UK Celtic shelf. The Greater Haig Fras area was designated a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in 2016 to protect this unique site and its mosaic of rock and sedimentary habitats. 

To demonstrate the use of autonomous survey methods for the monitoring of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and improve our understanding of the natural variability of this mosaic habitat, NOC has set up a series of repeat AUV surveys (multibeam echosounder, sidescan sonar, photography) over the area, with a 3 year cycle (2012, 2015, 2018 etc.; Benoist et al., subm.).

The aim of this cruise is to continue and expand the data delivery and scientific study of the spatio-temporal variability in this rocky shelf habitat, incorporating further autonomous and data analysis methodologies as they develop in the future.  

This cruise will deliver data on seafloor morphology, substrate and habitat, community composition, size-specific density and biomass, and trawl or other fishing impact in the Greater Haig Fras area, with the specific re-survey of the study site visited in 2012 and 2015.The outcomes of this work will have direct relevance for the UK Government (e.g. JNCC), and will provide insights into the long-term evolution of MPAs on the UK shelf. The chief scientist will stay in close contact with JNCC to determine potential additional survey targets in the Greater Haig Fras area.

RRS Discovery

Cruise Principal scientist & institution Location Duration in days (begins) Aim
DY090 Stephanie Henson

National Oceanography Centre 

South Georgia

South Atlantic Ocean

36 days

Controls over Ocean Mesopelagic Interior Carbon Storage - COMICS

The surface ocean is home to billions of microscopic plants called phytoplankton which produce organic matter in the surface ocean using sunlight and carbon dioxide.  When they die they sink, taking this carbon into the deep ocean, where it is stored on timescales of hundreds to thousands of years, which helps keep our climate the way it is today.

The size of the effect they have on our climate is linked to how deep they sink before they dissolve - the deeper they sink, the more carbon is stored.  This sinking carbon also provides food to the animals living in the ocean's deep, dark 'twilight zone'.

Computer models can help us predict how future changes in greenhouse gas emissions might change this ocean carbon store.  Current models however struggle with making these predictions.  This is partly because until recently we haven't even been able to answer the basic question 'Is there enough food for all the animals living in the twilight zone?'.  But in a breakthrough this year we used new technology and new theory to show that there is indeed enough food. 

So now we can move on to asking what controls how deep the carbon sinks. There are lots of factors which might affect how deep the material sinks but at the moment we can't be sure which ones are important.  We think that two important ones are the amount of surface biomass and the amount of oxygen inside the ocean.

In this project we will make oceanographic expeditions to two different places where only these factors vary to test how these different factors affect carbon storage in the deep ocean.

DY086 was the first of those expeditions and this is the second DY090.  On both expeditions we will measure the carbon sinking into the twilight zone and the biological processes going on within it.

Then we will determine if the systems are balanced - in other words, what goes in, should come out again.   We will then write equations linking all the parts of the system together and analyse them to make them more simple.

At the same time we will test whether the simple equations are still useful by seeing if they produce good global maps of ocean properties for which we have lots of data.

Finally, when we are happy that our new equations are doing a good job we will use them in a computer model to predict the future store of carbon in the ocean and how it will change as the ocean warms.

Further information can be found here


Previous and Upcoming Expeditions

Learn about the previous research expeditions that have been undertaken.