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:   260417 11:45
Zone:   UTC

Exped: DY077
Subj:    PIM 

Pos: 48 52N   016 35W
V/L on DP

Wx: NE force 3/4. Part cloudy with rain showers.  Slight sea and mod swell.

Status:  DY077 science activities ongoing.  Amphipod trap and bathysnap deployed yesterday afternoon. Overnight coring
Intentions: - Continue with DY077 science activities. Starboard side deployments of CTDs, camera frames and pumping units today. Overnight recovery of drifting traps. 

Other: Fleetbroadband currently inoperative, with a backlog of outgoing emails in Thunderbird. All traffic currently routed through VSAT

Vessel: James Cook

Research Expedition ID: JC149 Leg1
DTG: 26417 0700L
Time Zone: UTC -4

Position: 14 20.2N 061 03.6W
Co: 154T
Spd: 5.0Kts
Wx: E x 10Kts
Sea: Slt sea and low swell

Status: Completed Shoot Line No2 at 2230L Vessel transited Martinque waters with array out but not firing. Soft start for Line No3 to start at 26/0810


Intentions: Commence Shoot Line No3 which will last at least 30 hours. Vessel will then transit wet and commence shooting lines up to the North. Extra Shoot lines have been added to plan in the northern section. Intentions are to deploy the 3000m streamer for the first part of the Northern Shoot.



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

David Smeed

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

North Atlantic



(February 2017)

The RAPID 26°N program

There is a northward transport of heat throughout the Atlantic, reaching a maximum of 1.3PW (25% of the combined atmosphere-ocean global heat flux) around 26°N. The heat transport is a balance of the northward flowing warm Gulf Stream, and southward flowing cold North Atlantic Deep Water. Together these are known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Variations in the AMOC have important impacts on the climate of the Atlantic and surrounding regions.

Since 2004 the RAPID program has been continuously monitoring the AMOC and associated northward heat transport at 26°N. The time series of the AMOC produced by the RAPID program is freely available from here and is widely used by ocean and climate scientists around the world.

There are three components to the AMOC. Firstly monitoring of the AMOC at 26°N is facilitated because the Gulf Stream transport is confined to the Florida Strait where it is measured using a subsea cable. A second part of the AMOC is the shallow wind driven transport, referred to as the Ekman flow. This is measured by satellite scatterometers. The third part is ‘mid-ocean’ circulation from the Florida Strait to the coast of Africa and this flow is monitored by the RAPID team at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. An array of moored instruments take measurements of temperature, salinity and currents across the Atlantic. Once every 18 months the array is serviced. Instruments are recovered and serviced and the data downloaded before the moorings are deployed again.

Recently oxygen and biogeochemical sensors have been added to the array as part of the ABC project. The North Atlantic is thought to be accumulating human carbon emissions faster than anywhere else in the ocean and the ABC project aims to quantify the variability of the transport of carbon dioxide by the overturning circulation.


RRS Discovery

Cruise Principal scientist & institution Location Duration in days (begins) Aim
DY072 Nick Harmon

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

North Atlantic



(March 2017)

DY072 – Passive Imaging of the Lithosphere-Athenosphere Boundary (PiLAB)

Plate tectonics has been a fundamental tenet of Earth Science for nearly 50 years, but fundamental questions remain, such as where is the base of the plate and what makes a plate, "plate-like?" A better understanding of the transition from the rigid lithospheric plate to the weaker mantle beneath has important implications for the driving forces of plate tectonics, natural hazards, and climate change.

The Passive Imaging of the Lithosphere-Asthenosphere Boundary (PILAB) Experiment led by Catherine Rychert aims to understand the nature of the base of the tectonic plate. We will systematically image the entire length of an oceanic plate, from its birth at the Mid Atlantic Ridge to its oldest formation on the African margin. This is a large-scale focused effort with multiple scales of resolution and sensitivity, from a metre to kilometre scale using seismic and electromagnetic methods. This scale, focus, and interdisciplinary approach will finally determine the processes and properties that make a plate strong and define it.

In March 2015, on a previous cruise, 39 broadband ocean bottom seismometers (BOBS) and 39 ocean bottom electromagnetic instruments (OBEM) were deployed in the equatorial Mid Atlantic to record for one year. The dense seismic and EM array will achieve the imaging goals of the study. DY072 is the recovery cruise for these instruments and will continue marine geophysical mapping of the area.

Further information on this expedition can be found at here and here


Previous and Upcoming Expeditions

Learn about the previous research expeditions that have been undertaken.