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Cruising the Mediterranean: a first-hand account of a month at sea – Part 1

Cruising the Mediterranean: a first-hand account of a month at sea – Part 1

Simona Aracri, a PhD student at University of Southampton, spent a month aboard the research vessel, R/V Minerva Uno, cruising the Mediterranean Sea. Simona and the team of scientists aboard the boat documented their experiences via blog. Over the coming weeks we’ll feature a few of the posts the team shared over the one month voyage: you can expect to find out what life aboard a large research vessel is like, what scientists do when studying the ocean depths and how the whole team has been enriched by the experience. Before we get stuck into the diary entires, a little background on the research aims of the cruise.

The cruise in the Western Mediterranean is part of the EU project OCEAN-CERTAIN – “Ocean Food-web Patrol – Climate Effects: Reducing Targeted Uncertainties with an Interactive Network”. The OCEAN-CERTAIN project has 11 partners from 8 European countries, as well as Chile and Australia. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is the project coordinator. OCEAN-CERTAIN is investigating the impact of climatic and non-climatic stressors (e.g., ocean acidification, warming of the surface layer and associated increased stratification) on the functionality of the marine food web and the connected biologically-driven sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere to the deep sea (“biological pump”). This will be done by utilising existing ecosystem models employing existing data, in addition to mesocosm ( an experimental tool that brings a small part of the natural environment under controlled conditions), lab-scale experiments and field studies. OCEAN-CERTAIN will also show how potential climate-driven physical, chemical and biological changes may affect relevant economic activities and human welfare and help to identify adaptation pathways.

The cruise lasted 4 weeks crossing all seas in the Western Mediterranean, with the exception if the Alboran Sea due to severe weather, under the supervisor of the co-chief scientists Jacopo Chiggiato and Katrin Schroeder and the chief technician on-board Mireno Borghini from CNR-ISMAR, Italy.

5th August 2015 – The modern Captain’s log
Naples Port and patron saint Gennaro waving during the departure. Three times a year saint Gennaro's blood, kept in sealed ampules, is liquified in front of the gathered faithful in Naples Cathedral.  Image Credit: Simona Aracri.

Naples port and patron saint Gennaro waving during the departure. Three times a year saint Gennaro’s blood, kept in sealed ampules, is liquified in front of the gathered faithful in Naples Cathedral.
Image Credit: Simona Aracri.

Bon voyage guagliune!
With a fantastic weather forecast, clear blue waters and the ship packed to capacity with scientists and their equipment, the R/V Minerva Uno sailed this morning from Napoli heading for her first station in the Mediterranean Sea.

Our scientific complement, representing institutions from 4 countries (Italy, Germany, UK and Turkey), were up late last night preparing the ship’s laboratory space. Today might be a relaxing day and the fine Italian cuisine, coffee and wine onboard may sound like a little holiday, but the cruise program will be punishing for the next two weeks. Round-the-clock work starts at 23:00 tonight with an eat-sleep-sample-repeat routine between stations. Therefore everyone was keen to get set up yesterday and to get one final ‘normal’ night of sleep.

The overarching theme of our cruise, and of the EU funded project Ocean Certain as a whole, is to investigate how climate change will affect the ocean’s biological carbon pump. We know that with increasing average global temperatures, climate change is making seawater in the Mediterranean warmer and saltier. But, we do not yet know exactly what consequences this will have for marine ecosystems. Changes to the physical properties of the water column in the Mediterranean have direct implications both for fisheries and for the role of the Ocean as a CO2 sink. The sensitivity of the Mediterranean to climate change because of its relatively shallow depth and enclosed nature, combined with its importance to the economies of surrounding countries is why it is one of 3 geographical areas selected for intensive study by the Ocean Certain project. The results of this cruise will be complemented by an east Mediterranean cruise, plus a mesocosm (MesoMed) and multistressor experiments in Crete early next year (2016).

We are now busy refining plans for the next two weeks as we steadily work our way around the western Mediterranean to Menorca where some scientists will swap for the next leg and the ship will replenish supplies. At each of more than 100 stations we will deploy instruments and collect seawater samples. Most chemical and biological measurements won’t be made on-ship due to the delicate nature of the instruments required and the shear length of time it will take to process so many samples, so frozen or preserved samples will be shipped back to our respective institutions. Some chemical parameters including dissolved O2, H2O2 and alkalinity will however be quantified onboard.

Best regards from the Mediterranean!

Mark Hopwood (@Markinthelab and @OceanCertain)

By Simona Aracri, PhD student at University of Southampton and Mark Hopwood, post-doc at GEOMAR, Germany

Life after geoscience

Life after geoscience

After spending 13 years (give or take) at school you are faced with a tough decision: what to study at University (if anything at all, the academic path may well not be for you)? You sift through a bunch of university prospectuses and try to plan your future. Of course, lots of things can change, prior to, during and after you finish your studies. Nevertheless, there is no harm in starting to plan early, while at the same time being open to new opportunities and avenues as and when they come your way. In this post, Sam Illingworth, Lecturer of Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, explores some career choices open to those who chose to study the geosciences at undergraduate level.

It’s that time of year again when undergraduate students are either returning to University, or starting their courses for the very first time. All across Europe there will be tens of thousands of young geoscientists asking themselves the same nagging question: have I made the right choice here?

For many of us, our experiences at University help to shape us into being our future selves. We make strong friendships, experience the highs and lows of living away from home or in a big city for the first time, and we ultimately get our first taste of independent learning. For some this is enough to convince them that they have found their calling, that following on from their undergraduate degree they want to specialise further by taking an additional postgraduate qualification. But for others, this is simply a step too far; they enjoyed their learning experience but now they want to go and put this into practice. So what exactly can you do with a geosciences degree?

A quick job search for the word ‘geosciences’ on a careers website revealed a rather long list of opportunities, which included the following:

  • Exploration geophysicist
  • Software developer
  • Reservoir geologist
  • Mine engineer
  • Earthquake catastrophe model developer
  • Geoscientist

Whilst some of these jobs are fairly specialised (e.g. reservoir geologist), other such as ‘geoscientist’ are more general positions, which are looking to utilise the specialist skillsets that you have developed during your undergraduate training. And let’s face it, if you enjoyed learning about geosciences at university, some of these jobs sound extremely interesting; who wouldn’t want to tell people that they were an earthquake catastrophe model developer?

A map of deviations in gravity from a perfectly smooth, idealized Earth.  The gravity model is created with data from NASA's GRACE mission. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Texas Center for Space Research)

A map of deviations in gravity from a perfectly smooth, idealized Earth. The gravity model is created with data from NASA’s GRACE mission. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Texas Center for Space Research)

According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the Office for National Statistics, the skills shortages in the science and engineering sector are about twice what they are in other areas. In addition to this, people working in this sector tend to earn significantly more than the national salary, and whilst these statistics are for the UK, it is a similar story across most of Europe. What this means is that whilst your degree will not guarantee you a job, you are more likely to be employed than people from other non-scientific backgrounds, and that when you do find a job, the chances are that you will be earning a reasonably healthy salary.

But what if you want to move on, and despite enjoying the course at the time, upon graduating you never want to see another rock, look at another planet, or hear the word fluvial ever again; what hope for you then? Well, the good news is that the key skills that you acquired during your geoscience training are still extremely valuable across a variety of different sectors; you just need to think about how to market yourself effectively. Most workforces will value your analytical and problem solving skills, whilst your practical and fieldwork experience demonstrate that you have effective research and planning skills. Similarly group work exercises demonstrate that you have excellent interaction and liaison skills, whilst your dissertation is a perfect exemplar of good time management, organisation and communication.

Asking yourself if you made the right decision in choosing to study geosciences at university is a perfectly natural question, but if you enjoy the course material and the learning experience then stick at it, as no matter what you decide to do in the future your degree will open a lot of doors, as well as quite a few windows, and a couple of mine shafts to boot.

By Sam Illingworth, Lecturer in Science Communication, Manchester Metropolitan University.

A journey into the Cordon Caulle volcano

A journey into the Cordon Caulle volcano

There is no escaping the fact that one of the perks of being an Earth scientist is the opportunity to visit incredible places while on field work. There is also no doubt that, geologist or not, walking on an active volcano is awe inspiring. Maybe you’ve had the experience of doing so yourself (if so, share your story with us in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you!), but if you haven’t then perhaps this post by Fabian Wadsworth, a volcanology PhD student at the Ludwig-Maximillian Universitat of Munich, Germany and part of the VUELCO project, might give you a feel for what it is like. In the post, Fabian describes his experience of journeying into the Cordon Caulle volcano, in Chile. A regular hiker of the German Alps, Fabian described the difference between climbing the impressive, but well-established trails of the Bavarian mountains to his trip to Chile: “a volcano, is dynamic on a large scale and provides little comfort at all. Hiking in active volcanic landscapes is, for me, more vivid and awakening for this reason.”

Ian Schipper with Jon Castro watching the mouth of the volcano churning out volcanic ash. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

Ian Schipper with Jon Castro watching the mouth of the volcano churning out volcanic ash. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

Dr. Hugh Tuffen, Dr. Ian Schipper and Prof. Jon Castro are volcanologists who study how magmas move, flow and explode on their way up to and over the Earth’s surface. They invited me to join them to Cordon Caulle in January 2014, just two years after it stopped erupting explosively in 2012. This team of researchers had been there in 2011 and in 2012 when it was most vigorously exploding and this post combines photographic reflections on their experience and some from my trip to give you a view of this place and the hike that led us into the volcano’s mouth.

This volcano is unique. It is a type of volcano that produces vast quantities of volcanic glass: obsidian. As well as erupting a huge volcanic cloud, typical of many eruptions, it slowly pushed out a dark tongue of obsidian that was hot enough to squeeze at glacial rates down and away from the source. This kind of eruption is rare and Cordon Caulle is the only time in history that such a phenomenon has been witnessed and studied. Scientists are working to understand how the region can be blanketed by volcanic ash – the result of massive explosions – while this seemingly gentle tongue is pushed out at the same time. In this way, obsidian is one of the most interesting materials to volcanologists and it draws us from all over the world to hike in these wonder-places.

From Puerto Monnt we travelled the 125 km northeast deep into the Andes. The hike to the volcano begins with a long journey through forest up to the highland plateaus. In 2012 this forested land was densely covered in ash from the volcano, Hugh told me, but by 2014 had fully recovered its lush green. From the plateau, the Andes unfold before you and make the many hours hiking feel insignificant. We carried our equipment as well as water, food and sleeping gear ready for a week or more spent in the shadow of the lava. In 2012, the noise of the eruption was intense and could be heard for kilometres around. By 2014-2015, all was quiet except for the buzzing of horseflies and the occasional creek from the heavy glass lava that still crumbled its way over the sand.

The forest land on the hike up in 2012. Hugh remembers the ash filling his hair and covering everything. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

The forest land on the hike up in 2012. Hugh remembers the ash filling his hair and covering everything. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

All around are the dunes of the highland plateaus, ribbed with rainwater gullies and patches of ice, which quench the thirst of hardworking volcanologists.

The dunes of the highland plateaus light up in the low sun. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

The dunes of the highland plateaus light up in the low sun. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

Walking from site to site is hard because the ash-laden sand is soft and sometimes you sink deep. Boots fill with pebble-sized volcanic shards that litter the ground from the last eruption. The distances are also deceptive. The lava, this slow-moving lava flow of glass, is almost forty meters high and many kilometres wide. We made basecamp at one end of the lava and each day hiked to places of interest, sometimes for hours, around the plateaus.

Hugh returned in 2015 yet again with Mike James and student Nathan Magnall and walked between slivers of cloud and tongues of glassy lava. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

Hugh returned in 2015 yet again with Mike James and student Nathan Magnall and walked between slivers of cloud and tongues of glassy lava. Image Credit: Dr. Hugh Tuffen

Starting before dawn, we took one day to set off for a place no one has seen before. We wanted to climb into the mouth of the volcano; into the vent from where the lava was being pushed out back in 2011 and 2012. No one has been into such a place before – the source of obsidian – and we thought that some of the observations we could make would hold a key to the puzzle of these eruptions. We hiked for hours around the great lava flow and to the back side of the vent area. We put on our gas masks to filter some of the still-circulating toxic volcanic gases and particles and we pulled our hats down against the fierce sun. We climbed the cone to the top and peered down into the vent area itself. From that vantage point we circled down the cone’s rim and into the vent proper. From there, gazing back up at the inner walls of the volcano, Hugh, Jon and Ian remembered watched this area explode and writhe just a few years before at the height of eruption. With an uneasy feeling, we set about learning what we could from the rocks and glass at the source of obsidian on our Earth’s surface.

Snatching our hard-won science, we returned to camp only after dark, hungry and thirsty and shared the small celebratory whisky ration we had brought with us. This day, inside the volcano, will remain among the most vivid in my life. And now, back in Munich, I can readily recall the sulfur smell and shine of the glass in that place.

Hugh, Ian and Jon will no doubt continue to return to this enigmatic place to learn more each year and will listen out for the next time obsidian erupts. Nathan Magnall has recently embarked on a PhD project focused on unveiling more of the mysteries of this place and Tuppence Stone, Toby Strong and Christiaan Munoz Salas, who joined Hugh in January 2015, filmed for the forthcoming BBC2 Patagonia series. You can also watch Hugh talk about Cordon Caulle in the video below too – skip to minute 13:00.

The poetry of the place should surely draw people from all disciplines to walk on those new stones – something I emphatically encourage you to do.

By Fabian Wadsworth, PhD Student Ludwig-Maximillian Universitat.

This post was originally posted on the Yetirama Blog. For the original post, please follow this link. We are very thankful to Dr. Hugh Tuffen for the use of his images in this post.


Imaggeo on Mondays: Moulin on the Athabasca Glacier

Moulin . Credit: Stephanie Grand (distributed via

Moulin . Credit: Stephanie Grand (distributed via

The Athabasca Glacier is located in Jasper National Park, in the Canadian Rockies. It is the largest of seven named distributary glaciers carrying ice away from the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains. This picture shows a summer meltwater stream running on the surface of the ice disappear in a moulin – a vertical shaft forming part of the glacier’s internal plumbing system. After entering the moulin, the meltwater may flow through englacial streams before reaching the bottom of the glacier, where it forms a glacial deposit known as a kame (see this video for a description of kame formation processes filmed on location at the Athabasca glacier).

Easily accessible from the highway, the Athabasca glacier is one of the most striking places to observe first-hand the effects of climate change. Warmer temperatures have caused an acceleration of ablation processes such as surface melting and erosion, as shown in this picture. The toe of the glacier is currently retreating between 10 and 25 m each summer and the surface of the glacier is dropping down by more than 5 meters per year. It is expected that the Athabasca glacier will disappear completely within a generation.

Collectively, glaciers in Western Canada and Alaska are estimated to lose 20 to 30 per cent as much as what is melting annually from the Greenland Ice Sheet, compounding disruptions in ocean circulation patterns and global sea levels. The disappearance of these mountain glaciers also has implications for hydropower generation capacity and fisheries.  ​

By Stéphanie Grand, Lecturer at the Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics at the University of Lausanne

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at