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:     190418 08:00
Zone:   Z-3
Subj:    PIM


Pos:  SST, No.1 (N) Muelle Prat, Punta Arenas

WX:  Lt Airs. Overcast with rain. Sheltered waters

Status: Alongside in Punta Arenas

Intentions: ETD Wed 25-APR-18






James Cook

Cruise: JC164
DTG: 190418 0900
Time Zone: UTC+1

Position: 14° 29'S 006° 31'E
Course: 313°
Speed: 10kts
Wind: SE 11kts
Sea: Mod sea and low swell
Status: Passage to Southampton
Intentions: ETA Southampton 120518


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

Brian King

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton

South Atlantic 24S

42 days
Ocean Regulation of Climate through Heat and Carbon Sequestration and Transports (ORCHESTRA): Atlantic 24S


Climate change is one of the most urgent issues facing humanity and life on Earth.

A critical gap in our understanding of how the climate system works concerns the uptake of heat and carbon by the oceans. Over 93% of the extra heat now present in the Earth System because of global warming has entered the ocean, with the recent IPCC assessment showing strong increases in the energy stored in both the upper ocean and deep ocean since the 1970s. The Southern Ocean is disproportionately important in this regard, since it is a key site where water modified by contact with the atmosphere can feed into both the upper layers of the global ocean and its deepest levels.

Consequently, the Southern Ocean accounts for ~50% of oceanic carbon uptake and >75% of the heat uptake. However, reliable projections of the future trajectories of these uptakes are currently not possible, due to the lack of process-based understanding of the governing mechanisms, the absence of a robust network of in-situ observations with which to detect and interpret changes, and inadequately parameterised models.

The proposed expedition:

The proposed expedition is a coast-to-coast full depth hydrographic section, with physical and biogeochemical measurements. The section will cross the Atlantic at 24S. We will occupy up to 150 full-depth stations, where the ship will stop and lowered equipment will measure ocean temperature from surface to seabed. Water samples will be collected at discrete levels through the profile, and brought back to the ship’s deck, where analysts will measure the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide, dissolved oxygen and nutrients that are vital for ocean biological productivity.

When we cross the Atlantic at 24S we will measure the amount of heat and dissolved carbon crossing the section from south to north, and therefore being exchanged between the Southern Ocean and the rest of the Atlantic. This will contribute to the global picture of how the oceans redistribute the heat and dissolved carbon taken up by the Southern Ocean. Some of that extra take-up is carried up to the North Atlantic, where it impacts on European climate.

Measurements were last made on this section by a UK expedition in March/April 2009.

We will be looking to see how things have changed in the intervening nine years.


The cruise blog can be found here 


Further information can be found here and here and here 


Follow the science on @jc159_24s - some great tweets and posts.


RRS Discovery

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

Teal Riley

British Antarctic Survey

South Scotia Ridge and South Orkney Plateau 16 days

Geological and geophysical surveys of the South Scotia Ridge

The southern Scotia Sea is located in a unique location for studying environmental change for two reasons.  First, seafloor ridges like the South Scotia Ridge, and the sub-Antarctic islands act as topographic barriers to ocean currents moving from the Weddell Sea to the South Atlantic, with basin areas providing some routes through for cold dense waters from the Weddell Sea.  Second, glaciers and ice caps on the islands themselves are particularly sensitive to climatic change (known as “sentinels” of change) because they are located in the transition zone between the isolated, cold, Southern Ocean and the better-connected, warmer mid-latitude oceans. Thus, the aims of this project are two-fold:

(i) to understand how and when the South Scotia Ridge formed and its impact on ocean circulation;

(ii) to investigate the last glaciation and retreat of the South Orkney ice cap and its sensitivity to climate variability.

By analysing the composition and geochemistry of basement rocks from the South Scotia Ridge we can determine the age of the topographic highs, for example, did these banks form as part of a Cretaceous-aged granite batholith belt identified in Tierra del Fuego (Eagles, 2006) with similar a magnetic anomaly signature? Also, by retrieving seafloor cores from the tops of the highs we can analyse conditions at the seafloor (from things like isotopes and the species of microfossils) back through time. We do this to look for past changes in ocean conditions including: variability in influence of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current vs. Weddell Sea waters, and variability in primary productivity and sea-ice extent during recent West Antarctic Ice Sheet expansions, as well as during the warm interglacials. This work complements IODP Leg 382 (scheduled 2019), to drill sediments deposited in the basins bordered by Bruce and Pirie banks.

The approach in our second work area, the South Orkney Plateau (SOP), is to perform geophysical surveys to map glacial landforms and sediments on the seafloor in large trenches or troughs that we believe were carved by fast-flowing ice during the last glaciation (c. 20 000 years ago). For example, suites of small (<5 m high) moraines, which can only be identified by high-resolution 3D mapping of the seafloor and sub-surface sediments, indicate “episodic” retreat of grounded ice back towards the landmasses. By taking seafloor cores targeted to sample the transition between subglacial and postglacial sediments we can add a chronology of South Orkney ice cap retreat to the record provided by the glacial landforms; longer cores can be used to identify significant climatic/oceanographic changes that may have driven the retreat. This work builds on previous cruises to the area (e.g. Dickens et al., 2014) and addresses a significant data gap on the southwestern SOP where the deglacial history is virtually unknown.

During DY088 we will deploy seafloor dredges from the RRS Discovery to sample volcanic material from the slopes of Discovery Bank as the prime target, and Bruce and Pirie Banks as secondary targets, and we will recover gravity cores on the tops of the highs. On the SOP we aim to survey in “Signy Trough” (south of Signy Island) and retrieve sediment cores both along the trough and on either side of a significant mid-shelf bank interpreted as the extent of the South Orkney ice cap during the last glacial. The geoscientific expedition team is includes hard-rock geologists, geophysicists and palaeoceanographers, as well as several students who are “first-timers” at sea!

Check the BAS Twitter feed here for more information during the cruise.


The cruise blog can also be found here 


Previous and Upcoming Expeditions

Learn about the previous research expeditions that have been undertaken.