'Adopt-A-Float': just in time for Christmas


Besides conducting research, as scientists we also feel as passionate about the legacy our work produces.  From new scientific discoveries and better understanding of the Earth System to informing governments’ policy on the environment, assisting development, encouraging people’s interest in the oceans, and educating & inspiring the next generation of young scientists. 

In this spirit, CUSTARD is delighted to partner with the ‘Adopt-A-Float’ Initiative, linked to the US Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project that is deploying a fleet of ARGO floats in the remote waters around Antarctica.  Argo is an international programme, operational since 2000, that uses profiling floats to observe temperature, salinity, currents, and, recently, to provide information on the life and chemistry of the Earth’s oceans. The globally-spanning data they provide has revolutionised climate and oceanographic research. 

The Adopt-a-float initiative provides a unique opportunity for elementary and secondary school students to engage directly with scientists around the world by adopting and naming Argo-floats scheduled to be deployed in the Southern Ocean (SO) that they can later track online, and by looking at the data being sent back, to learn more about scientific research, the SO and climate change.

On the current CUSTARD research expedition we are deploying six Argo-floats, all of which have been adopted by schools through the ‘Adopt-a-Float’ initiative.  It has been great fun for us to decorate the floats with the students’ imaginative and creative chosen mascots; we hope they approve and enjoy our ‘artistic’ attempts.

CUSTARD wishes to give a big Shout Out and Thanks to all the students of the schools below who have adopted these floats. We wish you great scientific endeavours and hope to one day see you on board our ships as researchers.

 School NameFromSchool YearFloat NameArgo Float #
1North Monterey County Middle SchoolCastorville, California 7BULL PHOENIX18242
2James H. Eldredge SchoolEast Greenwich, Rhode Island 4THE BLOBINATORS18545
3Carmel Del Mar SchoolSan Diego, California 6DRAGON HEART18771
4Twin Oaks High SchoolSan Marcos, California10 – 12FRINGEHEAD18721
5Lincoln Akerman SchoolHampton Falls, New Hampshire 7 – 8LEGACY18098
6California State College – Monterey BaySeaside, CaliforniaCollegeOTTER POP18320

You can find out more about the Adopt-a-Float Initiative on the SOCCOM project website, including details for any teachers out there who  would like to have their students involved.

CUSTARD 2019, Blog # 3 – ‘Adopt-a-Float’: just in time for Christmas

SO Christmas: Why here? Why now?

Sofia Alexiou, NOC


“You’re going to be WHERE for Christmas?!” is the most common response I get from family and friends after I tell them I will be going on a sea-going research expedition in the Southern Ocean for 6 weeks over the holidays. Followed by “Whatever for?”  With 29 scientists, marine engineers and technicians on board the RRS Discovery, (and an equal amount of crew), it occurred to me that this is probably a common theme amongst us, and at some point we all must’ve had that awkward moment where we needed to explain why we go to the far end of the world to conduct our work.  Because a one-sentence response of “to do research” isn’t sufficient enough to satiate their curiosity, nor does any justice to the complexity of interdisciplinary science, carefully coordinated activities of 60 persons, shift patterns, myriad of methodologies and procedures, running of instruments and labs, operating scientific equipment, marine robots, large cranes and winches, all whilst moving about a vessel in 3 to 4m swells, sometimes 25 or even 40 knot winds, in the cold, 700 nautical miles from Antarctica.

Therefore, this post is dedicated to all of our loved ones who we miss during this special time of year, and who support us in our endeavours to understand the ocean and our planet, strive to progress in our fields of research, and for some of us, (ahem), for whom the call of the sea runs deep –  Thank You! And here is a bit of what we are up to, and why it is important.

Oct 2019 RRS Discovery docked outside NOC in Southampton loading equipment for Southern Ocean expeditions
photo by Adrian Martin, NOC

Why Here?

CUSTARD is mainly studying the seasonal growth of microscopic marine plants, called phytoplankton, whose annual growth equals that of all land plants worldwide combined. Without life in the sea, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere would be 50% higher.

For all the keen gardeners out there, you know how important the type and amounts of nutrients, pH, temperature and light conditions affect the health and growth of your garden. These same conditions determine the growth rate of phytoplankton in the ocean. When these plants go through the process of photosynthesis, absorbing carbon dioxide, and eventually die, the carbon held within them moves deeper into the ocean, some in the stomachs of crustaceans and fish that eat them, or by sinking as ‘marine snow’ to deeper parts of the ocean.

This movement of carbon into the deep sea is particularly important in the Southern Ocean since the region is effectively a ‘motorway junction’ for ocean currents. Which motorway the carbon enters determines how long it will remain ‘locked’ away in the ocean – If shallow, maybe just a year or less, but if deep, possibly for hundreds or thousands of years.

Why Now?

Simple – We come to the Southern Ocean during the holiday season because it is mid-summer here at the moment, when marine plants should be blooming – perfect timing for us to sample. Also, sea & weather conditions are more favourable this time of year in this notoriously rough part of the ocean.

Over the coming weeks, our blog will feature more in-depth stories directly from the research teams about their experiences at sea, the work they are conducting, the variety of equipment deployed, including large water samplers, marine snow catchers, moorings with intricate and novel sensors, ocean gliders, marine robots, the labs they are working in, that are kitted out with state of the art instruments used for analysis of nutrients, oxygen, carbon, trace metals, pictures of phytoplankton species, and more.

You can also follow the activities of the expedition and daily Christmas Advent Calendar on the Twitter feed on the right, #CUSTARDcruise

CUSTARD 2019, Blog # 2: SO Christmas: Why here? Why now?

Sailing South for Christmas

RRS Discovery docked in Punta Arenas port, Chile
photo credit: Sofia Alexiou, NOC

by Dr Adrian Martin, Principal Scientist (National Oceanography Centre, UK)


While many people may be thinking of stockings, Rudolph and Frosty at Christmas, the CUSTARD team is heading to the Southern Ocean to study how marine life helps keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Last year we deployed a mooring studded with sensors and two unmanned ‘glider’ submarines at 59oS 89oW, west of the tip of South America. These have given us the first insight into how the ecosystem of this remote environment changes throughout the year, including the harsh winter when you really do not want to be there in a boat. With the team now fully assembled in Punta Arenas, all are now busy unpacking and setting up the equipment that we will need on our return to the site.

This year we will be making much more intense use of the fantastic facilities and laboratories we have on board, to get a more detailed picture of what is happening to the local phytoplankton population and its fate, as its rapid growth leads to starvation as the nutrients run out. Over the next few weeks you will get to read about the many ways in which we study the ocean, from drifting floats to optics and the inevitable big bottles of water. For now though, it is a last chance to send a Christmas postcard before we sail.

Follow us on Twitter for daily CUSTARD Advent Calendar

King Penguins in Punta Arenas, RRS Discovery coming into port
photo credit: Katsia Pabortsava, NOC

CUSTARD sailing south for Christmas on RRS Discovery

The Southern Ocean in a changing climate: open-ocean physical and biogeochemical processes

The Southern Ocean in a changing climate: open-ocean physical and biogeochemical processes (OS1.12/BG4.13/CL4.28)

There will be a Southern Ocean session at the EGU General Assembly 2020 in Vienna (3–8 May 2020).

The Southern Ocean around the latitudes of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is a key region for the vertical and lateral exchanges of heat, carbon and nutrients, with significant impacts on the climate system as a whole. The role of the Southern Ocean as a sink of anthropogenic carbon and heat, and as a source of natural carbon in present and future climate conditions remains uncertain. To reduce this uncertainty, understanding the physical and biogeochemical processes underlying the Southern Ocean internal variability and its response to external forcing is critical. Recent advances in observational capabilities, theoretical frameworks, and numerical models (e.g. CMIP6 simulations) are providing a deeper insight into the three-dimensional patterns of Southern Ocean change. This session will discuss the current state of knowledge and novel findings concerning the role of the Southern Ocean in past, present, and future climates. In particular, it will address physical, biological, and biogeochemical processes, including interior ocean mixing and transport pathways, the cycling of carbon and nutrients, as well as ocean-ice-atmosphere interactions, and their wider implications for lower latitudes and the global climate.

Highlight: Solicited speaker Michael Meredith will report on the outcomes of the Polar Regions chapter of the recent “IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” during this session.

Abstarct submission: (deadline is 15 January 2020, 13:00 CET).

ECS travel support: (deadline is 1 December 2019).

Apply now: post-docs and PhD positions available at UEA

Two research positions and one PhD stipend are available at UEA to join the research group of Prof. Corinne Le Quéré, with the overall aim of better understanding the interactions between the carbon cycle and climate change. Prior experience in carbon cycle research is not essential to apply for these post. 

Post-doctoral research position in carbon cycle modelling. We seek a researcher with experience in computer modelling to develop the first “High-Resolution-High-Complexity” model of the marine carbon cycle, and use the model to understand recent variability in the carbon cycle and project future change, particularly in the Southern Ocean. Prior experience with carbon cycle research is not essential to apply for this post. Funding is secured for 2 years in a first instance, through the NERC SONATA project and the Royal Society. Closing date 3 October.

Post-doctoral research position in oxygen and carbon budget analysis. The post-holder will establish the first global oxygen budget, and provide strong constraints on how the land and ocean carbon reservoirs respond to climate variability and climate change. This work builds on the successful analysis of the global carbon budget, which helped to gain insights and keep track of how the carbon cycle evolves through time. Funding is secured for 30 months, through the European Project CCiCC (Climate-carbon interactions in the coming century) and the Royal Society. Closing date 4 October.

PhD on the impact of climate change and variability on ocean oxygen. Apply by 20 October. Start date is 1 January 2020.

Machine Learning Post-doc

Exciting post-doctoral opportunity to conduct research combining Machine Learning approaches with modelling of the marine carbon cycle and its interactions with climate change. The post-holder will develop and apply Machine Learning approaches to quantify the growth rates of different types of marine plankton as a function of environmental conditions, and use the model to explore the response of marine ecosystems to climate change and other environmental changes. This is an exciting opportunity to join the growing carbon cycle modelling team of Professor Corinne Le Quéré and to work in collaboration with international networks. You do not need prior knowledge of carbon cycle of climate change science to apply for this post. The post is available for 33 months from 1 July or as soon as possible. Application deadline is 6 June.

8th International Symposium on Gas Transfer at Water Surfaces

19 May – 22 May 2020, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK

Bringing together approximately 150 scientists from countries all over the world, this 5-yearly symposium covers all domains where atmosphere and water meet, which include but are not limited to, fresh water, estuarine, mountain, glacial, marine (coastal and open ocean) and polar regions.


Physicochemical and biogeochemical processes that govern atmosphere-water gas exchange and fluxes, which include turbulence, shear, breaking waves, bubbles and natural and anthropogenic surfactants.


The organisers welcome topics including field observations, laboratory and numerical studies, near-surface processes, biological effects including surfactants, the micro-layer, remote sensing, global scale processes and many more.


We are pleased to be able to offer reduced registration fees for students and those from developing countries to enable participation from across the field. In addition, some financial support is available for early career scientists and to help promote women in science.


Early bird registration closes 15th November

ABSTRACT deadline: 14 February 2020



For any queries contact:

SONATA PI on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific

Corinne Le Quéré, SONATA Principal Investigator

SONATA PI and founder of the Global Carbon Budget, Corinne Le Quéré, recently featured on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific discussing the global carbon cycle.

Corinne highlighted her Southern Ocean paper published in the journal Science in 2007, explaining how the earth’s natural carbon sinks were reacting to climate change affecting their ability to absorb new carbon. The research showed that the carbon stores were not as stable as previously though. In the Southern Ocean over a 50-year period, and still now, the wind has increased, affecting the ocean circulation and the carbon sink in that region. Listen to the interview with Corinne here.

CUSTARD research in the Southern Ocean

On 25th November 2018 RRS Discovery sailed on the first of CUSTARD’s three planned research trips, DY096. Leaving from Punta Arenas in Chile, and passing out into the southeast Pacific via Magellan Strait, the target was the National Science Foundation (NSF) Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) mooring site at 89W 55S. CUSTARD aims to study the factors affecting the biological uptake and storage throughout the year in a region for which few observations exist, resulting in a major uncertainty on the carbon cycle in the Southern Ocean, a key conduit of CO2 from the atmosphere into the ocean.

The Southern Ocean is a harsh place to be in winter. The OOI mooring has recorded waves over 20m in height. Hence, the main objective on DY096 was to deploy equipment that could stay out all year when no-one would want to be there in a ship. Through a collaboration with the NSF and OOI, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) came along both to deploy a mooring at the site (now equipped with novel sensors designed at the National Oceanographic Centre (NOC) and to recover existing moorings. Additionally, two gliders (Pancake and Churchill) were deployed, equipped with sensors to measure aggregates of organic carbon as it sinks through the water. Although the weather was a little challenging, the trip was a success and the CUSTARD team have already had the pleasure of watching the Southern Ocean phytoplankton bloom this southern spring, stripping the surface waters of  nutrient and despatching carbon to depth as dead cells, all from the comfort of their warm offices.

At the end of 2019, two more cruises to the site are planned: to do more detailed analysis of the local ecosystem and biogeochemistry (DY111) and to recover the equipment after its tough year in the Southern Ocean (DY112).

Adrian Martin, Principal Investigator.

Image credit: E. Haigh.

Vacancy: Senior Research Associate in Ocean Biogeochemistry

Senior Research Associate in Ocean Biogeochemistry (Ref: RA1590) – The closing date is 12 March 2019.

Looking for a seagoing postdoctoral position on the Southern Ocean carbon sink?

This is your chance!

Applications are invited for the post of Senior Research Associate (SRA) to undertake research on the ocean carbon sink and downward carbon transport in sub-polar waters of the Southern Ocean. The SRA will work with me (Dorothee Bakker) on the NERC-funded CUSTARD (Carbon Uptake and Seasonal Traits of Antarctic Remineralisation Depth,, 2018-2022) project.

The SRA will participate in carbonate system measurements on the CUSTARD research cruise (November 2019 to January 2020) and the CUSTARD mooring recovery cruise (January 2020). The SRA will combine these observations with sensor data from the mooring and autonomous robotic gliders. The SRA will quantify seasonal CO2 air-sea fluxes and the contribution of the solubility, carbonate and soft tissue carbon pumps to seasonal carbon dynamics and downward carbon transport.

For full details and information on how to apply can be found using this link:

The closing date is 12 March 2019.

The position is available from 1 May 2019 for a period of 2 years.

Do not hesitate to ask any questions you may have on this job opening.