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.

Blog: Fifty shades of white

Fifty shades of white. Elise Droste

Alright, alright, alright, I know! It’s been a while since I wrote the last blog… But so much has happened! Where do I start?

We finished sampling along the zero meridian transect. Irregular working and sleep hours were rewarded by the stunning track through the sea ice towards Neumayer III Research Station. The frequency at which we lowered CTDs into the water became lower and I found more time to roam around on deck, spotting the occasional seal or penguin. And yes, also Emperors! The ice-groups could finally take their samples on the ice floes.

Emperor penguin colony at Neumayer III Research Station.

One morning, I rolled out of bed (curtains still drawn because my room mates were sleeping), had breakfast, and made my way to the bridge to record the ice-observations within my time slot. I trotted up the last few steps and was blinded (literally, at first) by the sight of a bright white wall of ice. We had reached a coastal polynya, tranquilly shimmering against the Antarctic ice shelf. Ecstatic, I rushed up to the top deck with my camera. We were so close that we could see the various layers of ice and beautiful icicles dripping down the overhangs. Yes, ice is white. But there are many, many shades of white in Antarctica. They range from grey-ish, almost black under certain light conditions, to blinding incandescent whiteness that hurts your eyes if you don’t wear sunglasses. Then you’ve also got the blue ice, which has an entire range of shades of its own. Sometimes you can only notice a vague blue-ish hue, but my favourite is the intense, and at the same time deeply profound, “fresh” blue that is often hidden right beneath the water’s surface of ice floes or inside a crevasse in the ice shelf.

Ice flow in the Weddell Sea.

(By the way, I just realised that this blog will not contain a lot of PICCOLO science… I apologise. We’ve been taking oxygen and DIC/TA samples at CTD stations. Float deployments have been paused while we’re in the vast sea ice. Of course there’s ice stations and under-ice stations going on, which is making me want to find an excuse to take ice samples. )

Elephant Island.

Polarstern was parked along the shelf ice, which towered about 10 m above the water. Besides Neumayer III that was barely visible in the distance, there was just the flat, vast expanse of shades of white. Antarctica. It only took a quick lunch break, before an army of Pistenbullies and skidoos had suddenly materialised along the edge of the ice shelf. In the next two days, new supplies for Neumayer would be unloaded from the ship onto the shelf, and everything that Neumayer wanted to get rid of would be stored on the ship. An impressive operation involving all crew members and scientists.

Polarstern parked along the Antarctic ice shelf.

Regardless of the busy schedules, it was arranged that we could still visit the research station. It’s a rather bumpy 1.5 hour trip in a sled pulled by a Pistenbully. It was a period of time when we all wished that we had more pillowed bottoms, but the visit was absolutely worth every bruise. The current inhabitants of Neumayer showed us around and it is impressive: it is built on poles that stick into the shelf ice. The height of these poles are frequently readjusted to keep the station stable. And on top of all of this excitement, we went to see the Emperor penguin colony, which consisted mostly of chicks who were waiting for their parents to return with food.


Right before continuing on our journey through the Weddell Sea, we drank gluhwein on the ice shelf and played football: Polarstern against Neumayer. What followed was the most epic good bye that I’ve experienced: as the ship pushed itself away from the edge of Antarctica, we waved at the people from Neumayer, swaying along with “It’s time to say goodbye …” until they were out of sight and swallowed by all 50 shades of white.

Inhabitants of Neumayer waving goodbye as we leave the ice shelf.

Elise Droste is based at the University of East Anglia and is deploying the Argo floats from the RV Polarstern for the winter 2018/19, as part of the team working on the PICCOLO project in RoSES. She’s also taking DIC and total alkalinity samples to use in her PhD project about the carbonate chemistry of the seasonally ice-covered regions in the Southern Ocean.

Blog: “It’s like the Caribbean, but with ice bergs”

“It’s like the Caribbean, but with ice bergs” – Elise Droste


Happy New Year everyone! May it be filled with amazing ocean science 😉 The New Year’s party on Polarstern will be added to the Christmas evening as a night to remember. One of the highlights was the surprise that the Dutch on this ship had had the ingenious foresight to ship oliebollen ingredients along with their scientific equipment months ago. Oliebollen are a Dutch tradition on New Year’s Eve: deep fried dough with sugar. HMM!! And so when we were done making them, we paraded with over-full dishes of oliebollen through the helihanger where the party was, dancing along “Dancing Queen”.

Since I wrote my last blog, all UK MetOffice floats that I had brought with me on Polarstern have been deployed. Paul Chamberlain and I now feel like fully competent, professional float deployers. The floats are now – hopefully happily – drifting along with the deep ocean currents. Yes, it’s a bit of a relief. As soon as we were back on the zero meridian, hard work kicked in. Gone was any decent rhythm of time. Sleep was reduced to a couple of hours scattered throughout the day and my activities were entirely dependent on when we had a CTD going into the water and when a float would go in with it, only to never return.

Paul Chamberlain (Scripps Institute) and I are ready to deploy Yellow Penguin (credit for photo goes to Markus Rex).

The floats have all been deployed around Maud Rise (an under-water mountain), where the presence of a macro-scale eddy will likely maintain them in the vicinity of that region. The reason for the choice of this location is that this is an important place where cold, carbon rich deep waters upwell to the surface.

Lowering the floats into the water (with a rope) was an adventure in itself, albeit a very quick one. If not done carefully enough and a sensor hits the side of the ship… Let’s just say that myself and many other people who are part of PICCOLO would be extremely upset. Anyway, no need to think about those career-doom scenarios anymore. I was happy to start deploying the Core Argo floats first, which have less sensors on them (only a CTD), so less things to damage. The sea was also very smooth. By the time we got to the station where I needed to deploy a biogeochemical (BGC) float, however, the winds and the waves had picked up considerably and it was snowing. It went fine!

Yellow Penguin is carefully being lowered into the Southern Ocean (credit for photo goes to Markus Rex.

The two BGC floats were named by the Roddick class at Buckden CE Primary School. The children came up with a whole list of very creative names and it was impossible for me to decide which ones to write on the floats. I therefore asked the scientists and crew to give their vote on their favourite names. It became a tie, so what else could I do but let the captain of the ship cast the deciding vote? Meet Frosty Float and Yellow Penguin, our two BGC floats that will feed data to PICCOLO over the next 3-4 years. (Yellow Penguin’s colour might confuse you a little… Unlike the Argo floats that pop up on Google Images, my floats aren’t actually yellow. And despite explaining this to the scientists, crew, and captain, it still won!)

The hard work that ended a hours before the start of 2019 will resume tomorrow when we get to the most southern part of the Greenwich meridian and will sample one CTD after another. Which is why I’m now just watching the calm waves from the winch room (one of my favourite spots to sit on the ship). The clouds are dissolving and the sun is brightening a clear sky and blue ocean. In a sudden exultation of awe, Diego Filun pronounced: “It’s like the Caribbean! But with ice bergs.”

Elise Droste is based at the University of East Anglia and is deploying the Argo floats from the RV Polarstern for the winter 2018/19, as part of the team working on the PICCOLO project in RoSES. She’s also taking DIC and total alkalinity samples to use in her PhD project about the carbonate chemistry of the seasonally ice-covered regions in the Southern Ocean.

Blog: In the officer’s chair

In the officer’s chair – Elise Droste


I’ve come up to the bridge, where it’s very quiet at the moment. The silver lining, or should I say white lining (?), of the medevac was that we had a white Christmas. We reached the ice in the morning of Christmas day. Despite the long Christmas celebrations of Weihnachtsabend (an evening to forever remember), I spent the entire day out on deck, listening to the glorious crushing sounds of the ice underneath Polarstern’s hull. I’ve seen a seal (Crabeater) and penguins (mostly Adelie and one Emperor). It’s safe to say that I’ve had one very merry Christmas indeed!

A magical white Christmas on RV Polarstern in the Antarctic sea ice, 2018.

Scientific activities have been very little to none due to our urgency to get to Novo. So I’ll take this opportunity to tell a little bit more about why I’m actually on this ship. This cruise is part of my PhD, which I started last September at the University of East Anglia. I’m primarily taking water samples along the ocean column, which I’ll analyse for dissolved inorganic carbon and total alkalinity later this year, and deploying a number of Argo floats. I’ll be using the data derived from these to understand processes that affect the carbon uptake by the Southern Ocean (specifically the Weddell Sea). One of the factors that plays an important role in this is sea ice, which to a certain extent hinders the exchange of carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere. One of the major challenges in this field is the scarcity of data in the Weddell Sea. This is due to the general rough conditions to get here, but especially the inaccessibility during the winter months when sea ice keeps defies even the strongest ice breakers. This is where the Argo floats come in.

Floats are devices that drift along with the ocean current at about 1000m depth. Every ten days (or whatever you set the cycle to), they will adjust their buoyancy to sink to a maximum depth of 2000m, after which they will come back to the surface. During their ascent, they take measurements. For the Core Argo floats (of which I’ll be deploying three from the UK MetOffice), these measurements only include conductivity (as a proxy for salinity), temperature, and depth. For the biogeochemical (BGC) Argo floats (of which I’ll be deploying two from the UK MetOffice), additional measurements include those for dissolved oxygen, irradiance, fluorescence, and backscatter. These sensors need to be calibrated, which is why it’s important for us to take additional water samples at stations where we deploy the BGC floats.

By deploying them during summer in a region that will be ice covered in winter, I’m hoping to get winter-time data when the floats profile underneath the ice. This is crucial in order to reduce the current bias we have in our understanding of biogeochemical processes in ice-covered oceans.

The deployment of the floats is part of the PICCOLO project (Processes Influencing Carbon Cycling: Observations of the Lower limb of the Antarctic Overturning). The hope is that the floats I’m deploying during this cruise will remain alive for the duration of the project and help reach its objectives in quantifying the carbon uptake of the Southern Ocean.

Team BGC ready to deploy Frosty Float (named by Roddick class at Buckden CE Primary School, UK. Credit for photo goes to Nicolas Le Paih).

So as soon as we return back to the zero meridian, the hard work and unpredictable hours will continue. But at this very moment, as I’m on the bridge, sitting in the officer’s chair (being extremely careful not to accidentally nudge one of the controls that’s at an uncomfortable short distance from my knee), all I can think about is the incredibility of the view in front of me: scattered ice bergs in a silvery ocean.

Elise Droste is based at the University of East Anglia and is deploying the Argo floats from the RV Polarstern for the winter 2018/19, as part of the team working on the PICCOLO project in RoSES. She’s also taking DIC and total alkalinity samples to use in her PhD project about the carbonate chemistry of the seasonally ice-covered regions in the Southern Ocean.

Blog: An Unexpected turn

An Unexpected turn: Elise Droste


As the first snow fell yesterday, we received the news that the ship had declared a medical emergency on board. We’re too far south to go back to Cape Town, so instead Polarstern is re-directed straight towards Novo, a Russian station in Antarctica, from where our patient can be flown to South Africa. We are currently moving at full speed, a sight and experience that is quite remarkable.

It’ll take us three days to get there (we’re now one day in) and all science activities (except for the underway sea water analyses) have been paused.

This gave us some thinking time about how to proceed after having reached Novo. As we’re losing almost a week in terms of time, our sampling activities had to be rearranged somewhat. All team leaders being understanding of each other’s research priorities, only a couple of iterations were necessary and our chief scientist re-designed our course of action. After Novo, we will return to the zero meridian transect, but we will stop at less stations so that we will still have enough time in the Weddell Sea.

Today, as I was standing on deck and temperatures outside dropped to just below freezing, I realised how fast we were suddenly approaching the icy continent. We’ve just passed 60 degrees south and I’ve seen my first ice berg!

Ice_berg_20181223.jpg: One of the first ice bergs spotted on PS117.

The first one was very far in the distance, but a few hours later I barely allowed myself to grab a coat as I saw another one right outside my window and speed-walked (no running allowed…) to the deck. But that’s not all. A group of humpback whales decided to grace us with their presence. I thought I had missed them, but when I turned to look to the mass of water where the Polarstern is racing to, I could most definitely spot them. A plume of water droplets, a fin and a back, and they were gone.

Elise Droste is based at the University of East Anglia and is deploying the Argo floats from the RV Polarstern for the winter 2018/19, as part of the team working on the PICCOLO project in RoSES. She’s also taking DIC and total alkalinity samples to use in her PhD project about the carbonate chemistry of the seasonally ice-covered regions in the Southern Ocean.


Blog: “It’s not funny!”

Blog: “It’s not funny!” – Elise Droste


The Southern Ocean was obviously not going to let us pass with only 2 metre high waves. The smoothness of the ocean made it difficult to imagine that it would ever turn into a wilder version of itself, but when it did, it was believable. We were all urged to double check that our equipment was well secured in the labs so that the 5 metre high waves wouldn’t knock them over. When we were presented with the prospect of a newly developed storm meeting us on our cruise track along with 6 metre high waves, the room filled with nervous giggles. But when the captain at that point turned around in his seat and urged, “It’s not funny”, the giggles quickly died. It was deemed safer to change our track in order to avoid the storm hitting us right on.

This meant that we would have to make up for some time, so the CTDs that we’re deploying until we get to the zero meridian will only go to 2000 metre depth instead of to the bottom of the ocean. Among other research interests, the CTD deployments are crucial for the biogeochemical (BGC) floats that we’re deploying, the sensors of which will need calibration using the water sample analyses.

Stormy conditions during the first SOCCOM float deployment of the cruise.

This morning, at 01:30 AM, the first BGC SOCCOM float was deployed (a Navis SeaBird BGC float with an oxygen sensor, nitrate sensor, Ocean Color Radiometer, fluorescence and  backscatter, and a pH sensor mounted on it). Together with a watchman, Paul had to deploy it from the working deck that was otherwise prohibited due to safety concerns. The float was soon sinking to its activation depth, at which it will wake itself up and come to the surface to make contact. By the time it makes its first call from the ocean to the server, we’re already long gone from its location. Perhaps on Monday (after the weekend), we will receive a confirmation of the float’s life as a Christmas gift. We didn’t have time to think about it right after the deployment, as we had to take over 80 water samples for calibration purposes.

At CTD stations where a biogeochemical Argo float is deployed, we take oxygen, dissolved inorganic carbon/total alkalinity, pH/alkalinity, nutrients, HPLC, POC, and salinity samples. Most of these are used to calibrate the float’s sensors. In total, we took over 80 water samples for one biogeochemical float deployment station!

Elise Droste is based at the University of East Anglia and is deploying the Argo floats from the RV Polarstern for the winter 2018/19, as part of the team working on the PICCOLO project in RoSES. She’s also taking dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total alkalinity samples to use in her PhD project about the carbonate chemistry of the seasonally ice-covered regions in the Southern Ocean.

Blog: Tights and Mosquito Nets

Tights and Mosquito Nets – Elise Droste


Three days into the PS117 expedition and I’ve finally managed to find some time to start this blog! I’ve just come from the Zimmertal, which may have helped the inspiration along. For those who haven’t sailed on the RV Polarstern before, Zimmertal (a German word, the meaning of which I’ve been unable to find) is an evening at the bar with volunteers as bar tenders, music, and very, very invitingly priced drinks. It becomes challenging to convince people back home that actual work gets done on a ship with a gym, swimming pool, library, and bar, but perhaps if I stop mentioning those and focus on the science I might succeed.

Sunke (MSc student at Southampton University), Paul (PhD student at Scripps and representing SOCCOM), and I (PhD student at the University of East Anglia and representing the PICCOLO project on the ship) will be working closely together during this cruise. We have been released by our supervisors to run our work in their complete absence, using equipment we’ve never seen before, on a ship, in the middle of the ocean. And, it’s exciting!

So far things seem to be going well for us. 1) The biogeochemical Argo floats have passed the rigorous testing on the helideck of the ship docked at the port of Cape Town, in the sunshine, with Table Mountain looming in the background. 2) Sunke and I have taken our first oxygen and dissolved inorganic carbon/alkalinity samples today and Sunke has also analysed the first oxygen samples. Even though we’re still getting used to the procedures, we’re pretty chuffed with the progress.

Sampling for the first time from the CTD was as stressful as I had imagined, especially with the high water demand for some depths. The contrast is laughable between Sharyn, who moves through the movements – including opening a terribly fiddly tap – all with just one hand and the elegance of a gazelle, while I become a hazard as soon as I open the Niskin bottle. Anyone within a radius of 2 metres runs the risk of getting their face squirted with seawater retrieved from a depth of 5000 metres.

(For those of you reading this and are unfamiliar with the CTD: it stands for “conductivity, temperature, and depth” as it is a device that measures these parameters when it is lowered into the ocean by a winch. Also mounted on it are 24 bottles that close at different depths and thereby collect water samples. Once back on deck, we each sub-sample from these bottles for our own analyses and experiments.)

One of the first CTDs from the Alfred-Wegener Institute (leading this expedition) being hauled out of the water after reaching a depth of 5000m.


It’s incredibly interesting to learn about what other research groups on the ship are doing, most of which is so far outside of my own field that I would barely come into touch with it otherwise. On a research ship, you get to see how various groups set up their labs in the most creative ways. For example, we share a lab with a group working on microplastics, and a mosquito net seems to be an important part of their set-up. Besides keeping Antarctic mosquitos (?) away from their important science, it apparently reduces microplastic contamination by an amazing 80%! However, when a pair of tights turned up among our equipment, I felt like the mosquito net hanging in the lab was perhaps not the craziest thing. Besides keeping my legs warm as temperatures drop, the nylon tights are great to put the HPLC filters in, before dunking it all into liquid nitrogen (my legs not included). The nylon does not become brittle in the extreme coldness of the liquid nitrogen, in which the filters are stored for later analysis of chlorophyll.

The next days will be interesting, as our luck with the great weather conditions may run out!

Testing the two biogeochemical SeaBird Navis floats on the RV Polarstern at Cape Town, with Table Mountain in the background.

Elise Droste is based at the University of East Anglia and is deploying the Argo floats from the RV Polarstern for the winter 2018/19, as part of the team working on the PICCOLO project in RoSES. She’s also taking DIC and total alkalinity samples to use in her PhD project about the carbonate chemistry of the seasonally ice-covered regions in the Southern Ocean.

Vacancy: Research Fellow in Ocean Biogeochemistry

Research Fellow in Ocean Biogeochemistry – Marine Biogeochemistry

Location:  National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Salary:   £30,395 to £32,236 
Full Time Fixed Term (until 30/04/2021)
Closing Date:  Monday 28 January 2019
Reference:  1090018HN

We are looking to recruit a highly skilled individual to undertake a programme of research within a NERC funded project investigating the biogeochemistry of the Southern Ocean. The recruited Post-Doctoral Research Fellow will work on the influence of iron and other environmental conditions on phytoplankton community composition and elemental stoichiometry as a key component of the wider project ‘Carbon Uptake and Seasonal Traits of Antarctic Remineralisation’ (CUSTARD:, which itself forms part of the broader NERC RoSES programme ( .

Biogeochemical processes within the Southern Ocean form a key component of the global carbon cycle. However significant uncertainties remain concerning the controls on phytoplankton growth and consequent elemental cycling which form a major component of this system. Within this context, CUSTARD aims to collect, analyse and interpret new data within an important and highly under-sampled region.

You will have a PhD* or equivalent professional qualifications and experience in some field relating to biological and/or biogeochemical oceanography. You would be expected to participate in the project’s dedicated research cruise to the Pacific sector of the sub-Antarctic Southern Ocean in late 2019, subsequently leading analysis and dissemination of key aspects of this research. Knowledge or experience in at sea experimental work, trace metal clean sampling, phytoplankton photosynthetic physiology and/or at sea primary production measurements would be advantageous.

You will work at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton in Ocean and Earth Sciences and join an active group studying the role of phytoplankton in the global oceans and links to the cycles of carbon and nutrients in the Earth system.

This post is available until the 30/04/2021 from April 2019.

*Applications will be considered from candidates who are working towards or nearing completion of a relevant PhD qualification. The title of Research Fellow will be applied upon completion of PhD.  Prior to the qualification being awarded the title of Senior Research Assistant will be given.