Testing new oxygen sensors (combined with sensors to measure temperature, salinity and pressure) at SAMS’ Scottish Marine Robotics Facility, alongside two of its gliders © Estelle Dumont.

The Royal Research Ship Discovery crew recently deployed high-technology biogeochemical sensors onto existing ‘Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program’ (OSNAP) moorings in the Rockall Trough in the north Atlantic Ocean. By taking continuous measurements in this important yet remote location, the sensors will contribute much needed long-term biogeochemical data to further our understanding of the interactions occurring in our ocean.

The North Atlantic subpolar region lies between roughly 45°N and 65°N. The North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre is a large system of rotating currents which form a key component of the global climate system. In this region, the ocean warms the atmosphere (keeping northern Europe relatively mild) and atmospheric carbon dioxide is drawn into the deep ocean. The flow of energy and elements through the north Atlantic ultimately drives patterns of marine living resources at the ocean basin scale (http://www.ukosnap.org). 

OSNAP provides a continuous record of physical ocean properties in the subpolar north Atlantic through an array of moorings crossing the Atlantic. The newly deployed equipment consists of sensors to additionally measure levels of nutrients, oxygen and pH in the Rockall Trough. A Remote Access Sampler (RAS) will simultaneously collect samples of seawater to validate and complement the automatically recorded data from the sensors.

As Professor Stuart Cunningham, from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) explains, adding these new sensors to the existing infrastructure is an important step, “So far, only the physical parameters of ocean circulation data can be measured at the OSNAP array. Combining this data with the new biogeochemical measurements will, for the first time, give us a long time-series of changes of ocean currents, nutrient concentrations and more. This will be a big advance in our ability to understand the interactions of ocean physics with ocean ecosystems – particularly the cold water coral systems of the Atlantic. "The biogeochemical sensors that have been deployed are not new developments in themselves. However, as Prof Cunningham explains, “We are using them in a novel way. Combining biogeochemistry on these large physics arrays is ground breaking!"

By adding new observations of biogeochemical properties to existing large scale observing infrastructures we can make biogeochemical measurements at broader scales, matching the current physical observations. As a result, the possibilities and implications for understanding the critical processes occurring in our oceans are vast.To implement key agreements to protect biodiversity, adaptive ocean management knowledge is needed on the same ocean basin scale. ATLAS will enhance the purpose-built transatlantic arrays to predict ecosystem tipping points and use this unique basin-scale infrastructure to deepen our understanding of the importance of ocean currents in controlling species distribution and connectivity to drive forward an ambitious new decision support tool for integrated Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP).

You can download a copy of the press release here