Given the presence of large numbers of Sunfish and the sighting of a big Leatherback turtle at the Eddystone, both chasing (!?) Jellyfish, is there anything that has changed with the water mass in the WEC recently? (Simon Thomas – 12 July 2013)

Numbers of Blue Sharks at record highs in the region off Plymouth (Glen Tarran – 17 July 2013)

The recent sustained hot weather has allowed large differences between the surface waters and deeper in the water column temperatures to build up. The temperature difference between the surface and the sea-bed at E1 is now 6 degrees C, varying between 18 degrees at the surface and 12 degrees at the bottom.

12th Jun, 2013

E1 Buoy Deployment

Despite heavy seas, 2.5m swell height, we managed yesterday to get out to the E1 station and successfully deploy a new buoy system.  The deployment was carried out by the Trinity House Vessel Patricia with the whole exercise being extremely slick and professional.  The mooring design for this buoy consisted of an 8 ton weight connected to the buoy with approximately 230m of chain.  When constructing a mooring the weak points tend to be the shackles used for connecting the various components together.  On board the Patricia we witnessed the method used to seize the shackles closed; once the shackle was connected in position the pin was heated until it glowed red hot and then two, large men, beat the pin with sledge hammers to mushroom it and thus prevent it from ever being undone.

The E1 Buoy is a collaboration between the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the UK MET Office, replacing the existing PML buoy with a new purpose built platform incorporating the requirements of both organisations.  This deployment is the culmination of a project that has taken some 18 months from initial planning to final implementation and marks the commencement of a new collaboration with the UK MET office and particularly their marine division.  The project has highlighted a positive way forward in the sharing of expertise to deliver a state of the art multi user platform, thus saving on cost and maximising the potential of these systems.  It is hoped that the E1 buoy is the start of many more future collaborations between the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the UK MET office in marine and environmental monitoring.

The UK MET Office is responsible for the meteorological parameters air temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind speed, wind direction, wave height and wave direction on the buoy.  The Plymouth Marine Laboratory has brought expertise to this project in the measurement of oceanographic parameters and is reporting hourly the sea temperature, salinity, dissolved Oxygen, Chlorophyll fluorescence, turbidity, Coloured Dissolved Organic Material (CDOM), Nitrate and Photosynthetic Available Radiation (PAR).  The data is already being received by both organisations and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory is currently working to present this data hourly on the Western Channel Observatory website.

6th Jun, 2013

Teeming with Ctenophores

Embarking on a kayak trip yesterday evening (5th June) from the River Yealm, Phaeocystis colonies were really evident in the surface water by the harbour office. They were not alone, however, as the water was also teeming with a great many ctenophores, ranging from about 1 – 6 cm in length. This combination of Phaeocystis and ctenophores was observed continuously at the surface down to the river mouth and then 4 miles along the coast to the east in Stoke Bay. This contrasts with station L4 this week where surface water and down to 10 m were observed to be clear (and there were very few single cells observed using flow cytometry) but water samples from 25 and 50 m were observed to have 100s of Phaeocystis colonies per 500 mL and 1000s of single cells per millilitre.

It’s Phaeocystis time again. Phaeocystis is a tiny 4-8 µm alga that forms colonies when conditions are right. The individual cells become encased in a carbohydrate gel matrix which can be a couple of millimetres in size, easily visible to the naked eye and contain 1000s of cells. These colonies can sometimes be clearly seen in coastal waters around the UK and can form blooms that are visible from space by remote sensing satellites.
This year, Phaeocystis started appearing at the sea surface at station L4 a few weeks ago and this week it has been found in large numbers (single cells and colonies) lower in the water column from 25 m to the seabed at about 50 m. What’s really interesting this year is that there may be two species of Phaeocystis in the Channel (see photos): Phaeocystis globosa and Phaeocystis pouchetii.
Phaeocystis globosa, is a temperate species and the species we’ve been seeing regularly off Plymouth for the past 8 years, whereasd Phaeocystis pouchetii, is considered to be more of a cold water, even arctic species, which may have made its way down through the North Sea during our cold winter. This ties in with the observation of cold water species of diatoms such as Chaetoceros teres (photo below) off Plymouth this year. (All photos, Claire Widdicombe, PML)

From Angus Atkinson – from email sent on 19/3/2013

What were you doing exactly 25 years ago?

Back then, L4 was just a bone in my lower back and E1 was a rock climbing grade. Some of us were probably in nappies. In March 1988 I was at BAS and the Plymouth Plankton Mafia were rivals at the time. We just laughed at their legendary tales.

Anyway, this afternoon marks 25 years of almost continuous weekly sampling of the L4 site, half way out to the Eddystone.  Over 1000 weeks of sampling is hard to imagine until you have done, like me, a mere 6 weeks of it. Blundering around in the dark on a wet winter morning…..getting out to Rame before turning back with the weather, then having to repeat this next day………. and that is just collecting the samples.

 What is the big deal about L4? Some time series are miles longer. Our E1 site further offshore has been sampled for a century, but most long programmes are neither regular nor continuous.  Some famous efforts like the CPR survey cover huge swathes of ocean, but the temporal coverage is coarse. Others seem to have it all – regular, long-term sampling of the whole planktonic food web (e.g. Helgoland), but these sites are often shallow, just outside the lab where the land has a huge influence on the sea. L4 does have it all. We are sitting on a gold mine.

 Since arriving at PML a year ago I have been a late gatecrasher to the L4 party, but we are all indebted. Let’s just pause a second and think of the multitude of people who carried L4 along through all these years.


4th Mar, 2013

Winter zooplankton

Over the past few months we have noticed that we have two species of Calanus in our samples from L4. While Calanus helgolandicus and Calanus finmarchicus appear very similar to each other under a microscope, with just a slightly different head-shape and differing leg structure to tell them apart, their spatial distribution and ecological niches are quite distinct. Usually we would expect to see Calanus helgolandicus, a warm water species, but lately we have also seen Calanus finmarchicus, a cold-water oceanic species. Although Calanus numbers are quite low at the moment we are finding that C. finmarchicus are making up a large proportion of adult females, reaching 75% this week. At pretty much the Southern limit of C. finmarchicus distribution here in the English Channel it will be interesting to see how long these copepods hang around, their range is thought to be shifting northwards in response to increasing temperatures. Their numbers have decreased dramatically over the last 40 years, with consequences on the recruitment of important fish species such as cod that eat these nutritious little beasts.

From Rachel Harmer …

Since autumn, numbers of most things have dropped off, except for the copepod Oncaea, where we have observed almost double usual numbers at around 3000 per m3. Looking back at last winter, I reported high numbers of Solmaris corona, a type of jellyfish, these have been completely absent this year, and Liriope, another abundant jellyfish last year has been much lower in number.

From Claire Widdicombe:

The phytoplankton community at L4 started the year as a typical winter assemblage, low in abundance with small benthic and large pelagic species most common. The spring bloom began in earnest mid-March but did not appear to wane and continued for several months. Diversity of diatoms was high and a prolific bloom of Guinardia delicatula became infected with a small heterotrophic flagellate known as Pirsonia sp. Phaeocystis was also common. A marine slick along the SW coast especially at Plymouth at the end of May caused concern in the media. I suspect this was marine detritus from the prolonged phytoplankton bloom that had been re-suspended from the sea floor??

By mid summer the phytoplankton community resembled that typically associated with the autumn with long chain-forming centric and pennate diatoms. E. hux and Karenia bloomed for a short time in July. Unlike previous years there was another significant diatom bloom in the autumn which persisted through to November. There was also a second and prolonged coccolithophore bloom in September-December.

 So all-in-all another unusual year for the phytoplankton. Linked I assumed to the wet and turbulent (windy) weather?!

18th Dec, 2012

Getting data to BODC

Rob Thomas has sent me the following email:

In the New Year could you encourage those working on the WCO datasets to submit the files and documentation so we can process and provide DOIs as per your request? You agreed last year that all WCO DOIs would come from BODC from this year. It would be good if we could get DOIs for all the datasets this year. Would you be in favour of setting a submission target of the end of March for the scientists responsible to compile the necessary data and documentation for all data to the end of 2012?

Current BODC inventory status available from