Postcard from the Straits of Florida

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As part of the research project he is leading, Professor Ric Williams Chair in Ocean and Climate Sciences at the University of Liverpool, has just undertaken a research cruise to the Florida Straits.

Professor Williams is the Principal Investigator on a £4 million collaborative research project to explore how the Gulf Stream affects the climate system through the transport of nutrients and carbon.

The purpose of the five-day long research cruise was to deploy scientific instruments including moorings and floats with sensors and autonomous vehicles into the fast-flowing waters of the Florida Straits to assess nutrient and carbon levels and the amount of turbulence in the Gulf Stream.

The equipment will provide data, take measurements and collect samples in order to find out how the Gulf Stream current affects nutrients and carbon transport and if this interaction enhances or inhibits the uptake of carbon dioxide by the ocean.

One of instruments (above) will collect plastic bags of water close to the sea floor in the area where the Gulf Stream is oldest. It will take samples taken every few weeks to a month over the next year which will be analysed for measurements of exotic quantities such as isotopes in the water.

The team deployed an autonomous vehicle that will provide fine scale measurements of mixing along the Gulf Stream, which is crucial for testing hypotheses about how properties like nutrients and carbon vary if they are transferred in the vertical towards the ocean surface or transferred in the horizontal.

Revealing the effect of mixing is important to find out as this process makes a big difference to the downstream fate of properties carried by the Gulf Stream, in particular whether the Gulf Stream only affects the immediate overlaying ocean or much of the downstream waters in North Atlantic.

Professor Williams said: “This research cruise has allowed us to deploy the instruments and sensors needed to collect the data we need for this project. We will use this data alongside the latest state-of-the-art ocean and climate models to provide us with some answers as to how the Gulf Stream affects the carbon cycle, a hitherto ignored aspect of the climate problem.”

After five days at sea and with a series of storms developing out in the North Atlantic, the research ship returned back to the calmer waters of Miami.

Professor Ric Williams is co-lead of the University of Liverpool’s Climate Futures research theme.

The four-year research programme is supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the US National Science Foundation (NSF).

The research team involved scientists from the USA, the University of Miami, and the UK from National Oceanography Centre, the Universities of Liverpool and Southampton, the Scottish Association of Marine Science and the British Antarctic Survey.

Thanks to the captain and crew of the Walton Smith, the Principle scientist of the cruise, Professor Lisa Beal from University of Miami, and Dr Pete Brown and Darren Rayner leading the National Oceanography Centre contribution and all the research team involved in the project.