On June 7th 2009, the RRS James Cook sets sail from Vigo, Spain on an expedition to investigate a deep-sea canyon in the Bay of Biscay. The Whittard Canyon is one of several large deep-sea canyons that cut the continental slope in this part of the Bay of Biscay. The canyons provide a pathway for the transport of sediments and organic matter from rivers to the deep ocean.
The scientists, led by Dr Veerle Huvenne, will be mapping as much of the Whittard Canyon in as much detail as possible within 12 days. Not an easy task! The canyon is a complex system with four main branches and numerous side-valleys. Depths range from 200 metres at the shelf edge to more than 4500metres at the canyon mouth.
To accomplish this task, the scientists will use the recently renewed TOBI system. TOBI stands for 'Towed Ocean Bottom Instrument'. TOBI carries several sensors including a sonar system that will give information about the seabed sediments and morphology. With this data the scientists will construct detailed maps of the main branches of the Whittard Canyon and learn about how the canyon was formed - local landslides, how sediment is transported and the formation of gulllies. This will also provide insights on the different terrains that provide habitats for animals living in the canyon.
The maps will be essential for the planning of ROV dives during the next expedition to the Whittard Canyon that will be using Isis, the UK's deepest diving ROV - remotely operated vehicle.
Throughout the expediton scientists onboard will be contributing to an online diary - Classroom@Sea until they dock in Brest, France on the 19th June.