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Mission Control: An insight into the Dry Lab

The Dry Lab aboard the RV Celtic Explorer is the heart of the scientific operations for the PORO-CLIM Expedition. It’s where we monitor various instruments and work during our shifts.


Following a very successful OBS retrieval period, we are in transit to the new profile.

While transit isn’t as busy as the periods of deployment, acquisition or retrieval, there is still plenty of work to do. Throughout the expedition, we are continuously taking measurements, which means constantly keeping an eye on all the monitors in the dry lab. We monitor several data streams from the dry lab:

  • Location;

  • Ship’s speed;

  • Water depth;

  • Bathymetry (seabed forms and features).

The Dry lab on the RV Celtic Explorer is the heart of the scientific operations during the PORO-CLIM expedition.


Why is it called the Dry Lab?

While the technicians and ship’s crews are working on deck or in the wet lab, the science group spend most of their time in the dry lab. The reasoning behind the name is that we are not allowed to bring our wet working gear with us into the dry lab. Instead, need to leave them in our designated lockers in the changing room on the main deck.

What goes on in the Dry Lab?

The Dry Lab is kitted out with several monitors, which display real time data arriving from the devices that are mounted on the keel of Celtic Explorer.


We work on rotating 4 hours shifts to monitor the data streaming. This means that throughout the 24 hours period, the Dry Lab is never unmanned. Each shift consists of a main scientist and one or two early career researchers. These shift times are 8-12 (am & pm), 12-4 (am & pm) and 4-8 (am & pm).


Outside our shifts, we may still be present in the Dry Lab to work on outreach and communications, for team meetings and access to internet through designated PCs. The internet access on board is patchy at best, as we need to connect to satellite, which makes it slow and means we have limited uploading ability.


We have plenty of exciting video content ready to upload, but unfortunately, we have limited bandwidth. We will be releasing them when we’re back on land- stay tuned!


What do we monitor?

Every 15-30 minutes, we record the ship’s location (Latitude and Longitude), speed in knots (knot = nautical miles per hour= 1.15 miles per hour), also referred to as the SOG: Speed on Ground and the ship’s heading (the compass direction that ship bow or nose is pointed) in a file for future reference. These data are displayed on one of the monitors:

We keep record of the ship’s location (Lat. & Lon.), speed (SOG) and ship’s heading. These data are recorded in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, which is 1 hour behind Irish Standard Time).


We also record the water depth with an Echo sounder. This information is obtained by sending an acoustic signal from the ship and measuring the time it takes to come back after reflecting off the seabed. Since we know how fast the signal travels in water, by measuring the travel time we can measure the water depth. The Echo sounder also has applications for monitoring fish and other marine biomass, which is used a lot when doing marine surveys aboard the RV Celtic Explorer.


A schematic of Echo sounding for measuring water depth [Source]



An example of the water depth monitor. Note the shape of the seabed appeared as red profile. We are in a deep part of the North Atlantic Ocean.


Another important piece of information that we record the bathymetry.

Bathymetry is the forms and features of the seabed (the underwater equivalent of topography). This is recorded by sending acoustic waves in a fan-like (swath) shape and measuring the time it takes for the signal to reach the seabed, reflect and return to the vessel, along with the intensity of the signal.

An example of mapping swath bathymetry using multi-beam Echo sounder [Source]


The device is called a Multibeam Echo sounder (swath). It applies advanced processing methods to come up with the final map of the seabed (bathymetric chart).

An example of the mapped seabed bathymetry using the Multibeam Echosounder Explorer on May 19th 2021. The colour refers to height. Red corresponds to highs, while blue shows lows.

We will describe the technical terminologies, methods and devices mentioned in this post in greater detail in resources section of our website, which will be available after we dock. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more, feel free to contact us.

We also have more posts about our expedition on the RV Celtic Explorer coming up, covering a variety of topics, from our research aims to everyday life at sea.

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As always, follow our progress on our social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram & Facebook). Please do get in touch if you have any questions for us.


Written by Haleh Karbala Ali and edited by Niamh Faulkner


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