Christmastime at Sea: Research Cruise in the Subtropical Atlantic Ocean

Expedition team led by Kiel University investigates seafloor off Northwest Africa and the Canary Islands

Close up of christmas tree decorated with MSM113 log
© Bruna Pandolpho, GEOMAR

3800 kilometers straight distance to Kiel's Christmas village, about 25 degrees Celsius warmer than northern Germany in Winter, and 24-hour work in shifts: these are the conditions under which an exhibition team of 19-members on the German research vessel MARIA S. MERIAN (MSM) is spending Christmas and the New Year. Between technical measuring instruments, scientific analyses and unpredictable wave movements, Christmas preparations are also underway with a Christmas tree, Secret Santa, festive meals and other surprises on the swaying laboratory platform.

The expedition's chief scientist is Sebastian Krastel. The geophysicist is a professor at the Institute of Geosciences at Kiel University in the priority research area Kiel Marine Science (KMS). Notwithstanding the holidays, his team on board is investigating sediment waves off the Northwest African coast in the first part of the 32-day sea voyage. Sediment waves are one of the most common bedforms on our planet's seafloor, yet remain largely unexplored in their formation. They are of great importance for the stability of continental slopes and thus also for technical infrastructure on the seafloor such as telecommunication cables. Strong currents above the sediment waves can destroy them. The underwater structure of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Canary Island of La Palma, which was active in 2021, will be surveyed in the second part of the research cruise. Although the eruption seems to have subsided, it remains unclear what dangers continue to exist for us humans.

13 researchers from Kiel University are on board during the research cruise MSM113 . In addition, three scientists from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, two researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW) and one scientist from Durham University of the United Kingdom are also involved.

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People at work on the quarterdeck of a ship
© Sebastian Krastel, Uni Kiel

During expedition MSM113 with the research vessel MARIA S. MERIAN, oceanographic moorings are deployed to collect observational data for, among other things, determining internal waves in the ocean.

People cut a sediment core on board
© Sebastian Krastel, Uni Kiel

Researchers cut a sediment core on board the MARIA S. MERIAN.

About Expedition MSM113

The Expedition MSM113 with the research vessel MARIA. S. MERIAN (MSM) investigates the formation of sediment waves at continental margins off the Northwest African coast. Sediment waves are one of the most common bedform on our planet's seafloor, and large areas of the Northwest African continental margin are covered by sediment waves. Sediment waves play an important role for the stability of continental slopes and have great significance for technical infrastructure on the seafloor, such as telecommunications cables. Strong currents above the sediment waves can destroy this infrastructure. Nevertheless, the exact formation processes of sediment waves are poorly studied. Onboard observational data will be obtained using a variety of survey methods such as hydroacoustic mapping and oceanographic moorings to measure pressure, temperature, turbidity, and currents. These observations will improve theoretical models to comprehensively determine these seafloor structures.

The underwater structure of the Cumbre Vieja volcano off La Palma, which has been active in 2021, will be surveyed in the second part of the research cruise. The volcano forms the southern part of the Island of La Palma. Scientists documented the longest documented eruption in late 2021. It is not known exactly what has changed as a result of La Palma's recent events, in particular at the island's underwater flanks. Although the eruption appears to have subsided for now, it remains unclear what hazards remain for us humans. The marine continuation of the western flank will be mapped in detail during the cruise. Scientific data on land indicate that the western flank of Cumbre Vieja is probably slowly slipping into the Atlantic Ocean.

About Kiel Marine Science

Kiel Marine Science (KMS), the Center for interdisciplinary marine science at Kiel University, is devoted to excellent and responsible ocean research at the interface between humans and the ocean. The researchers combine their expertise from various natural and social science disciplines to investigate the risks and opportunities that the sea provides for humans. The success of Kiel Marine Science is based on close interdisciplinary cooperation in research and teaching between researchers from seven faculties at Kiel University. Together with actors from outside the scientific community, they work globally and transdisciplinarily on solutions for sustainable use and protection of the ocean.

To the Kiel Mariene Science website

Scientific Contact:

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Krastel
Kiel University
Institute of Geosciences


Press contact:

Tobias Hahn
Press, Digital and Science Communication Services and Kiel Marine Science (KMS)