Students take to the sea on RV Investigator

Three young scientists had the expedition of a lifetime late last year, on board Australia’s only ocean-going research vessel, the RV (Research Vessel) Investigator.

University of Queensland researcher Dr Remo Cossu and University of California researcher Dr Alex Forrest coordinated the 16-day journey, which was a three-university collaboration.

Principal investigator Dr Cossu, from UQ’s School of Civil Engineering, secured berths for UQ undergraduate research assistant Larissa Perez, Griffith University PhD candidate David Spencer and University of California - Davis graduate student Andrew Friedrichs.

Together the young scientists monitored seawater characteristics across the East Australian Current (EAC), the most important ocean current on the continent’s east coast.

The RV Investigator crew of 20, mostly experienced research scientists, travelled between six stations 50 to 200 km offshore from Brisbane, retrieving and and deploying moorings from the seafloor in depths of more than 2000m. The project sought to measure flow characteristics and the EAC’s water properties.

On board the 94m research vessel, owned by the CSIRO Marine National Facility, the three junior researchers were part of the Spring 2016 segment of the ongoing EAC project, collecting data to determine water density, temperature and turbulence in the surface ocean layer.

Ms Perez, an environmental engineering student, said the crew researched turbulence scales and the “horizontal variability” of the ocean surface.

“We were blessed with calm weather, so we were able to collect turbulence data at each of the six sites,” she said.

“Research voyages can provide platforms for atmospheric measurements, ocean mapping, biologic sampling, and geologic surveying, but the Investigator’s specialised equipment makes it particularly useful for deep-ocean research.

“The ship has a gondola below the hull, which is capable of holding instruments below the acoustically-interfering bubbles created by the hull.

“The Investigator is also notable for its lack of noise output, a characteristic vital for collecting  marine acoustic data.”

Scientists have used the research vessel’s highly specialised equipment to make significant discoveries in recent years, including the EAC’s southward movement, Ms Perez said.

“As the EAC extends further south, ecosystems are changing and bringing warmer water species to the seas around Tasmania,” she said.

“A voyage aboard the Investigator can provide intensive graduate and professional-level research experience that is vital in shaping students’ careers.

“It also provides an opportunity to network and talk with scientists from all over the world.”

Ms Perez said that on their voyage, the team deployed a Turbulence Ocean Microstructure Acquisition Profiler (TurboMAP, on loan from Griffith University) along repeated vertical and horizontal positions in order to gather information on the structure of the EAC’s surface waters, including turbulence scales, temperature, salinity and biological data.

“We collected around 10 million data points at the six sites, and generated a plethora of data ready for examination and analysis,” she said.

Dr Cossu said the team of junior scientists did outstanding work collecting data and had made a significant contribution to deep-ocean research.

“The work and life on board such a prestigious voyage is a unique experience and a real opportunity for young scientists,” he said.

“It’s great to have young blood embarking on these projects with us, expanding the body of knowledge in this area.

“The three students were extremely eager and enthusiastic to drive the science forward which is great for the research project but also for their own careers.”

See a video about how moorings work on the RV Investigator.

(Image courtesy of CSIRO)

Media: Dr Remo Cossu,, +61 7 336 59117. Genevieve Worrell,, 0408 432 213.

Last updated:
14 February 2017