NERC's Royal Research Ship Discovery to visit London for the first time

7 October 2015

NERC's Royal Research Ship Discovery is set to visit the heart of London for the first time this week to mark 50 years of ground-breaking NERC-funded environmental research. She will be docked alongside HMS Belfast from around 09:00 on Wednesday 7 October until midday on Sunday 11 October.

The Great British public, media, business leaders, politicians and others will be able to see for themselves why the ship is a state-of-the-art platform for world-leading oceanographic research. They will also be able to see how NERC-funded environmental science has provided the knowledge, skills and technology to deliver sustainable economic growth and public wellbeing for the UK over the last 50 years.

The chief executive of NERC, Professor Duncan Wingham, said:

I'm extremely proud to have invested in world-leading science for half a century. We work with our partners in business, government and the research community to make sure our research helps manage our environment responsibly and supports UK growth and resilience in a changing world. Bringing Discovery to London is our chance to tell the world why environmental research is fundamental to the UK economy and societal wellbeing, and why there is still so much to come.

Operated on NERC's behalf by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) for the UK's marine science community, Discovery provides access to the global ocean from the tropics to the poles, underpinning the UK's leadership in marine science. As well as conducting more traditional marine research, she can deploy NOC's innovative underwater equipment such as the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Isis and Autosub autonomous submersibles.

During her time in London, there will be a huge range of oceanographic research equipment on display, including a small tide prediction machine, a wave glider, an Argo float, a long-range Autosub, and much more. There will also be NERC research centre exhibits that demonstrate the breadth and impact of NERC science:

  • The British Antarctic Survey will have their Antarctic field camp complete with clothing and food rations. They will also have a display of images that they have created using various data they have gathered.

  • The British Geological Survey will have a groundwater flooding aquifer model. This is a set of display panels which pump water around to simulate the water cycle and demonstrate the interaction of soils, rivers and groundwater. And they will be talking about the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) / BGS Marine, in which BGS will be using a remotely-operated seabed rock drill to take samples from depths of up to 60 metres below the seafloor.

  • The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology are bringing onboard a display of live insects (bees, butterflies, etc) called a beesocosm.

  • The National Centre for Atmospheric Science will have a simulator of the large NERC aircraft NCAS use to monitor air quality, weather phenomenon, clouds and emissions.

  • The National Centre for Earth Observation will show satellite images of near real-time shelf seas biogeochemistry; sea surface temperatures; greenhouse gas pollution; and images of wildfires from space.

Since she was deployed a year ago, Discovery has been on nine research expeditions to study the seasonal events taking place in UK shelf waters throughout the year. The Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry programme is the most comprehensive study ever of the physical, chemical and biological processes in UK waters from the sea surface to the sea floor. This research will improve our understanding of the key processes affecting marine ecosystems, how they could be affected by climate change and more direct human activities such as seafloor disturbance or overfishing.

After her visit to London, Discovery is off to the Bahamas. This will be the first time she will have travelled this far afield. She'll contribute to the RAPID climate change project: NERC has permanent moorings in the Atlantic Ocean and we need to periodically go out and collect data from them. It's the ten year anniversary of this project and so far it's uncovered that we're heading into a 30-year period of cooler, drier summers.

And over the next year, UK and Brazilian scientists will use Discovery to travel to the northeast Atlantic to study the formation of critical ocean minerals essential for eco-environmental technologies such as photovoltaic cells.

Demand for these elements is high, but their supply is scarce. Marine E-tech, a £4·2m research programme funded by NERC and Brazilian agency FAPESP, will study how ferromanganese deposits are formed in the deep ocean and what controls their composition. Ferromanganese deposits are a major source of elements such as cobalt, tellurium and the rare earths used in e-technologies.

Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


1. There will be opportunities to photograph Discovery during her journey up the Thames as follows:

  • Wednesday 7 October, 06:15-06:30 - Gravesend Thames - pilot boat pick up.
  • Wednesday 7 October, 07:30-TBC - Thames Barrier - ship passes through Thames Barrier.
  • Wednesday 7 October, 08:45-08:55 - Tower Bridge - bridge lifts.
  • Sunday 11 October, 13:00-13:15 - Tower Bridge - bridge lifts.
  • Sunday 11 October, 14:30-TBC - Thames Barrier - ship passes through Thames Barrier.

2. If you are interested in being shown around Discovery during her time in London and/or would like to interview key researchers/NERC senior directors on NERC science and its impact over the last 50 years, please contact Tamera Jones.

3. Fun facts about Discovery:

  1. Length of a football pitch (99·7m) - close enough! Usain Bolt could run it in 9·58.
  2. It can support 24 crew and 28 scientists for 50 days at sea.
  3. Its thrusters can rotate 360°, making her extremely manoeuvrable.
  4. Using satellite navigation, its thrusters can maintain the ship in an exact position, crucial for carrying out scientific research.
  5. Capable of deploying remotely-operated vehicle which can descend to depths of 6·5km (some marine trenches extend to 11km), more than double the depth of commercial ROVs.
  6. Discovery is the latest of an illustrious line of vessels to bear the name: the first being the ship that took part in six expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage – during the 1610-11 expedition, the crew mutinied and set their captain Henry Hudson adrift in a small boat; the 1901 version of the RRS Discovery carried Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic.
  7. Discovery is the largest of the UK's research ships.
  8. It is one of four vessels owned by NERC.

4. Discovery construction time lapse video - external link.

5. Codemap2015 cruise blog - external link.

6. The captain for the Bahamas expedition will be Joanna Cox, the first female captain of one of our research ships.

7. The Natural Environment Research Council marks its 50th anniversary in 2015. It was set up to support the best environmental science, to advance knowledge and technology, and to provide expertise for the benefit of society.

Press release: 06/15