NERC's RRS Discovery images the Thames

12 October 2015

NERC's Royal Research Ship Discovery has mapped the Thames as part of her journey from Southampton to London.

Using data collected by radar, National Oceanography Centre (NOC) scientists on board the ship created an image of the route that Discovery took as she made her way past the Thames Barrier, under Tower Bridge, before finally mooring next to HMS Belfast.

RRS Discovery's journey to London is one of many events that have been organised as part of NERC's 50th anniversary celebrations.

London by radar

The image was created by recording several thousand marine radar images over a period of about two hours as the RRS Discovery travelled up the Thames. Each image in the sequence took around 2·5 seconds to record as the antenna rotated, and then each one was aligned with map coordinates and merged into a single composite view of London.

Dr Paul Bell from NOC said:

This is a brilliant opportunity to test out our new system that uses radar to map ocean depths, for example sites affected by coastal erosion or that have moving sandbanks. It is also used to map features, such as tidal currents, and we have been applying this from shore based stations at tidal stream energy sites in Scotland. Understanding features such as these is important for furthering our knowledge of the ocean.

The scientific radar, an OceanWaves GmBH Wamos radar digitiser, is separate from those used for navigation, as it is kept on very specific settings to record fine resolution images. These developments have been supported by NERC funding and are now being transitioned to work from moving vessels with support from the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Usually this type of composite image is used to check that the corrections to remove the motion of the vessel are working correctly, but they can create a beautiful and intriguing alternative view of familiar places.

Further information

Karen Christian
NERC media office
01793 411568
07827 872454


1. NERC is the leading funder of independent research, training and innovation in environmental science in the UK. This year marks NERC's 50th anniversary.

2. NOC is the UK's leading institution for integrated coastal and deep ocean research. NOC undertakes and facilitates world-class agenda-setting scientific research to understand the global ocean by solving challenging multidisciplinary, large scale, long-term marine science problems to underpin international and UK public policy, business and wider society outcomes. NOC operates the Royal Research Ships James Cook and Discovery and develops technology for coastal and deep ocean research. Working with its partners, NOC provides long-term marine science capability, including sustained ocean observing, mapping and surveying; data management and scientific advice. NOC operates at two sites, Southampton and Liverpool, with the headquarters based in Southampton.