Plymouth and District Branch report: 2018

Our February talk, entitled ‘The Western Channel Observatory’, was given by Dr Tim Smyth of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML). The Western Channel Observatory is an oceanographic time-series and marine biodiversity reference site in the western English Channel (WEC). Observations have been made in this sea area for over a century making it one of the longest time-series in the world. During that period there have been great changes in measurement types and techniques, influenced in part by technological advances. Each distinct data set is able to inform scientists about different aspects of the biological, chemical and physical variability in the WEC. Measurements are undertaken weekly at coastal station L4 (7 nautical miles from Plymouth) and fortnightly at open shelf station E1 (20 miles south from Plymouth) using PML and Marine Biological Association research vessels. Several parameters crucial to the functioning of the marine ecosystem are measured including light, temperature, salinity and nutrients.

Tim also explained that PML has been operating data buoys at stations L4 and E1 since 1999 which, unlike the ships, are out 12 months of the year and enable measurements to be taken every hour. Data is transmitted back to the laboratory by satellite in near real-time. In addition to high frequency monitoring of marine parameters such as temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll fluorescence, turbidity and nutrients including nitrates, the L4 buoy has an array of sensors capable of detecting atmospheric changes like wind speed and direction, air pressure and humidity. Deployment of the two data buoys continues to enhance understanding of linkages between the local estuaries, coastal and open shelf areas.

In March Clive Charlton (Visiting Research Fellow, University of Plymouth) spoke about Plymouth and New Zealand connections beginning with the important pioneering role of the Plymouth Company in establishing European settlement in the 1840s. Particularly noteworthy was the foundation of New Plymouth, Taranaki, North Island and events following colonisation from which we were taken to the town of New Plymouth as it is today to consider its situation, port, Plymouth-based street names, New Zealand’s version of Devonport, art gallery and superb Puke Ariki museum.

Among other fascinating links, attention was given to William Odgers VC of Saltash, New Zealand troop arrivals in Plymouth during the First World War, the railway accident at Bere Ferrers in 1917 when 10 New Zealand soldiers were killed and the recent centenary ceremony commemorating that very tragic event.

Colin Kilvington

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