Having studied Marine Biology (BSc and PhD) at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, I joined the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (IOS) in 1989. I moved, with the rest of IOS, to the Southampton Oceanography Centre (now the National Oceanography Centre) when it opened in 1995. Our benthic biology group was initially part of the Challenger Division (now Geology & Geophysics), but was later reunited with our mid-water biology friends in the George Deacon Division and today we are part of the NOC Ocean Biogeochemistry and Ecosystems research group.
Current research interests
My interests are many and varied - my background is in quantitative biology / ecology, and that continues to be a main theme of my work. On joining IOS, I was allowed to play with the Bathysnap time-lapse camera system, which started my continuing interest in the use of photography for quantitative studies. From Bathysnap, I graduated to the WASP (wide-angle seabed photography) system, which has now become a major workhorse for many of our current projects.
Data generated from Bathysnap and WASP studies show just how poor physical samples of the megabenthos collected by trawls and sledges can be in quantitative terms. This has been another theme of my work – how reliable are our samples? The meiobenthos have always been a particular interest of mine, and testing archive data collected by different corers showed me that our estimates of meiobenthos populations could be out by as much as 50% if the wrong sampler is chosen for their study. Recently, I have discovered the same problem with deep-sea macrobenthos samples. Validating the quality of samples may not be the ‘sexiest’ branch of deep-sea biology, but it is fundamental none-the-less. And sticking with the ‘boring’ stuff, I should also note more than a passing interest in statistics (biometry) - a subject critical to all biologists, whether they like it or not.
Deep-sea biology, if not limited by technology, can certainly be enhanced by it. One of the pleasures of IOS, SOC and now NOC has been the ability to work closely with specialist engineers and technologists in the National Marine Facilities Division. Most recently, with their expert assistance, I have been able to add a new digital camera system to AUTOSUB (NOC’s free-swimming autonomous underwater vehicle). Sadly, the camera and vehicle are now lost 20+km under the Fimbul Ice Shelf (Antarctic) - but that is the nature of deep-sea work, it is a challenging environment to work in. Of course one of the best ways to get excellent photos and data is through the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). I have had a taste of the Isis ROV now and we are getting plenty of ROV-based science experience through SERPENT.