North Sea Project

The North Sea - an important resource
The North Sea - an important resource ©


The North Sea is an important resource shared by many nations with a wide range of potentially conflicting activities. The ultimate aim of the North Sea Project was to develop computer based models which would

  • Increase scientific understanding
  • Enhance scientists’ ability to predict the impact of man’s activities
  • Support effective management of this natural environment

Who coordinated the project?

The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL), now the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) hosted the project. It involved over 200 scientists and support staff from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and other academic institutes. MAFF is now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

It was NERC’s first Marine Community Research Project and ran from 1987 to 1992. The full economic cost of the project exceeded £15 M.

BODC was responsible for the management of all data from the project.


Data were collected by 39 cruises between August 1988 and October 1990. These consisted of

  • Fifteen survey cruises, each lasting twelve days and following the same 1800 nautical mile track, were carried out at monthly intervals between August 1988 and October 1989. Measurements of physical, chemical, biological and sedimentological parameters were taken. This enabled scientists to study seasonal effects which dominate events in the North Sea.
  • Fifteen process cruises which investigated particular scientific aspects of the North Sea. These included
    • Fronts (near shore, mixing, circulation)
    • Sand waves and sandbanks
    • Plumes (Humber, Wash, Thames, Rhine)
    • Sediment re-suspension
    • Air-sea exchanges
    • Primary productivity and blooms
  • Nine additional cruises took place between October 1989 and October 1990. These complemented the main field campaign and investigated blooms, plumes, sand waves and the flux of contaminants through the Dover Strait.

What data were collected?

Measurements and studies of physical, chemical, biological and sediment processes were performed by oceanographers aboard the research vessel (RRS Challenger). Types of data included

  • Conductivity (for salinity)
  • Nutrients
  • Temperature
  • Current speed and direction
  • Depth
  • Phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance
  • Dissolved oxygen
  • Dissolved and particulate trace metals
  • Transmittance (for suspended sediment)
  • Primary and bacterial production
  • Fluorescence (for chlorophyll)
  • Organo-sulphur compounds (e.g. dimethylsulphide) and halocarbons
  • Irradiance
  • Atmosphere and rain water chemistry

How were the data collected?

Equipment deployed from the research vessel which collected these data included

  • CTDs — which measure conductivity, temperature and depth, along with other parameters
  • Water bottles — these collect water samples at specific depths
  • Underway — where measurements are taken when the ship is moving
  • Sediment corers — collect samples of the sea bed
  • Nets — catch zooplankton
  • Air and rain samplers
  • Moored instruments — left on the sea floor between cruises to measure currents, temperature, suspended sediment and chlorophyll

Order the data set

The full data set has been published by BODC on CDROM complete with documentation.

The data are also stored in BODC's databanks and are part of the pool of data available to anyone interested in oceanographic research. Contact the BODC Enquiries Officer for further information.