Winning video and overall competition winning entry – ARCHeR

My animation of FVCOM model output won the 2017 ARCHeR image and video competition.  ARCHeR is the largest Cray supercomputer in the UK, and its supercomputing service was used by Dr Dmitry  Aleynik (SAMS) to run a series of simulations of waters off the west coast of Scotland.  I used the output of these model runs to create the animation using Paraview.


Link to the ARCHeR competition gallery here.

Learn more about my work on data visualisation here.


1 Aleynik, D. Davidson, K., Dale A. C., Porter, M. (2016) A high resolution hydrodynamic model system suitable for novel harmful algal bloom modelling in areas of complex coastline and topography. Harmful Algae, 53(3):102–117, 10.1016/j.hal.2015.11.012


SAMS Magical Mystery Tour… part 1

There are numerous projects and facilities within SAMS that are a mystery to many staff outside specific departments. I thought it might be nice to have an occasional informal show-and-tell with a general staff invite, whether it be an interesting experiment, piece of equipment or entire enigmatic wings of the building.

For a start, Professor Mark Inall kindly offered to do a demonstration of the fjord tank .

We had a great turnout, with two sittings to accomodate everyone. Based on the success of this session we’ll definitely do another one fairly soon. A couple of photos below showcasing the tank and Mark’s smashed finger!

Open day at the SAMS Ocean Explorer Centre

On the weekend of the 27/28th SAMS organised a series of outreach and public engagement activities. I set up an exhibition based on the SAMS Marine Robotics Facility, and featuring several of our underwater vehicles. It’s rare that the public gets to see the robots in the flesh, so it was nice to show them off and answer a range of interesting questions.

A couple of photos courtesy of Raeanne.

Showing off the SAMS underwater robotics cabability at the OEC open day, May 2017
Showing off the SAMS underwater robotics cabability at the OEC open day, May 2017

Hydrofoil surfboard

I thought I would share some pictures of a recent project to build a hydrofoil for a kitesurf board.  Public awareness of hydrofoils has increased since their adoption by Americas Cup catamarans but very simply they are just a wing which is designed to lift in water.  For this project, the aim is to generate enough lift to raise the board and rider out of the water, allowing a completely smooth and almost frictionless ride.  This means that you can kitesurf in very light winds at up to 3 times the windspeed.  Kite foilboards are increasingly being used for racing, but my interest was more in its freeride potential for exploring the flat waters around Oban.

I decided to modify a kite surfboard to suit the foil, but wanted to retain the ability to remove the foil and use it as a regular board when the conditions suited.  Consequently the foil is mounted using a strong carbon plate attached to the board by 4 bolts.  To spread the load a little more, a glass-fibre plate is also mounted top and bottom.

The forces through the vertical mast are huge, so for this version I bought a pre-made aluminium mast online.  The baseplate and wings bolt on to this.  I thought this modular approach might come in handy if I decide to build higher performance wings at some point.

As of writing this article I’ve had six sessions with the board and am now reasonably confident at flying it on both tacks.  The initial learning curve is very steep and involves a lot of crashes, but it’s been worth the effort.  When you get up on the foil the feeling must be similar to a seabird skimming the surface; completely smooth and silent.  It’s also very clear that you’re flying a tiny, sensitive airplane through the water, and the muscle memory to control the height takes some getting used to.  But it’s very addictive!

Edit: Now have a short clip of it in action:


Boat sketching…

I was asked to come up with a sketch of a hypothetical coastal vessel which might one day replace Calanus at SAMS.  The result was a multihull, loosely based on the RV Princess Royal.  It’s deploying a glider for added scientific relevance!  Pen and watercolour.


New paper published: “Carbon exchange between a shelf sea and the ocean: The Hebrides Shelf, west of Scotland”

Our paper based on the findings from an oceanographic cruise: “DY017” in November 2014 is available through Open Access here.  This was one of Discovery’s early voyages and so much of the cruise was spent ironing out bugs in the ship’s systems.  In addition the weather, as might be expected for the time of year, was inclement.  Nonetheless, we completed several transects of the shelf edge and managed to collect enough data to estimate the carbon and nutrient fluxes between the shallow continental shelf and the deep ocean.  We found that the Hebrides shelf exports 3-5 times the global mean of Particulate Organic Carbon (POC) through downwelling circulation which is typical of the region.  This could represent 1% of the total global downslope POC export, and means that the Hebrides shelf is likely to be a significant source of POC for the northeast Atlantic Ocean.


Contoured section plots for each transect of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), particulate organic carbon (POC), particulate organic nitrogen (PON), particulate organic phosphorus (POP), and biogenic silica (bSi).

We’ll be helping out on RRS Discovery in London this Saturday

RRS Discovery (c) NERC

As part of the Natural Environment Research Council’s 50th Anniversary, RRS Discovery is visiting London until Sunday 11th October.  She’s moored alongside HMS Belfast near the Tower of London.  Tickets for tours of the ship are now closed, but we’ll be on the South Bank along with representatives from science and industry.  Come and have a chat if you’re around!

BBC Breakfast did a nice piece on Discovery a few days ago.  Spent many hours in those hangers with the weather trying to come in!

Sleeping under the Northern Lights in the Scottish Highlands

In Oban we’re lucky to have the mountains on our doorstep, but it’s fair to say that the weather doesn’t always play ball.  This summer has been particularly changeable so when we finally had a run of nice weather a couple of weeks ago everyone was anxious to make the most of it.

Every now and then you’re presented with a forecast so good that it can’t be ignored, even on a weekday, so we’ve pioneered the concept of ‘Munro Mondays’ – straight up a summit after work, camp / bivi on top and descend at sunrise to hopefully be back at the desk, in body if not in mind, by 9 am (a Munro is a Scottish hill over 3000 feet, roughly 920 metres).  Last Monday looked promising so a few of us decided to head up the western summit of Ben Cruachan (Stob Dearg).  I took a direct but boggy route up, and as it turned out, the others came up via the dam and camped at the saddle so I had the summit to myself.

I set the bivi bag up and watched the cloud drift in far below.  The sun dropped behind the peaks of Mull, leaving a rich orange glow in the west I’ve come to associate with evenings spent up high.  I watched Marie and Jacq’s headtorches a mile or so away in the saddle until they switched off.  By 10 pm the residual glow had disappeared completely and the clouds effectively blocked what little light pollution there was. Initially the only illumination was from the rising Milky Way; bright against the thick blackness below.  No wind; absolute silence.  Around 10:30 the aurora began to flicker into life in the north.  The clouds had filled in completely to form an unbroken sea stretching between horizons. I’m sure there are more dramatic mountain vistas in the Highlands than Cruachan can offer, but it is hard to beat for unimpeded visibility – it’s the tallest thing around.  Tonight, there was absolutely nothing obstructing the view until the curvature of the Earth got in the way.


The lights, initially sporadic torch-beams directed skywards, built in intensity and formed a band across the northern horizon.  Over the next hour the band rose higher until it arced magnificently from east to west and illuminated the clouds.  I took some pictures then retired to the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag.  By this time a cool breeze had set in, so I plugged myself into my mp3 player to drown out the rattle of the wind on the bivi bag.


I woke again at 3 am; the Milky Way was not where I had left it and the moon had risen.  Once again the wind had dropped to an absolute calm and the lights were glorious.  Olive green patterns danced, curled, sketched and erased whilst the violet and blue torch beams made stately progress from west to east.  A picture which will be permanently etched into my memory.  In recognition of the occasion, the shuffle on my mp3 player served up the Foo Fighters!



As always, the photos don’t really do the scene justice.  Perhaps hardest to convey is the sense of space; perched atop a platform the size of a small room, half a mile above an endless sea of cloud and a hundred miles below the flickering aurora.


By 5 am the lights had to compete with the approaching daylight in the east, and by 6.30 the sun was up, accompanied by the return of that chilly wind which threatened to scupper my plans for a bacon roll by repeatedly blowing out the stove.  I watched Marie and Jacq working their way up the Cruachan Skyline (it’s a lot further than you think from the saddle!) to finally stand on the summit a few minutes after sunrise.  Then it was simply a race down to get to the car and work, only hampered slightly by the bracken near the road, which I’m sure had grown since the previous evening.

Marie and Jacq summiting Ben Cruachan in the morning.

Today we were discussing the likelihood of combining a perfect cloud inversion, benign summit weather and an active aurora, all of which are pretty unlikely occurrences in Scotland in their own right.  I think it will be a while before the stars align again…

I’m yet to set up an online shop but please contact me at if you would like to buy prints.  Guide prices: 

  • 10″ x 8″ print: Unframed £12 + postage; Framed: £30 + postage.
  • 16″ x 12″ print: Unframed £15 + postage; Framed: £50 + postage.

I can also print and frame panoramas; please email me for details.  Generally, photo quality is excellent on 70 cm wide prints for example.  See my galleries for other oceanography and landscape photos.