Scanning the Depths

Alumna Francesca Crowsley (Oceanography with Physical Geography, 2010) talks to Southampton Connects about how her degree prepared her for her work with the Royal Navy, and explains the fascinating discoveries that her ship, HMS ECHO, has made in the depths of the North Sea.

The School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES) at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southampton was the top place in the UK to do the course which I wanted to do: Oceanography with Physical Geography. Along with first class results, the School boasted the latest equipment in terms of boats, labs and teaching. Additionally, Southampton as a university itself has a world class reputation and also a University Royal Naval Unit (URNU), which I wanted to be part of during my course.

Our course was very hands-on and allowed us to exploit all the facilities at the NOC on a weekly basis, which is what I really enjoyed. It provided variety alongside library-based work. Getting to go out to sea and collect data from week one of the course was a great way of learning the basic skills many of us would then need in our future employments. I also enjoyed the fact that we as students were encouraged to get involved with real-time research being conducted by our lecturers and tutors, and I know that the work I did for my dissertation on sea surface temperatures in Venice Lagoon is still ongoing.

My course linked directly with my chosen career as a hydrographic, meteorological and oceanographic officer for the Royal Navy, which I had passed the entrance exams for before joining Southampton. Doing my BSc gave me the qualification I needed to enter the branch, as well as the practical experience of data collection, processing and report writing: skills which I now employ in my day-to-day work on board the RN’s survey vessels. Being part of the URNU during my spare time gave me exposure to the basics of being in the Naval Service, and I went to sea with them during the university holidays.

During May 2015, my ship, HMS Echo, collected data from the bottom of the North Sea, focussing on 25 wrecks from the Battle of Jutland, using our latest sonar equipment. Working with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, we helped put together a picture of the condition of the wrecks after 100 years on the sea bed, which was quite impressive to see. Our major discoveries included a complete picture of the ship HMS Defence, which it was believed was blown up into many pieces at the Battle, but was found to be in tact on the sea bed and the scanning of a German torpedo boat, which had never before been located.

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