PortusLimen Project

This last talk of the 2014-2015 academic year saw three researchers from the PortusLimen Project (http://portuslimen.eu) share part of their research with us. The three speakers, Ferréol, Nuria and Emilia, all have different areas of expertise, emphasising the multidisciplinary approach of the project. It is focussed on Roman harbours located around the Mediterranean Sea. Part of this project takes into account the harbour structures in their natural context.

Ferréol, a postdoctoral researcher specialising in geoarchaeology of ancient harbours, works on reconstructing the past landscapes and documenting the changes taking place over the years. He showed some case studies explaining the specificity of this geoarchaeological approach to Roman harbours, showing among other things how various sizes of sediment can show how busy or otherwise the ports may have been.

Núria, a postgraduate researcher specialised in classical philology, looks at literary sources to try and figure out the appropriate names for particular types of ports. She does this by comparing fictional and non-fictional descriptions of ports. Working with researchers like Ferréol is a big help here, because the literary sources tend to take liberties with the factual descriptions.

Emilia, another postgraduate researcher, also looks at the written word, but instead of descriptions of ports and harbours, she focuses on inscriptions found on commercial items to understand the roles of the individual subjects or societies that were directly performing the commercial operations. Specialising in Roman law, Emilia is trying to understand the complexity of trading procedures to understand the organisation of a port in the Roman Mediterranean.


‘Autonomous shipping and seafarer competency’ (Gordon Meadow)

This week’s talk was given by Gordon Meadow, who is a PhD researcher at the University of Southampton.

autonomous shipping and seafarer competency

His talk focused on the developing field of autonomous shipping. Gordon’s goal for his PhD is to develop and redefine the seafaring pedagogy to include autonomous shipping capabilities. Gordon took us through all of the viable options that are being tested for autonomous shipping in order to better understand the research he is conducting. According to Gordon, his research will be conducted on the basis of understanding competency requirements in order to inform future pedagogy, determining the impact, ways and extent to which shipping’s global pool of seafarers training needs would be affected.

The issues with autonomous shipping were discussed during the Question and Answer session. While other sectors are currently moving into more autonomous operations (such as planes and military equipment), none of the other sectors can compare to the sheer numbers seen in shipping. On top of the question of numbers, there is also the concern that not all countries can afford this type of upheaval in the shipping industry–how would autonomous shipping, therefore, be affected if only some ships are running autonomously?

Overall, Gordon’s talk was extremely informative, as many of those who attended did not realise that this type of technology exists. The conversation surrounding the negative (and positive) aspects of autonomous shipping gave us all a lot to think about!

‘Seventeenth century Maritime Trade Routes – as seen through a musical instrument maker in Malta’ (Anna Borg Cardona)

The talk yesterday was given by Anna Borg Cardona, who is a University of Southampton PhD researcher working out of Malta. She gave a very interesting presentation on 17th-century trade routes in Malta, as seen through the lens of instrument maker Mattheo Morales.

Morales was born in 1637 in Valletta, which was a new harbour city of the Maltese Islands. Valletta at the time was the seat of the Order of the Knights of Saint John and was therefore a busy hub port. Morales died without a will, which is lucky for Anna as an inventory of his goods was drawn up immediately after his death. The documentary evidence for Morales’ business life has survived well (with the exception of his account book that would show where he sold his instruments), which has allowed Anna to trace the materials he used for his instruments, as well as the investments he took part in with seafaring men who travelled far and wide across the Mediterranean. One

Conversation flowed easily with Anna and the session’s attendees. This project has many interesting elements to it, all of which were highlighted with the wide range of questions. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed that she finds Mattheo Morales’ missing account book!

‘Geology, the Inner Hebrides, and the writings of Hugh Miller’ (Alexander Hay)

Hugh Miller A yawl, similar to The Betsey

Dr Alexander Hay gave a very interesting talk on Geology, the Inner Hebrides, and Hugh Miller. Miller was a geologist and writer, who published works during the 19th century. For the purposes of this talk, Dr Hay used Miller’s story ‘The Cruise of The Betsey’, which was publish posthumously in 1858. ‘The Betsey’, an example of early popular science, centred on Miller’s time exploring the Inner Hebrides, examining its geology and examining its social and spiritual conditions.

The themes of this story and of Miller’s larger body of work are gothic in nature, in addition to focusing on death and its relation to the sea. It is believed that Miller had a fascination with the latter because of his own ties to growing up in a coastal community (Cromarty in the Scottish Highlands) and the inescapable familial deaths at sea often experienced by those growing up in such communities.

An interesting discussion on fossil hunting came out of this talk. The question was raised whether or not taking fossils from their environment (as Miller was doing throughout the voyage) could be (or should be) considered ‘looting’. A comparison was drawn to the looting that is constantly happening on submerged ships.

If you would like to read ‘The Cruise of The Betsey’, it can be found online here.

‘Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’ (Stephen Fisher)

Steve Fisher, a historical investigator for the Maritime Archaeology Trust, kindly agreed to speak with our group about the Trust’s newest project, ‘Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’.


When thinking about World War I, often the first thing that comes to mind are the trenches, and rightly so. However, because of this, WWI at sea is often forgotten, despite the fact that there are many moments that parallel World War II’s famous moments. For example, more U-boats sank ships during WWI than WWII. Furthermore, technology that is often linked with WWII was actually first used during WWI: depth charges, torpedo boats and aircraft carriers to name a few.

England saw a high amount of ship loss during WWI, with about 4,200 ships lost (with more than half of these merchant vessels). There are currently an estimated 3,000 shipwrecks in British water from 1914-1918. Looking at all of these ships would be near impossible in the four year time limit of their Heritage Lottery funding. Therefore, this project is narrowing in its focus to those wrecks found on the south coast of England. Of these wrecks, the three countries who a the most represented are Britain (550 wrecks), Norway (80 wrecks) and Germany (60 wrecks). Coming up on the centenary of their sinking, many of these ships are protected under UNESCO laws. However, UNESCO cannot protect them from the currents and other natural elements destroying the ships. It is because of this fact that this project is so important not only to the understanding of WWI, but also to the creation of an accurate historical record. The plan is to create a ‘virtual dive’ website, much like the one created for the ‘Archaeological Atlas of the 2 Seas’ project.

The most recent updates can be found at the ‘Forgotten Wrecks’ website: www.forgottenwrecks.org

‘Mineral carbonation for permanent CO2 storage’ (Nicolas Bompard)

Nicolas Bompard is a 2nd year PhD at the National Oceanography Centre, looking at the Oman ophiolites as a way of combating the rising global mean surface temperatures due to CO2 antropogenic emissions.

Carbon cycle
Naturally, this cycle is balanced. The humans have added three points that are not balanced: land use, hydrocarbons, and cemetery –> increases the CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon taken from the long-term (millions of years) aspect of cycle into the short-term.

Without some green house gases, the mean temp would be -20C, rather than 15C

“Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emission of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.” -From the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

There are parts of the cycle that no longer need fossil fuels to continue. Like dominoes, the process has already started and it doesn’t matter if we pick the first ‘domino’ back up. Alternatives need to be considered, such as carbon capture and storage.

Carbon Capture and Storage
Immediate storage of carbon is needed rather than letting it go into atmosphere. There are currently three different types of carbon storage being tested:
Geological Storage
– What is it?: The filling of rocks with carbon
– Pros: the technology is known and used already, storage capacity is sufficient
– Cons: leakage hazards; monitoring needed, which costs a lot of money
Ocean Storage
– What is it?: The dissolving of CO2 into the ocean
– Pros: it requires a simple mechanism, storage capacity sufficient;
– Cons: environmental hazards—CO2 is an acid, so things in the ocean will die;
monitoring is needed; residence time is uncertain, it is not always stable
Mineral Carbonation
– What is it? A process that naturally occurs during rock weathering
– Pros: a stable storage form, low or no monitoring needed, worldwide
distribution; storage is virtually unlimited
– Cons: mechanisms are poorly known, technology is in experimental stage


To do list:
1. Enhance our knowledge of mineral carbonation mechanisms
2. Find ways of engineering mineral carbonation
3. Develop an industrial-friendly technology
4. Save the world!

Sustainable Development, Shipping and the IMO (Debo Awofeso)

This week, as the final official meeting of the academic year, Debo discussed with the group maritime shipping and the ramifications of this large industry. 90% of the world trade is carried by sea, which creates issues surrounding possible oil spills, dissemination of alien species and improperly disposed of scrap.

The definition of ‘sustainable development’ is a hard one to pin down. Three pillars have been defined as key to sustainable development: environment, society and economy. The IMO attempts to define and regulate sustainable development, but some believe they are more ‘talk’ than ‘action’. The IMO tries to base its decisions on the upholding of the three pillars, but with a connecting and paramount theme of safety running through all decisions. However, the shipping industry dominates the IMO and the IMO is therefore highly influenced by one industry’s needs.

Questions that Debo posed to us afterwards for consideration and discussion were: is the definition of sustainable development correct and does the IMO represent the three pillars? How might this change (or stay the same) when considering the fact that shipping is set to continue growing?

Shipwrecks and Sediment (Amelia Astley and Frances Dunn)

Frances started with a talk on understanding the sustainability of delta environments by modelling macro-scale sediment delivery to deltas under future environmental changes. Following on from this, but sticking with the sediment theme, Amy presented on her research around the micro-scale marine processes effecting the reworking of sediment around wreck sites. The case study she presented for us showed minimal changes in the amounts of sediment around shipwreck sites – a conclusion that generated an interesting discussion during the Q&A about the likelihood of this occurring and what it means for this area of research.

Environmental Policy (Tom Redd)

This week, our SMMPG meeting was held at the National Oceanography Centre, which was a lovely change of scenery.

Tom discussed how the use of science in the design and implementation of environmental policy is thought to be essential. This, however, can sometimes lead to controversy, as seen in the setting of catch quotas for fisheries. This talk examined some of the problems involved in generating advice for policymakers including uncertainty, transparency and legitimacy. This is an on-going project that Tom is working on, and it is looking for ways to improve how scientific advice is produced to support marine policies in Europe.


Southampton’s Maritime Trade 1772-1815 (Maria Newbery)

We’d welcomed everyone back after the Easter break with a presentation by History PhD student Maria Newbery.  Not much detail is known about Southampton’s maritime trade in the late eighteenth century. This is mainly due to the fact that the key source material, the town’s Port Books have not survived. Her project, which commenced in October 2013, aims to quantify and analyse the trade using alternative sources, particularly information printed in the weekly newspaper The Hampshire Chronicle.