log book - Interview with Chris Bowler, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans: “It’s important to come on board”
Interview with Chris Bowler, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans: “It’s important to come on board”
Chris Bowler is Director of the Biology of Plants Laboratory at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, and scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans.
The Tara Oceans coordinators just met for 3 days in Paris. What important decisions were made?
The first day we talked about sampling protocols.We began the expedition with very ambitious protocols, but after the first two months, we realized we were aiming a bit too high. So, we decided to reduce the samplings to 2 types of stations: short and long. The “short station” (5 or 6 hours) for studying water at the surface and below the surface. The “long station” (15 hours, from 9 am to midnight) for studying surface water, and also the depth where chlorophyll is most abundant. We would like to do one long and 2 short stations every week. We will try this new schedule for a few days and see if any other changes are needed.
We also discussed the rotation of scientific teams for the next 6 months, January to July 2010. We drew up a list of people who will occupy the position of “chief scientist” aboard Tara, until our arrival in Capetown, South Africa. It’s a very important role -- a kind of scientific captain.We’ll also organize a special training session for chief scientists, probably in January at Sharm-el-sheikh, where we’ll have the opportunity to go sailing on the Tara. In this way all the head scientists will be able to learn exactly how everything works.
Another important decision was to designate alternate scientists for each leg of the voyage.
Every person has a “substitute” in case a last-minute problem comes up : visa, illness, etc. This has already happened a couple of times.
Finally, we discussed the subject of imaging, and the dry lab. Not many people are actually capable of doing microscopy aboard a boat, and also work the flux cytometer (SeaFlow, the apparatus which allows us to measure the smallest planktonic organisms) and the FlowCAM (machine that takes photos of phytoplankton).This is practically impossible, so we will try to work out some long-distance solutions. The inventors of the flux cytometer in Seattle can connect with us for a few minutes each morning, to see if the apparatus is functioning properly. We would like to install a small camera in the dry lab so in case there’s a problem, a specialist on land could rendez-vous with a crew member, and explain step-by-step how to repair the machine.
What is the role of Tara Oceans’ scientific coordinators?
We are ten scientific coordinators. It’s not an easy job, and none of us is paid for this work.
Right now I’m spending nearly half my time involved with Tara! Certain scientific coordinators take care of logistics, and I think they’re the most essential ones at the moment.
They look after the equipment on board, the supply of chemicals, the small material...
You just embarked for one week between Dubrovnik and Athens...
For me it’s important to come aboard and see how things are functioning, to know if the machine is running smoothly. It’s essential to have this experience, to live the life of the boat, in order to suggest modifications and improvements.But everything I’ve seen for the moment is working perfectly. I won’t have much to propose for making things better, and it’s very good this way!
Interview by Sacha Bollet