Interview with Jean-Claude Gascard on his visit to Tara
There are days like this, when you find yourself transported back several years. With a feeling of the Arctic and the vast white landscape at the edge of the world.
On the way to Antarctica accompanying Michel Rocard, the French ambassador of the poles, Jean-Claude Gascard, (also coordinator of the European research project Damocles during the last International Polar Year), took a side-trip last Wednesday to visit Tara in Buenos Aires.
We had met often on board the polar schooner while on the icebank, during the long Arctic Drift. Tara was part of the extraordinary scientific organization overseen by Gascard. And he continues in command, because all the work of publishing the results is not yet finished.
Vincent Hilaire : In the No.7 issue of Tara Journal, David Carlson, program director of API (International Polar Year) writes of Tara’s role and her Arctic drift (2006-2008), emphasizing this great achievement.What is your point of view looking back now ?
Jean-Claude Gascard : Initially, Tara's successful Arctic drift was a real challenge. With Etienne Bourgois, co-director of the expedition, we had some agonizing moments. We managed to achieve a proper drift, transpolar, transarctic, and brought Tara back unscathed. There were, of course, some failures : the weather mast fell and sampling probes broke down. But we were constantly struggling, and by the end, we had a unique climate series thanks to Tara Arctic. It is remarkable to have continuous data at the same time for the air, ice and water; and in addition, these are interacting data. Within Damocles, and alongside all of the other equipment employed, Tara was the thread connecting all of this great scientific work.
Tara has proven to be a unique observation station, encouraging the cooperation of glaciologists, atmospheric specialists and oceanographers. Without combining these 3 disciplines, you can’t study climate. Another Drift expedition may take place again someday aboard Tara.
Vincent Hilaire : What are the tangible results of this Drift, in scientific terms ?
Jean-Claude Gascard : For the whole Damocles program, we will have 150 publications; 50 are still being written. On the Arctic Drift and the work accomplished onboard Tara, 30 publications will be written, 10 of which have already been published. The final 300-page report on the totality of the observations carried out by the Damocles consortium was published a month ago. Besides these 150 publications, there were also 300 intermediate observations, and 50 scientific workshops were held. A colossal amount of work.
Vincent Hilaire : In the article he wrote for Tara Journal No.7, David Carlson also stresses the importance of the reporting work, the educational outreach programs accomplished while Tara spanned the polar nights. Is scientific work indissociable from the work of the observer, the journalist ?
Jean-Claude Gascard : What is most important is to do good science. But without words, without a voice, science has no meaning. The scientist’s duty is to explain, to share. The purpose of our project is to inform. What we are doing must be made known. Images of storms and the polar night captured by cameras on Tara illustrate life during these extreme seasons, and give us a better understanding of the specificity of this region of the world. Especially in a context of studying climate changes, science is more visible, and images are often better than words.
Interview by Vincent Hilaire