After months of technical revisions, the last two weeks have been devoted to installing equipment for scientific research. Sailors and scientists aboard Tara are busy making the final preparations before departure.
Still in packing cases, the new material for research and underwater sampling — submarine scooter, coral core driller, and compressor to fill diving tanks — will be unpacked when the schooner leaves the Panama Canal and enters the Gulf of Panama where coral sampling will begin.
On each reef, divers will collect by hand a few grams of coral. The coring rig will then drill into the reef to reveal the history of the colony, like reading an ice core or tree rings. Depending on the species, a 40 cm core can go back 400 years. Photographic equipment is very important in this study. Each reef will be the subject of a photographic survey recording the precise sampling sites and the species studied in situ. To study the coral in its environment, many samples of sea water will be collected for analysis of the neighboring microorganisms (viruses and bacteria).
Even though Tara Pacific is focussed on coral reefs, Tara also embarked equipment to collect plankton, atmospheric particles and plastic. This additional data, from the infinitely small to global scale (thanks to satellite images) will help us better understand interactions between organisms and the influence of their environment. We will also enrich the databases established by previous research. “This expedition will allow us to identify connectivity rarely studied, in any case never at this scale. Everything is linked and connected. Nature is like the internet!” summarizes Gaby Gorsky, coordinator of the plankton project for Tara Pacific.
During the Atlantic crossing, surface plankton and atmospheric particles will be sampled. On the rear deck, two high speed sampling systems, a net and a siphon connected to a peristaltic pump, can collect plankton at a speed of 10 knots. The water is then filtered in the wet lab on the back deck, following a separation protocol based on size (viruses, bacteria, protists) similar to that used on coral reefs. 10 meters above the water, an aerosol system continuously gathers atmospheric particles. These samples are composed of salts and dust containing microorganisms put into suspension by turbulence. This data will be automatically filtered and analyzed in the rear hold and will give information about air-sea exchanges and genomics of organisms inhabiting surface waters.
Wet lab filtration system © Maéva Bardy
The dry lab is located in what used to be the “carré” at the end of the corridor, in the storage area protected from splashing water that could damage the measuring instruments. This lab will continuously collect samples of seawater and measure the concentrations of microorganisms and the abundance of their communities. The instruments will record images of the organisms and the physico-chemical conditions of their environment (temperature, salinity, fluorescence, etc). “This will provide their signature, concentration and role in the carbon flux!” exclaims Gaby Gorsky.
Tara will once again become a scientific platform, though not a traditional oceanographic laboratory. “There is no advanced analysis on board”, the scientist reminds us. The equipment is cutting-edge. We are embarking high-tech instruments: a mass spectrometer and a cytometer to probe the activity of microbial communities, a spectrophotometer to measure pH in high definition, etc.
Manipulating filters © Maéva Bardy
With this new expedition, Tara innovates to “advance knowledge about the biological activity at the ocean surface, as part of a true international collaboration. No one has ever done this before!” explains Gaby Gorsky. The boat is prepared for scientific research and can process and store thousands of samples of coral, water, microorganisms and plastic. These will ultimately be sent to research laboratories where they will be analyzed by specialists.es.
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