log book - Nate, 7 years old, came onboard Tara during the NYC call and issued the following article as a school work.
Nate, 14 years old, came onboard Tara during the NYC call and issued the following article as a school work.
Human beings are currently aware of a mere five percent of all life in the ocean. Such is the finding of the scientific team aboard the Tara, a 120-ton, 118-foot aluminum marine research vessel that made a port stop in New York last week. The schooner began its seventh expedition, called Tara Oceans, on September 5th, 2009 in Lorient, Brittany, and by March 31st of this year, the boat will have circumnavigated the globe a distance almost four times around the earth, a total of about 93,000 miles. The Tara has accomplished six expeditions so far - to Greenland, Antarctica, Patagonia, southern Georgia, and the Arctic. Agnés Troublé, internationally known fashion designer as agnès b. based in France, and her son, Etienne Bourgois, director of agnés. b., his mother’s design company and president of Tara Expeditions, initiated the program in October 2003 in order to help research and spread environmental awareness.
During the current expedition, Tara, which was named after the plantation in Gone With the Wind, has made 58 port stops and has taken water samples from the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Arctic. After leaving New York, Tara will head to Bermuda, and finally she will cross the Atlantic to end this leg of its journey back in Lorient.
Tara Oceans has had two main objectives; its first is to document the vast number of species in the ocean. “We found that 95 percent of the life in the ocean is unknown,” said Christian Sardet, a biologist onboard the vessel. Microorganisms make up the majority of the biomass in the ocean, whereas visible marine life like fish and whales account for only one or two percent of it. “The data will be so enormous that one could go back to the samples five to ten years after us,” said Romain Troublé, Secretary General of the Tara Expeditions Foundation.
“When I met Etienne, he told me that an astronaut who came on board a couple years ago said that she knew more about the moon than we apparently know about our oceans,” said Ena Swansea, a City and Country School parent whose husband, Antoine Guerrero, used to be the director of one of the galleries of agnès b.
This is the first time that a boat – especially a sailboat – has carried such complex marine research equipment. In the boat’s research lab (which is about the size of a porto-potty), the Tara has something called a flow cytometer, otherwise known as the SeaFlow. “The SeaFlow cytometer works along the same principles as the cytometers used in medical laboratories. It sorts the cells according to their size, color and shape, but it does this around the clock and for the entire expedition,” said Chris Bowler, one of the five main coordinators of Tara Oceans.
Another piece of the lab’s technical equipment for oceanographic research is the SPIM (Single Plane Illumination Microscope). “In fact, devices on board Tara wouldn’t normally work on a sailing boat,” explained Emmanuel Reynaud, onboard photographer and head of imaging techniques and researcher in molecular and cellular biology at University College Dublin, Ireland. Other machines take up much of the ship’s energy, so the SPIM had to be miniaturized in order to compensate for the lack of power. The SPIM can measure organisms as small as 1 micron (one thousandth of a millimeter) in length.
The Tara’s most significant piece of technology, however, is called the rosette. This cylindrical contraption is the expedition’s main mode of sampling. It is capable of descending 2,000 meters into the depths of the ocean, and it contains 12 water containers, each with the capacity of a few gallons of water. The bottles can be opened and closed remotely from the stern where the rosette is launched. Each bottle is opened and closed at various depths so that the crew can monitor the presence and frequency of certain organisms at each interval.
The rosette also houses sensors that monitor the water’s depth, salinity, oxygen and carbon levels. It also contains a sensor that measures the florescence of the water and therefore the concentration of photosynthetic pigments. The crew is looking for algae, a vital part of marine life that is at the bottom of the marine food chain. Large concentrations of algae attract zooplankton, which, in turn, are food for larger microorganisms and eventually, your sushi.
But algae play another role. Like many types of terrestrial plant life, algae obtain nutrients through photosynthesis. Therefore, algae absorb carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere and release oxygen as a byproduct. “Every second time you breathe, you can thank the ocean,” said Christian. Algae produce half the oxygen we breathe.
Tara’s second main objective is to spread environmental awareness through scientific evidence, as well as through recordings of the existence of plastics in our oceans. “The most important one [example of pollution] is that we characterized the presence of plastic particles in Antarctica last year. This pollution comes from very far away since there are no human beings (or very few) in Antarctica. It shows that the plastic pollution is ubiquitous in the ocean,” said Romain.
But more importantly, the hope is to understand how the nature and diversity of planktonic life will be affected by climate change. Microorganisms such as algae sustain all ocean life, and the Tara seeks to determine how global warming and pollution will affect these vital creatures and therefore our lives.
For example, the effect of pollution on plankton could confirm the unsustainability of fossil fuels such as petroleum. When larger organisms die, their carbon-rich bodies sink to the ocean floor. As the bodies decompose, the carbon sinks into the depths of our planet. “They [the bodies] fall endlessly like a kind of marine snowstorm,” explained Christian. Over millions of years, this becomes the fuel that oil companies pump and we use to fuel our cars and heat our homes. “Every minute, thousands of cubic meters of fossil matter disappear into smoke in the world,” continued Christian.
“What we’re burning in our cars is million-year-old plankton,” said Colomban de Vargas, one of the Scientific Coordinators on the Tara. And because algae and trees can only absorb so much of the carbon, this turns into pollution in the atmosphere and in the oceans.
Tara Oceans is a revolutionary expedition. The boat’s research utilizes innovative equipment – like the one in the lab – and, while discovering thousands of new species that will take scientists years to categorize and research, it is spreading environmental awareness. “The dimension, the meaning of what Tara is doing is by far bigger than the actual work onboard. When you are onboard, you can feel that everyone is following a great vision. To me, the boat itself, its character and this vision is what drives me," said Romain.