31 January 2012
It’s 9am Tuesday January 31st aboard Tara as I write these lines. The sky is totally blue, the sea has white-caps again. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any seabirds (or very few) and no marine mammals.
The Sargasso Sea (named for the drifting seaweed so common here) is a desert, at least in appearance, since the plankton collecting nets are loaded with living things. We are advancing with only the yankee (fore sail) hoisted, and neither main sail nor motor; we’re moving along at 4 knots (7,5 kilometers per hour) thanks to a moderate south-westerly wind. It’s a lot warmer than yesterday, and we’re still being pushed by the powerful current of the Gulf Stream. Everything is peaceful.
Yesterday and last night’s calm spell gave the scientists a chance to finish the first long sampling station of the Savannah-New York leg. Finally this aspect of their work is rather like what fishermen do, often working in cold, crisp air with the halo of spotlights. Right now almost everybody is still sleeping. The next long station will take place in 2 days, further north, off the coast of New York. Before then, the team will be able to rest up and prepare for another frenetic time on deck. This evening we’ll celebrate our first long station, and the 600th immersion of the “rosette.”
Since the beginning of the sampling work, I’ve been curious to see what’s being collected. And no doubt you’re as impatient as I am to see what they look like — these micro-organisms brought up in the nets and in the rosette’s tubes. Some are visible to the naked eye, notably the krill and fish larvae found at the bottom of the “bongos”, and these I’ve been able to photograph. But certain organisms, for example viruses and bacteria, can only be “discovered” later, in laboratories on land.
Aboard Tara for this leg between Savannah and New York, Sophie Marinesque, research engineer in marine biology, is in charge of the “dry lab” equipped with microscopes. Sophie & I have selected a few of the specimens collected since Savannah. The black and white photos that I’m sending you show the organisms detected by the “flow cam”. The same organisms in color and 3-D were photographed with the “stereoscope” by Luis Gutierrez, Mexican optical engineer, during the San Diego-Panama leg. Take a look at these astonishing images, with captions added by Sophie & myself.
Bon vent à tous,