Heading to Quebec

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29 October 2013

Since the end of sampling station No. 210 on Sunday night, Tara has been sailing under engine power to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. We will arrive in 3 days at best, depending on wind and sea. The scientific part of the expedition will be reduced, without deployment of instruments at sampling stations, but the adventure continues as we head for Quebec, St-Pierre-et-Miquelon and finally Lorient.

The scientific team led by Eric Karsenti was happy to finish the job early Sunday evening in the snow and cold. Both the surface and the mesopelagic layer (around 350 meters deep) were thoroughly examined. “This is an important station”, said Marc Picheral, one of the oceanographic engineers involved in the project since the beginning of  Tara Oceans, “because we’ve never sampled this area before. We can’t let up the pressure, even if it’s the last station of this type before arrival.” Each of the 6 members of the scientific team has kept to the principles outlined by Marc.

This Monday we’ve begun a new stage in the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition. We’re heading south rather rapidly under engine power, to catch winds of a low-pressure system that should carry us (if it doesn’t let up too quickly) close to the St. Lawrence River. The coming 24 hours are very important, given our low reserve of fuel. If weather reports prove correct, we can just manage to reach the great river leading to Quebec, before there’s a change of flux towards the south. We would then have to confront a headwind. But Martin Hertau, our captain since Ilulissat, is keeping watch and closely monitoring the situation.

The voyage up the St Lawrence to Quebec city is 700 miles long, with currents among the strongest in the world, and the added bonus of heavy maritime traffic. The ports of Quebec and Montreal handle cargo weighing a total of 22 and 24 million tons per year, respectively. The St. Lawrence is one of the 25 largest rivers in the world, passing through the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Connecting the Great Lakes region with the Atlantic Ocean, the giant river measures 1,140 kilometers in total length.

At Tadoussac, the first big city we’ll meet as we journey through Quebec, the St Lawrence is already the largest estuary in the world. French explorer Jacques Cartier was the first European to describe and map the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He took possession of the region in 1534 for King Francis I, naming it on the feast day of St Lawrence of Rome. The indigenous inhabitants of this region called it ‘Hochelaga’ which means ‘the road that walks.’

Vincent Hilaire