ITW of Etienne Bourgois and Romain Troublé : “There will be a before and after Tara Oceans”

© Tara Expéditions

19 May 2015

Begun nearly 6 years ago, the Tara Oceans expedition on marine plankton that ended 2 years ago is yielding its first scientific results. And they are major! For Etienne Bourgois (President of Tara Expeditions) and Romain Troublé  (Managing Director) this is a fundamental moment for the Ocean, for science and for Tara.

What is the main fact that we learn from these results?
Romain Troublé, Managing director:  Tara Oceans scientists have uncovered a totally unknown world: we have identified several million new genes that will transform the way we study the oceans and perhaps the way we assess climate change. For the first time a link is clearly established between the temperature of the Ocean and the composition of the ecosystem living in its upper layers.

In what way are this expedition and its followup innovative?
Romain Troublé: This is the first study of the planetary plankton ecosystem. Tara Oceans is scientific ecology based on 12 different research disciplines. The strength of this project is that the scientists involved have been working together all over the world since 2008 to achieve today’s results, and they will continue in the future.
Etienne Bourgois, President: This expedition is also a story of men and women, scientists mobilized by Eric Karsenti, institutional and private partners who have followed us from the beginning, and of course sailors. There’s a “Tara spirit” that continues in the laboratories, and is transmitted at each stopover. We received wonderful welcomes in ports-of-call throughout the Tara Oceans expedition.

Is this the most important thing that’s happened since you created Tara Expeditions?
Etienne Bourgois: Scientifically, yes. This is the first time we’ve gotten such results from Tara. I’ve been expecting them for a long time, since the boat accomplished this expedition between 2009 and 2013! We’ve proven that on a 36-meter sailboat, we can do top-level science that complements what is being done on larger vessels. This also offers enormous perspectives on upcoming results. One can imagine that we know everything about the Earth, but actually very little is known, particularly about the oceans. I am quite proud that Tara Oceans scientists from the CNRS, CEA and EMBL are contributing very important elements of knowledge to the scientific community, but also to the general public. History will tell, but there will probably be a “before” and an “after” Tara Oceans.

We are in “Climate Year,” and in planning stages for the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris. Do these results establish a link between plankton and climate?
Romain Troublé: Yes. Temperature influences the composition of the planktonic ecosystem, on the surface and down to a depth of 500 meters. The Tara Oceans results prove this link, but there is still much research to be done on the data which is now in the public domain. What we knew before the expedition began, and what everyone agrees upon, is that plankton stores over 25% of the CO2 we emit. Plankton is the world’s main supplier of oxygen. I hope we will soon have further details.

Are other results expected?
Romain Troublé: Yes, of course. The scientists are not going to stop now. This is just the beginning, and it’s very exciting! Especially as next year, we will lead a two year expedition in the Pacific ocean with some of these scientists and with an international (and partly Asian) team…

Related articles:
- The scientific objectives of the expedition
- Onboard scientific equipment during Tara Oceans expedition
- The best videos of the expedition between 2009 and 2012, then in 2013 in the Arctic (part 1 and part 2)
- The logbook between september 2009 and december 2013
- Christian Sardet’s website “Plankton Chronicles” (scientific coordinator of the Tara Oceans expedition)