15 April 2011
The hundredth scientific station* kicks off.
Yesterday morning at 9.30, the rosette was immersed into a fairly choppy sea in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, kicking off the hundredth scientific station. Operations should have begun 24 hours earlier but the small cyclonic whirlpool from which the scientists wanted to take samples had migrated a little further north. After a night of additional sailing Tara is now floating at the heart of this whirlpool – 55km in diameter and situated 1,200 nautical miles off the coast of Ecuador.
So on the rear deck, this scientific marathon began, cheered on by dozens of flying fish and under the supervision of our faithful travelling companion, the phaeton, a white sea bird. This test of stamina will last three days and two nights.
And to perform the strategic role of immersing and hauling the nets plus the rosette, on this symbolic scientific station, let me introduce one of this grand slam’s two finest oceanographer engineers, Sarah Searson. “It makes me smile now when I think back to my first station. I didn’t know the boat or the team and I was unfamiliar with the equipment, so I followed Marc Picheral and I did everything he advised. These days thanks to my own experience and that of the sailors, I’m able to anticipate a lot of different scenarios in order to protect the equipment and avoid wasting time during stations.” Although Sarah may have lost count of the number of stations she has participated in, there’s never a dull moment. “The landscapes change and the team members rotate so each leg of the journey is a new and rewarding adventure for me!”
By her side, Celine Dimier Hugueney, biology engineer, also has many hours of filtration under her belt. When a scientist has continued to deliver the same vigilance and rigor in following the protocols and maintaining the equipment, she is then able to admire the culmination of that hard work. “The first time it took me nearly a whole day to complete my work box, that is, to list and label all the vials. Yesterday it took me two and a half hours to do it!”
Since Tara’s departure in September 2009, the scientists have conducted more than 1,100 hours of station work across two of the world’s seas and four of its oceans. The longest station (number 98) lasted 48 hours. To give you an idea of the amount of water being filtered, it’s useful to know that during this hundredth station, 6,000 cubic meters will pass through the nets. The endurance of the teams and the upkeep of the equipment have proven to be the key to the success of the Tara Oceans expedition. “It’s in part thanks to the core of competent people who’ve been operating and maintaining the equipment since the beginning that we’ve been able to successfully carry out these hundred stations. Our challenge now is to stay vigilant and rigorous in following the program,” stresses Stéphane Pesant. Although the route of the expedition has been modified, the scientists will have to reproduce that level of expertise if they are to reach a final score of two hundred stations.
But all in due course, now is not the time to start counting or make predictions. For the time being the scientists must save their energy and concentration for the 20 or so immersions of this hundredth station.
* A period of 6 – 48 hours when Tara remains stationary at sea so that the CTD-rosette can be lowered into the ocean along with several other types of net. Meanwhile as these operations are carried out, several hundred litres of seawater are pumped to the surface and filtered, the filters are then frozen.