Two Stations, Two Teams

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2 January 2012

New year, new ocean, new team, but the same objective. For the 7 scientists who recently embarked aboard Tara, the Panama Canal was the perfect place to relay with the other team: the first station of this new leg was almost exactly the same as the last station of the preceding leg.

Just before entering the Panama Canal, Gabriel and his team were able at the last minute to get permission to take a few samples at the entrance of the canal, on the Pacific side. A week later, the team led by Emmanuel (head scientist of this new leg) will do the second part of the experiment: another sampling station, but this time as we exit the canal on the Atlantic side.

“We want to compare the distribution and diversity of organisms at each end,” explains Emmanuel, professor of oceanography at the University of Maine. “When the Panama Strait  closed up, a short time ago in geological history, 2 populations of similar organisms became separated in 2 separate oceans. It’s interesting for us to see how these populations have evolved since then, genetically and in terms of diversity.

But according to the head scientist of Franco-Israeli origin, the strategic position of these 2 stations could provide other information: the Panama Canal, scarcely a hundred years old, artificially re-opened the Strait. “Boats release water from one end of the Canal into the other, not to mention organisms which can attach themselves to ships during their passage. This could modify the distribution of species on each side.

To know more about this, we’ll have to wait for the results of long genetic studies done in laboratories using the samples taken aboard Tara. For now, the new team will continue the work of their predecessors, smoothly performing their first sampling station. Fortunately, among the new arrivals there are certain Tara ‘old-timers’.

Marc, who works on the rosette alongside Sarah, has totaled 9 months aboard. Lucie, who replaces Noan doing the filtering, is on her third leg. Another old-timer, Gabriella takes over in the dry lab. Their experience in doing sampling stations benefits the people who have just come aboard, and makes for a perfect transition between the 2 teams. In the wet lab, our biologist from Barcelona, Francisco, is replaced by a compatriot, Beatriz.

To complete the team, Halldor, from EMBL, and Olivier from the Genoscope, are moving around helping everybody, along with Vincent, the only newcomer among the sailors since the departure of our young ‘mousse’ Baptiste.

At the end of the day, the manipulations have become automatic, and the new team finishes this famous first station in record time.

Yann Chavance