Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Tara sails again

Like a modern day Fram, the Tara will set sail from the French port of Lorient on another Arctic expedition on May 19th. A 36 metre, two masted schooner built in 1989, it is owned by the environmental NGO Tara expeditions, and has been involved in oceanographic work since 2004. It was owned by two explorers before Tara, the second being tragically murdered while sailing the vessel up the Amazon. Built to withstand extreme conditions, it re-created the epic journey of Nansen's Fram in 2006, drifting for 507 days between Russia and Greenland while encased in sea ice, accomplishing the journey in half the time of Nansen's 1894-6 expedition. During this time they helped quantify the environment and loss of the Arctic ice cap during international polar year.

Tara Expeditions are a French NGO, working to trace the effects of climate change in the world's oceans. The primary objective of this expedition is to complete its Tara Oceans project (2009-12), sampling plankton and correlating them to ocean chemistry and temperature in all the world's oceans. This has helped establish a global baseline from which to assess the rapid changes occurring in a warming world. Adaptation to the current changed conditions is also studied. This has been compared to taking the planet's biological pulse, since plankton react quickly to environmental changes, and are extensively used to monitor past climate changes. Knowing what we have today is the first step to understanding change tomorrow.

The Arctic is the one ocean yet unsampled, and the place where the most warming and associated changes has occurred. A complete transformation of the ecosystem is already under way, and rich fishing grounds depend on the plankton in the water, so an examination of the ecosystem is urgent. As food scarcity increases due to climate change, overfishing and other reasons, the Arctic is hoped be the next fishing bonanza. With the increasing loss of summer sea ice, under which the base of the marine food chain often live, both the ecosystem and fishing grounds are under threat.

The plan for the Polar Circle Expedition is to circumnambulate the ocean via both the Northeast and Northwest Passages during the summer months, returning to Lorient in November after a 25000 Km journey. The research team consists of 15 scientists, since the vessel is small. Further research into mercury and plastic particle pollution is also on the menu. Research suggests mercury is concentrating at the poles, and an ocean wide quantification would make another very useful baseline.

We wish them luck in their important work. It all goes to show that you don't need a ship the size of the IODP's Joides Resolution (see past post at to accomplish world class research.

Image credit: Timo Palo.

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