Bermuda stopover provides important data
Bermuda is often a hotbed of scientific activity, and the Island was recently visited by the French research schooner, Tara.
Tara Expeditions is a two-year, round the world journey to provide samples and data to the scientific community worldwide and increase environmental awareness among the general public. It is a collaborative project of more than 22 laboratories from Europe and the US.
Each leg of the journey sees about 14 members onboard including seven scientists and seven crew members.
The team spent a few days in Bermuda moored in St Georges Harbour where they found the local reception in the Olde Towne friendly and hospitable.
The stopover in Bermuda also coincided with a changeover of the science team, who rotate every leg, and before the team departed for the Azores the expeditions current chief scientist Lee Karp-Boss of the University of Maine answered a few questions for the Green Pages about the expedition and how the journey has gone so far.
Green Pages: What was the reasoning for the Tara Expedition to make a stopover in Bermuda? How does Bermuda fit in to the expedition?
Lee Karp-Boss: Stopover in Bermuda is part of Taras last ocean crossing (North Atlantic). Tara has sampled the ocean gyres of the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, South and North Pacific and now sampling the North Atlantic Gyre will allow a comparison between all the different gyres. Taras sampling in the Sargasso Sea is also important given the long history of research in these waters and the existence of a long time series station BATS (Bermuda Atlantic Time-Series Study) that is maintained by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). The stopover is also used for a rotation of the science team.
GP: What is the mission of Tara Expedition?
LKB: The mission of the Tara Expedition is to study the invisible life of the ocean: the plankton. It is the first comprehensive study that is done on this scale with a sampling programme that covers all plankton forms from the smallest viruses to fish larvae.
Taras sampling approach applies both state-of-the-art molecular and optical approaches. The goal is to understand plankton communities in relation to physical and chemical properties of the ocean in order to better understand and predict effect of climate change on plankton ecosystems.
Data collected by Tara will allow a comprehensive characterization of ocean provinces in terms of the plankton communities that inhabit them. In particular identifying the genomic fingerprints of the different plankton associations under a given set of environmental conditions. Another important goal is to provide a platform for outreach and education for the public, through visits, lectures, articles, movies and art.
GP: What have been the challenges on the expedition thus far?
LKB: When you design a global scale expedition like the Tara Expedition logistics is always a challenge: sending samples collected all over the world to the different labs for analysis (some of them are required to remain frozen or other special treatments), obtaining permits to sample at different territorial waters, coordinating between the different science teams, processing and analysing large data sets in a timely manner, and, of course, obtaining the funding to support the expedition.
GP: Please give some background on the schooner Tara.
LKB: Tara is a unique schooner who carried in 2008 an historic Arctic drift. Tara was locked in the ice and drifted with the ice floe for 500 days before being released. During this drift, Tara sampled both the air and the ocean underneath the ice. It was built by French architects in 1989 and her previous owner was the famous Sir Peter Blake, two time winner of the Americas Cup.
GP: What has the team discovered through this expedition?
LKB: Data analysis is still an ongoing process so it is a bit early to discuss discoveries. Nevertheless, the data that have been analysed so far have revealed new viruses that have not been discovered before and provide the team with a unique opportunity to have a better estimate of the total number of species that live in the plankton.
GP: How long has the expedition been and how much longer will the team be travelling?
LKB: The expedition began in September 2009 when Tara left her homeport in Lorient, France and began a two-and-a-half year voyage, circumnavigating the worlds oceans. Tara will return to Lorient on March 31, 2012. You can see a map of the Taras route on the Tara Expeditions website www.taraexpeditions.org.
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