Friday, 30 March 2012

TARA OCEAN - hunting plankton round the globe

Wave under grey sky - Tara Ocean Pictures

Thinking of the sea, dreaming of the ocean, contemplating the beach; what pictures come to your mind? Waves, whales, sunset? Living sea? Fish that you eat, jellyfish that you fear, dolphins that you admire? That is not all what is out there, its even the smaller part of marine live, possibly the  less relevant part.

The fish that we know is just the "visible top" of a major biological engine that is running this globe.  It is precious in its self and critical for the living of many million people. But most of the living sea is tiny, unknown and everywhere, just swimming under your belly or touching the bow of your boat - plankton, bacteria and viruses.  

The TARA Oceans
Well before jellyfish, fish or dolphins appeared in the seas "life evolved in the oceans for more than 2.5 billion years as a world of unicellular organisms composed of viruses, bacteria and protists. The massive number of these micro-organisms still represents today more than 98% of life in the oceans. These organisms are a key actor of our planet's ecology. Not only do we originate from them through cellular and developmental evolution, but we also owe our existence to their impact on the chemistry of our atmosphere. Without them, there would be no O2, no oil and no twenty first century scientists to think about it. Yet we know virtually nothing of these microscopic ecosystems [Eric Karsenti]." To discover this world Eric Karsenti, from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and Etienne Bourgois, director of Tara Expeditions conceived the Tara Ocean expedition.

Darwin sailing on Beagle
This unique expedition, Tara Ocean sailing the globe, is a modern version of the early scientific exploration of the sea - be it the "Challenger Expedition" (1872-76)" of the global ocean, the "Plankton Expedition“ (1889) in the Atlantic Ocean or  the  exploring the deep sea by the "Valdivia Expedition" (1898-99).

Thus a taste of adventure and life of an early explorer is attached to the Tara Ocean expedition. However without the political touch of that period to "show the flag". Exemplary, the expedition of the German research vessel Meteor to the South-Atlantic, should call as many as possible ports. What lead to the sequence of sampling lines across the ocean between Africa and South-America. The following analysis of the data showed that this had been a useful scientific strategy too. On board of Tara Ocean is most modern scientific equipment, modern navigation and communication tools just as was done for the classical marine expeditions of the 19th century - vessels were driven by modern steam engines, having left the time of Darwin's expedition, sailing on the Beagle, as old-fashioned behind.

The Tara Ocean Expedition builds on the success of the  Tara Arctic expedition. The Tara Arctic expedition has demonstrated the reality of global warming. The polar regions being most sensitive to it. Now the target was to size the global distribution of plankton by one common and consistent set of measurements. Why? " Half of our CO2 production is absorbed by planktonic organisms. These organisms are at the very origin of life, and a major component of the climate engine. Without oxygen-producing plankton, humans would never have seen the light of day, and without them, we will disappear. Our future is bound to the fate of the microscopic life in the oceans. How will plankton adjust to abrupt changes in the environment? Will the oceans bloom with invasive species or will there be ocean desertification ?  The next question is obvious: what will be the impact on life and on human society?  [quote: TARA OCEANS ( ]".

Tomorrow 31st. March Tara Oceans is expected to call her port, Lorient in Brittany. The last sample was taken  recently, a few miles off the Spanish coast, close to where the Tara Oceans expedition took off more than two years before; this last sample ending a global hunt for plankton.

Having on board modern proven technologies for exploring the abundance and diversity of planktonic life and being  guided by regular satellite communication and standard oceanographic data, Tara Oceans targeted to the composition of plankton at depth while monitoring the physical and chemical parameters of the ocean. Its breath and endurance makes this endeavour unique, its technology mix adds to its charm, its goal helps our survival.

No comments:

Post a Comment