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Racing around the world for the ocean

Sixteen world class skippers left dry land on New Year’s Eve to sail around the world in the only double-handed, non-stop, unassisted race around the world: the Barcelona World Race. It is also the only race that translates a commitment to ocean protection into action. For the first time, each of the crews will collect data for scientific projects as their routes take them to remote areas where very little data is available, through a partnership between the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the Barcelona Foundation for Ocean Sailing.

Each crew will collect data on surface temperatures and salinity, as well as meteorological data to be analysed by international ocean research networks such as the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). Each team will also deploy an Argo float in little-travelled waters between Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn to contribute to our understanding of the ocean system and climate change.

The race started with a bang and a new record for the opening passage from Barcelona to Gibraltar, set by Alex Thomson and Pepe Ribes when they exited the Mediterranean on Hugo Boss on Thursday evening after 2 days 5 hours and 50 minutes, reducing the 2011 record of Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron by 26 hours and 5 minutes. Most of the crews had problems entering the Atlantic, due to collisions with floating debris or with nets hooked around their keel, signs of man-made problems in remote open waters.

The leaders are now sailing past the Canary Islands, in a race that is much tighter than had been anticipated. A very special boat, which takes its name after the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO’s motto “One Planet One Ocean” and sponsor Pharmaton, is ahead of expectations. “We're very happy and very surprised. We have the oldest boat in the fleet and we expected to be a little behind, but here we are” exclaimed Aleix Gelabert. In an email sent from the boat today, his team-mate Didac Costa explained “we've been almost stopped since late last night until this afternoon. Peaceful and pleasant atmosphere, but we just are not moving! The consolation is that our rivals have not done too much either. It's funny how one day you're building up from 13 to 17 knots surfing a wave and the next day you are putting the same effort into getting from 0.8 to 1.5 in calm winds. What a contrast!

One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton
Photo Gilles Martin-Raget / Barcelona World Race

One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton will collect samples of micro-plastic pollution and serve as a platform for environmental awareness, in addition to the scientific contributions made by every crew competing in the race. "We started right away, from Barcelona, and activated all of the devices we carry on board. They are already operating. We have been taking measurements, changing filters and doing everything as instructed. So far we’ve been lucky and have been able to perform the scientific measurements."

Argo day, when the ships will deploy their Argo float where they are most needed, should be in about4 weeks. Coordinators of the in situ Observations Programme Support Centre of the Joint WMO/IOC-UNESCO Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMMOPS) are following the race closely to give them the green light on the most appropriate day.

The Argo project allows scientists to look below the surface, providing a profile of the temperature and salinity of the ocean using a global array of profiling floats are moving up and down in the water column from the surface to a depth of 2,000m. Maintaining this network is very challenging and requires 1,000 deployments per year. The 8 floats that will be deployed by each crew are funded by Coriolis (France). The crews’ willingness to take a float on board and deploy them where they are most needed is an invaluable contribution.

In the meantime, you can track their progress live and get daily updates from the crews.

Scientific projects

  • Deployment of an Argo beacon
    Partners: in situ Observations Programme Support Centre of the Joint WMO/IOC-UNESCO Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMMOPS),  Fundació Navegació Oceànica Barcelona (FNOB).

The boats taking part in the regatta will release Argo floats at different locations in the Southern Indian Ocean, between the Cape of Good Hope and the Kerguelen Islands. The float is 1.70 m high and weighs 22 kg; it will be used to collect highly accurate temperature and salinity data from depths of 2,000 m up to the sea's surface. The information collected is then transmitted via satellite to be analysed by international ocean research networks. This data is crucial for oceanographers studying the behavior of vast areas of seawater, which is key in the bid to understand the evolution of the planet's climate.

  • Evaluation of the quality of surface seawater for the Citclops project
    Partners: Citizen’s Observatory for Coast and Ocean Optical Monitoring / European Commission 7th Framework Programme (Citclops project), the Barcelona Digital Technology Centre (BDigital) and the Fundació Navegació Oceànica Barcelona (FNOB)

The Citclops project was set up to retrieve and use data on seawater color, transparency and fluorescence to determine its quality and above all the effect on plankton. Cameras on each of the 8 IMOCA 60 vessels participating in the race will send data for areas where data has so far been scarce, along their route.

  • Salinity and temperature measurements of the sea surface water along the route of the race
    Partners: Marine Science Institute (ICM), Spanish National Research Council h (CSIC), Fundació Navegació Oceànica Barcelona (FNOB)

This is the continuation of a project that began during the previous edition of the race with the boat Fòrum Marítim Català. The objective is to collect invaluable data on salinity and temperature levels for surface seawater in rarely sailed areas, far from common shipping routes, for which data is scarce. The data will be collected by the boat One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton.

  • Measurements of microplastic concentration in seawater
    Partners: Institut Quimic Sarria (IQS – Sarria Chemical Sciences Institute), ICM, CSIC, FNOB

A device installed on the boat One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton will detect the level of microplastics in the seawater. These harmful particles affect the biological cycles of many species that ingest them, and their presence in the ocean is increasing. A system of filters and test tubes will collect and measure the particles, then send out the data via satellite. The project aims to collect data, but also to raise environmental awareness, thus contributing to the educational programme of the Barcelona World Race.

Skippers familiarized themselves with the Argo floats the scientific programme with coordinator Martin Kramp. © FNOB