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Sports and science join forces for the ocean

Famous world-class skippers mingled with eminent oceanographers on Wednesday to celebrate an unprecedented alliance between the sailing and scientific communities, which lead to the organization of the 2nd International Ocean Research Conference in Barcelona. The partnership continues after the conference, as each crew will contribute to scientific initiatives during the round the world Barcelona World Race that is kicking off in Barcelona on 31 December 2014. It is the first time that every vessel competing in an ocean race is given a scientific mandate.

The atmosphere was jovial in the Barcelona Maritime Museum, where Jean Pierre Dick, twice winner of the Barcelona World Race, accepted this mandate from the scientific community in the name of all of the skippers. “Until now, we sailors were privileged witnesses of the planet's beauty”, explained Jean-Pierre Dick, “and at the same time we were observers of the changes that were taking place. For example, in the last edition of the Barcelona World Race, when we sailed through the Indian and Pacific Oceans, we were forced to stay further north to avoid the iceberg zones because now there is a lot more floating ice due to climate change. However now, as well as continuing our role as observers, the Barcelona World Race is making us active ocean research agents”.

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 Good of Hope and Cape Horn to contribute to our understanding of the ocean system and climate change.

They all spent a day together with Martin Kramp and an Argo float, ahead of the conference, to go over deployment procedures and familiarize themselves with the floats and the programme. Argo 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 crews’ willingness to take a float on board and deploy them where they are most needed is an invaluable contribution.

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

In addition, one of the vessels will also collect samples of micro-plastic pollution. This very special boat, which takes its name after the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO’s motto “One Planet One Ocean” and sponsor Pharmaton, will serve as a platform for environmental awareness. “Oceanographers have explained the value of the data and samples we can collect while sailing around the world, because our route takes us to remote areas where very little data is available” said crew-members Aleix Gelabert and Dídac Costa. “Understanding in depth the functions and purpose of the scientific projects we are taking on board has made us aware of the responsibility that comes with this partnership with IOC-UNESCO. It is a responsibility we accept with pride.”

Technicians are currently installing the measuring devices on board One Planet One Ocean, and the 2-man crew hopes to test them over a 3 to 4 day trip in early December during the final preparations before the adventure begins.

We are proud to do our part and contribute in some way to our knowledge of the ocean and climate change, and convinced that such collaborations between the scientific community and sailing sports will soon become commonplace” concluded Aleix Gelabert and Dídac Costa.

The 2nd International Ocean Research Conference is bringing together over 620 scientists from 76 countries who working together to map out the future of the world's oceans for the coming decade and pushing to get the issue on the international political agenda in the run up to the 2015 summit on climate change in Paris. The researchers signed the Barcelona World Race flag that will be flown onboard One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton during the first and only double-handed, round the world regatta.

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. 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), Fundació Barcelona Digital Technology Centre (FBCT), 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 board One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton will also send data for areas where data has so far been scarce.

•    Salinity and temperature measurements of the sea surface water along the route of the race
Partners: Marine Science Institute (ICM), Spanish Higher Council for Scientific Research (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.

•    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 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.

Oceanographers and skippers break the ice at the Barcelona Maritime Museum. © FNOB/ Mereia Perello