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Tara returns from Arctic expedition

Tara berthed in her home port, Lorient (France), on 7 December, after a seven-month expedition around the North Pole.

The scientific mission covered 25,000 km and traversed both the Northeast and Northwest passages in a single season to research plankton biodiversity in the Arctic. By circumnavigating the Arctic Ocean, the schooner has now completed its goal of collecting plankton from all the world’s oceans.

The expeditions since 2009 will not only help further our understanding of how oceans are reacting to climate change. They will also contribute to assessments of mercury levels and the concentration of plastic particles in the sea.

In all, 5,000 samples of plankton were collected under extreme conditions from 55 scientific sampling stations during the Arctic expedition.

It will take years for laboratories to analyse all the samples collected over the past four years but raw data have been made available online to the scientific community and eight scientific publications have already appeared. ‘The data will be organized and used to understand how plankton biodiversity and the oceanic carbon pump function. In the long term, certain compounds will be identified for the pharmaceutical field. It is surely one of the most important achievements of this kind of expedition,’says Eric Karsentii, the mission’s scientific director. ‘It is almost like a library, where researchers around the world can work on the samples, without anyone knowing what will be the outcome.’

Nearly 10,000 students followed the expedition via the website Echos d'escale, where they could learn about the key environmental issues affecting the Arctic. Older students can continue exploring these issues by participating in the programme, From Boat to Laboratory’, which allows them to use real scientific data and establish contact with the researchers who are examining the collected samples.

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is one of the main partners of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition, along with Agnès B, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Genoscope, the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology (Russia), King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia), NASA, IUCN and others.

For details, contact Eloise Fontaine; or go to the website