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Posted 03 September 2009

UCD scientist secures lead role in expedition to explore impact of climate change on world's oceans

Guided by satellite communities and oceanographic data, The Tara, a thirty-six metre schooner fitted with the most advanced technologies for investigating planktonic life in the world’s oceans will set sail this weekend from Lorient in France for a three-year scientific expedition of the world’s oceans.

The Tara Oceans expedition will collect and analyse hundreds of thousands of samples of plankton from the world’s oceans at depths of up to 2,000 meters below the surface.

Combining the most advanced techniques of cell imaging and genetics with those of oceanography and ecology, this comprehensive mapping of the world’s plankton will enable the measurement of the impact of CO2 emissions on this oxygen-producing sea life species, the basis of all life on Earth which absorbs 50% the world’s CO2 production.

Cell biologist, Dr Emmanuel Reynaud from the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, who is originally from France, is coordinating the microscopy and cytometry equipment on the boat and is responsible for the scientific imaging of all the plankton samples collected.

The international team of oceanographers, ecologists, biologists and physicists from laboratories throughout the world, will also explore sites where ocean life has been disturbed or shows signs of unexpected adaptation. The expedition will also visit and compare major coral reefs, and record levels of marine pollution.

Tara Oceans expedition route

“50% of the world’s CO2 production is absorbed by planktonic organisms, most of which measure less than 1mm,” says Dr Reynaud. “These organisms are at the very origin of life, and play a significant role in the climate engine. The fact that the sea plays a role in regulating the climate is well documented. In a sea environment, plankton plays the same role as plants in a land ecosystem.”

The findings from this expedition will help scientists to explain how plankton adjust to abrupt changes in the environment and to understand under what climate change conditions ocean desertification might occur.

“Our future is bound to the fate of the microscopic life in the oceans,” he says.

Over the course of the three years, the Tara schooner will travel approximately 150,000km across the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and Indian Ocean. The boat will visit about sixty ports in 50 countries.

The route for the expedition was put together based on: the areas for research chosen by the scientists; the progress of the seasons in the northern and southern hemisphere; and the direction of prevailing winds because Tara is a sailing ship.

The expedition costing approximately €15 million, is run by the Tara Endowment Fund.

The Tara Oceans website – - will be following the expedition in real time.

Tara Oceans continues the heritage of pioneering expeditions, such as the HMS Challenger Expedition, initiated by Charles Wyville Thomson, a former Professor of Botany at the Royal College of Science of Ireland (now the School of Biology and Environmental Science at UCD), which formed the basis for oceanography, hydrography and marine biology.

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UCD scientist secures lead role in expedition to explore impact of climate change on world's oceans