22.05.2013 - Natural Sciences Sector

Tara Oceans Polar Circle: a unique expedition

© F. Latreille - Tara-Expeditions

The Tara research schooner is on its way North for a new scientific adventure. Over the next seven months, it will travel 25 000 km around the Arctic Ocean via the Northeast and Northwest passages to collect data on polar marine ecosystems and biodiversity and their vulnerability to global change and human activities.

The Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition will serve to complete the objective of the Tara Oceans Expedition (2009-2012): to collect plankton in all the oceans of the world. These tiny organisms form the base of the marine food chain, store CO2 and use their photosynthetic activity to act as an immense oxygen pump. However, their ecosystems remain one of the least explored fields of oceanography. Biologists and oceanographers will focus their research on the edge of the ice pack, where plankton is most abundant.

Other issues will also be explored, including the assessment of mercury levels in the atmosphere and in the sea, and the concentration of plastic particles. Such unprecedented measurements will facilitate our understanding of their impact on the arctic ecosystem.

Global climate change is faster and more severe in the Arctic than in most of the rest of the world, as evidenced by record breaking reduction in summer sea ice extent in recent years. This unique and fragile environment is increasingly coveted for its minerals and other resources, including new commercial routes, and is a key area for understanding climate change on the planet.

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is proud to be among Tara Expeditions’ institutional partners, and will be following the crew’s adventures closely. Tara will be the third sailboat to circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean in history.

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