Atlantic Odyssey Contributes to Ocean Observation

© Dag Rørslett
Atlantic Odyssey fleet sailing from Lanzarote.

An odd fleet is crossing the Atlantic, on a 3,000 mile journey from Lanzarote (Arecife) to Martinique. Twenty three vessels flying the flags of 11 nations are participating in the first Atlantic Odyssey, a non-competitive event for cruising sailors. Half of the crews are families, with 16 children on board in total. On their way to the Caribbean, they are contributing to several scientific programmes by sharing meteorological data and deploying oceanographic equipment.

The private sailing community often takes less traveled routes on our Ocean, passing through distant areas where almost no in-situ data exists. Deploying autonomous instruments in these areas is a great contribution to improve data collection and global weather forecasts, thereby increasing marine safety. Four drifters are being deployed during the Atlantic Odyssey as a contribution to the Global Drifter Programme (GDP). The GDP is a scientific project of the Data Buoy Cooperation Panel (DBCP), an international programme coordinating the use of autonomous data buoys to observe atmospheric and oceanographic conditions. The collaboration is part of a budding partnership between Cornell Sailing and JCOMMOPS, the Observing Programmes Support Centre of the Joint Technical Commission of the World Meteorological Organization and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

Fleur de Sel's family crew will deploy 1 of 4 drifters on this trip.

The crews were so eager to help that a lottery had to be organized to assign each of the four drifters. Each crew got a chance to consult with Martin Kramp, the ship coordinator at JCOMMOPS, to learn to deploy the float but also to transmit the meteorological data gathered by their ship’s instruments to support forecasting and warning services. “With a satellite communication system and a computer onboard, and the instruments the yachts have for wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, air and sea temperature, all that needs to be done is to install the free software and spend 5 minutes per day to compile a report” explained Martin. The system was devised for the Voluntary Observing Ships scheme and is used by private and commercial vessels worldwide.

A three-day seminar organized in Lanzarote before the fleet’s departure provided an opportunity to present ocean observing systems to the participants and explain the programmes they are contributing to, as well as ways in which the sailing community can contribute to ocean research and monitoring. These include the Voluntary Observing Ships scheme, the DBCP through which the 4 drifters are being deployed, and the Argo programme, an international project to collect temperature and salinity profiles of the upper part of the world's Ocean, using autonomous subsurface profiling floats. Both DBCP and Argo need the sailing community’s help to deploy equipment in remote ocean areas.

Martin Kramp shows the float and explains deployment to a crew with Jimmy Cornell.

The Atlantic Odyssey will serve as a test run for a more ambitious project: the Blue Planet Odyssey, a round the world sailing event aiming to raise awareness of the global effects of climate change over three years. Blue Planet Odyssey participants are invited to take part in several international scientific programmes such as this one, deploying monitoring equipment, gathering additional data on marine life, marine debris, pollution and plankton. They are also invited to participate in local initiatives in many destinations on the itinerary. An educational programme will engage youth both onboard and in local schools. They will witness change first-hand in those marine and coastal areas that are most affected and become informed advocates for the Ocean.

Blue Planet Odyssey sailing routes, 2014-2017

The Blue Planet Odyssey sailing routes will cover sensitive areas, where data collection is scarce and very important for ocean research, providing unique opportunities to reinforce the global array of Argo and DBCP floats. In some of the areas on the Blue Planet Odyssey itinerary, there is not a single float in the water. This type of collaboration in synergy with the sailing community is extremely valuable to JCOMMOPS and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

Jimmy Cornell created both Odyssey projects. An accomplished sailor who covered over 200,000 miles over the waves, he has seen how the Ocean has changed since he first set off in 1974. Through the Odyssey, the sailing community can enjoy and share their passion while giving back to the ocean and coastal communities by empathizing with their concerns, giving a helping hand, and sharing their experience to educate the public.

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The Atlantic Odyssey left Lanzarote on 17 November and should arrive in Martinique between 3 and 13 December 2013.

The 4 drifters deployed were provided by the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA-AOML).

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