Scientists scour global waters for ocean plankton and pollution

Tara left Lorient, France, in December 2020 for a 70,000-kilometer journey.

After a nearly two-year “Microbiome” mission around the world, scientists said Saturday that they have collected thousands of marine microorganism samples in an effort to better understand ocean plankton and pollution.

The investigation was carried out by research schooner Tara, 33, who returned to her home port, Lorient, on the west coast of France over the weekend.

From Chile to Africa, through the Amazon and the Antarctic, nearly 25,000 samples were collected along the 70,000-kilometer (43,000-mile) route.

“All this data will be analyzed,” Tara Ocean Foundation director Romain Trouble said at a press conference.

“Within 18 months or two years, we will begin to have the first discoveries from the mission,” he said.

At the base of the food chain, the microorganisms were the “invisible people of the sea,” which accounted for two-thirds of marine biomass, Trouble said.

“They capture atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) and provide half the oxygen we breathe. “

Trouble said the mission tried to find out how it works.

“How do all these marine viruses, bacteria, microalgae interact to produce oxygen?”

“And how will it change tomorrow with climate change and pollution?”

Tara’s team paid particular attention to the impact on the oceans of the Amazon River, which has a water flow rate of 200 million liters (53 million gallons) per second.

They wanted to test a theory that deforestation and the spread of agriculture increased the discharge of nitrate fertilizers, leading to an abundance of toxic algae along the banks and shores of rivers, particularly in the Caribbean.

The 22-month odyssey also sought to trace the sources of plastic pollution at river mouths, to understand the distribution and types of material involved.

The mission was Tara’s 12th global journey and involved 42 research institutes around the world.

Next spring, Tara leaves for research on chemical pollution off the European coast.

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© 2022 AFP

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