We already know The Ocean Race is one of the world’s toughest team races. Crews have to sail around the world in this challenge, but this year will be slightly different. This is because they will be collecting vital data about the impact humans make on the ocean during the inaugural European Race.
Several teams that will take part of The Ocean Race Europe later on this summer will carry scientific equipment on board. They will capture measurements of microplastics in the water and data about the impact of climate change on the sea. This is endorsed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which supports efforts to reverse the decline in ocean health and create better conditions for sustainable development of the ocean.
There will be two different classes of boats taking part in the race: the IMOCA 60s and the VO65s. Regarding data collection, two VO65 teams will take samples of microplastics while one IMOCA 60 boat will take 24/7 surface measurements of carbon dioxide, sea temperature and salinity. These are indicators of climate change.
Climate change and plastic pollution are two of the biggest threats nowadays to the health of the seas. As greenhouse gases trap more energy from the sun, the oceans absorb more heat. As the sea surface temperature increases, so does the rising sea level.
On average, 90% of the excess heat is soaked up by the world’s oceans. These are massive bodies of water, so at first the temperature change to seawater can seem small. However, these small changes cause significant disruption.
Added to this, many scientists believe it is inevitable that massive ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will collapse and melt entirely. This would raise global sea levels by several meters. By 2050, rising seas could push high tides above land currently home to at least 300 million people.
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At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. This makes up 80% of marine debris from surface waters. Not only is it affecting marine species that are ingesting or getting entangled by this plastic, and therefore dying, but also it is coming back to us.
Microplastics are small fragments of any type of plastic. They are less than 5mm in length. As fishes ingest plastics and we eat fish, humans are starting to ingest plastic as well.
It is believed on average we eat, drink or breathe in more than 74,000 microplastic particles each year. This could be exposing us to harmful chemicals.
This data will be provided to scientific organisations that study and map these issues. Measurements of dissolved CO2 will be used by EuroSea, an European Commission funded programme that analyses the role of the ocean in climate change and improves the ocean observing system.
During The Ocean Race Europe, boats will rush through the Mediterranean Sea. This is one of the global hotspots for carbon absorption. One of EuroSea’s focus areas for their carbon audit project is precisely this.
“The unique feature of The Ocean Race is that the vessels go lightning-fast. This speed provides a great opportunity for us, because it means that the measurements at different locations are taken with a minimum amount of time between them, meaning the ocean currents won’t have changed during the sampling.” Said Erik van Sebille, Oceanographer at Utrecht University.