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The Micromegas program on meso and microplastic pollution, in partnership with Oceaneye NGO, shows that more than 90% of the surface water samples collected by the expedition to date contain plastic particles in higher proportions than in considered « highly polluted » Mediterranean, with a record average pollution of 551 g/km2 in Southeast Asia.

From Seville to Dakar, 194 surface water samples were taken by the crew. And of the 187 samples analyzed by the NGO's biologists, it turns out that 91% contain plastic polymers in the analyzed dimensions, from 1.0 to 5.0 mm for micro-plastics and over 5.0 mm for meso plastics.

« All areas The Ocean Mapping Expedition crossed are affected by plastic pollution, » says Pascal Hagmann, executive director of Oceaneye and head of the Micromegas program.

« The average pollution of all the samples collected by Fleur de Passion is 26 g/km2 in micro-plastics and 195 g / km2 in meso-plastics, ie a total average concentration of 221 g/km », he adds.

Plastic pollution records in Southeast Asia

« Southeast Asia beats all records with an average pollution of 551 g/km2 », continues Pascal Hagmann, who however notes that the very high concentration of plastic particles observed in this region of the world is linked to a few samples particularly polluted.

« The most polluted sample was collected off the archipelago of Palau (Micronesia) with a pollution of 50'546 g/km2, he says, even if it should be noted that the latter figure, although impressive, is by no means indicative of average pollution in this region », crossed by the expedition end of 2017-beginning of 2018.

« The Great Barrier Reef is also highly polluted with an average concentration of 855 g/km2. This figure is nevertheless to be taken with precaution because the number of samples collected by the expedition in this region from April to June 2017 is limited and one of them proved particularly polluted », tempers Pascal Hagmann.

« The South Pacific Gyre, although thousands of kilometers away from any human activity, is also particularly polluted with an average concentration of plastic measured at 185 g/km2 », he continues.

Pascal Hagmann explains: « This omnipresence of plastic pollutants is explained by the transport and dispersion of floating waste due to movements of surface water. It has now been shown that 3 mechanisms contribute to this transport: 1) marine currents (continuous and steady currents); 2) Ekman transport (currents due to shearing of the water surface by the wind); 3) Stokes drift (displacement due to waves). »

Chilean Patagonia and Polynesia, on the other hand, are very poorly affected areas. Indeed, these regions are far from sources of pollution (densely populated areas) and are not under the influence of waste accumulation areas.

« By way of comparison, the concentration in the South Pacific Gyre or the Great Barrier Reef is close to the level of pollution observed in the western Mediterranean Sea, a region considered by the scientific community to be highly polluted », Hagmann concludes.

The comprehensive map of samples analyzed by Oceaneye is available on www.oceaneye.ch/cartographie/

The Ocean Mapping Expedition unveils new sets of « world first » scientific data collected between Cape Town and Dakar regarding the exact role of the oceans in the carbone cycle.

The Winds of Change program monitoring greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans in partnership with the University of Geneva reveals surprisingly low concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide over the South Atlantic after similar observations in the Indian Ocean, although oceans are commonly supposed to be emitters of these gases.

The Swiss expedition engaged in a four-year journey (2015-2019) around the world in the wake of Magellan aboard the Fleur de Passion sailboat to measure the human impact on the oceans and raise awareness of sustainable development issues stops in Dakar from March 28 to April 8, 2019 after four weeks of sailing from Cape Town.

The South Atlantic Ocean: surprisingly low methane and carbone concentrations

« The data collected by The Ocean Mapping Expedition between Cape Town and Dakar from 28 February to 28 March 2019 reveal surprisingly low concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide over the surface of the South Atlantic Ocean », says Prof Daniel McGinnis, head of the Aquatic Physics group at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Geneva, and responsable of The Winds of Change program along with his colleague Dr Daphne Donis.

« These low CH4 and CO2 concentrations could be indicative of the fact that Fleur de Passion sailed off shore well away from any land sources, adds McGinnis. Though the region is thought to be an atmospheric CO2 source, our low near-surface concentrations indicate the South Atlantic Ocean could be an unexpected greenhouse gases sink during this season. »

« Average carbon dioxide concentrations over the transect from Cape Town to Dakar were under 400 ppm, with the minimum recorded of 392.6 ppm (Global average atmospheric concentrations are ~410 ppm). Similarly, average methane concentrations over this transect were below 1.78 ppm with minimum recorded value of 1.7. The global average atmospheric concentration is 1.85 ppm », explains Pro McGinnis. « Our preliminary analysis of these data don’t even show the usual diurnal CO2 concentration fluctuation associated with algal growth », he says.

According to the researcher from the University of Geneva, « the unprecedented data collected by The Ocean Mapping Expedition underline how further observations are urgently needed to better determine the processes guiding the uptake (or emissions) of these important greenhouse gases transports by South Atlantic, and potentially all the oceans around the globe. »

Similar observations over the Indian Ocean in 2018

In June 2018 after completing the crossing of the Indian Ocean from Jakarta to Maputo, The Ocean Mapping Expedition unveiled this ocean could be an unexpected sink for methane.

« For the first time ever, we were able to assess and quantify the near-surface atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide concentrations while performing the longest longitudinal transect of an ocean, namely the Indian Ocean », recalls Prof. Daniel McGinnis.

« This unprecedented data-set showed us that the Indian Ocean continued to be an important CO2 sink », he adds.

« More surprisingly, however, was that the Indian Ocean could be an unexpected sink of atmospheric methane. In general, it is thought that almost all oceans and inland freshwaters are sources of methane to the atmosphere. Over the Indian Ocean, the methane above the sea surface is consistently about 5-6% lower than atmospheric concentrations. Though more investigation is needed, it appears at first glance that the Indian Ocean may uptake atmospheric methane », says the scientist.

To perform The Winds of Change program, 33m-long Fleur de Passion - a former WWII minesweeper from the German Navy converted into a ketch and now the biggest sailboat under Swiss flag - is equipped with a ultraportable greenhouse gas analyzer with a sampling port positioned 16 meters above the sea surface on the aft mast and automatically collects methane and carbon dioxide readings every 1 minute.

An urgent need to revise our concepts on the global carbon cycle

The ambition of The Winds of Change monitoring program for greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans is to provide the scientific community with unprecedented and reference field data and therefore to contribute to a better understanding of the role of the oceans in the current changing global climate. In view of the worrisome evolution of the climate and the resulting ocean acidification, it is becoming increasingly urgent to have baseline data available to revise our concepts on the global carbon cycle.

« These new exciting results of the program present a huge step forward in the project and the overall issue of climate change, and prove our approach as a very effective method to track atmospheric gases over the sea », also adds Prof McGinnis.

« It provides the opportunity to access essential information at a very large geographical scale to complement that available by satellite so far at a time when the global scientific community is specifically alarmed by the lack of data on this issue », he also says.

As explained by the scientist of US origin, « climate change scientists need to have a comprehensive and accurate view of the concentrations of greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans to be able to better understand their role not only as reservoirs of such gases, but also as emitters. »

« The oceans and fresh water as a whole emit more greenhouse gases, especially methane, than previously estimated, according to recent studies », Prof McGinnis insists. It is therefore urgent to re-evaluate the role of the oceans and lakes in the global carbon cycle for a better understanding of global warming issues».

For those of you Capetownians who would like to and could make it, today Wednesday 27 February 2019 is the day to say goodbye to the crew of Fleur de Passion and to The Ocean Mapping Expedition. A farewell ceremony will take place at 4pm at V&A Waterfront Quay 6 right where the boat was docked in January before she went for maintenance in dry docks nearby (pictures).

Captain Pere Valera will raise the « Flag for the Oceans » with 12-year old Ana who won the 1st prize of the drawing contest organized during the stopover and as part of the various outreach activities intended to share the spirit of the expedition.

If everything goes well, Fleur de Passion should then set sail on Thursday 28 February early morning towards Dakar and ultimately Seville. So forgive the crew if they are still finalizing some preparation work while you’re there.

Save the date and stay tuned: on Thursday 21st February (precise timing to follow as soon as possible), Fleur de Passion will set sail from V&A Waterfront and leave Cape Town towards St-Helena island and Dakar. As « even good things come to an end » as we say in French, this departure will put an end to an amazingly thrilling 2-month stopover during which hundreds of people have had the privilege to discover and for some in particular get inspired by the spirit of The Ocean Mapping Expedition by visiting the boat and Our Spice Islands exhibition.

On this occasion, Fleur de Passion will proudly lift up and wave the « flag for the oceans », the drawing that won the 1st prize of the contest organized in January in the frame of the exhibition. The laureate was Ana, a 12-year old Capetownian and with the other laureates, as you may remember, she received her prize from Swiss Federal Councilor (minister) for Foreign Affairs Ignazio Cassis who was terminateing an official visit to South Africa at that time. The drawing has been printed to become a flag that was handed over to the crew last week and is now on board, waiting for the departure.

As for the boat, she is currently still in dry dock in front of Cape Grace Hotel for maintenance and will be lifted back to the water just the day before the departure. Why such a tight schedule? Simply because the maintenance work that had to be done on the hull has been delayed due to a technical problem of the synchro-lift. So on 21st February, come and join the ceremony to enjoy one last opportunity to see Fleur de Passion and wish fair winds to the crew and passengers who will spend some five weeks at sea before reaching Senegal by the end of March.

The Swiss comics author is back on Fleur de Passion this January 2019. This time, it's happening in Cape Town, in other words more than a year after he came on board in Indonesia in late 2017. The reason is also totally different: every morning, he organizes workshops for local cartoonists or illustrators, students or adults, professional or just practitioners, quite an unusual way to give exposure to the expedition as well as to the Swiss comic scene in a country rather marginal from the major centers of gravity Europe, the US or even Japan.

This Tuesday 8 January, a first group of 4 people inaugurated the sessions, invited by Anton Kannemeyer, the South African exception (with his colleague Conrad Botes and a few others), an internationally recognized talent in his field. After coming on board in November along the eastern coast of the country, the South African cartoonist had very kindly opened his address book.

Once the creative exercises proposed by Baladi were over, participants visited the nearby exhibition "Our Spice Islands" and discovered the entire production of the 17 illustrators who took part in the cultural program of the expedition.

Several other groups will follow until the weekend, of all ages and different horizons, benefiting from an initiative of the Pacific Foundation with the support of the Swiss Embassy in South Africa and Pro Helvetia in Johannesburg.