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/km2 », 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».
Dr David Glassom from KwaZulu-Natal University was on board Fleur de Passion from Durban to Knysna in November 2018 in the frame of his research on the use of plastic debris by juvenile fish as potential for species migrations or invasions in a time of global change. We met him in Durban in early October when the expedition was invited to participate in a two-day workshop organized by the South African Institute on Environmental Health, with the support of the embassy of Switzerland. And very soon, it appeared that the rest of journey along the West coast of South Africa towards Cape Town would be an interesting opportunity for him to explore further the phenomenon.
As Dr Glassom explains, « the potential of flotsam as vectors for long-distance migration for a variety of sessile organisms is well established. However, there is far less information on fish. Juvenile fish are known to shelter under plastic debris and a number of species have been recorded under debris in waters off Durban using a simple scoop net. Species range shifts or range expansions are already evident as a consequence of rising sea surface temperature due to global warming, and migrations could be facilitated by the availability of debris for shelter and possible nutrition from biofilms growing on the plastic. »
But before he can share initial results, let’s join David on board Fleur de Passion to experiment through his own words his « first trip on a large sailing vessel and one of (his) greatest experiences ».
« I was a bit nervous, as I am known to get seasick at times. But I took tablets for the entire journey and they worked – I felt no sickness at all. Travelling under sail was unique – the motion is completely different from being under engine power. Raising the sails, tacking the ship (no winches or mod-cons, just pulling on the ropes), was like living a boyhood fantasy. Although Pietro (skipper) did not assign me to specific shifts (my main job was cook’s assistant), I did link up with Candy (second mate and scientific coordinator) and Francois (passenger from Geneva) and tried to join their shifts at the helm. Learning to steer the Fleur was quite a steep curve – the first time I tried it, the rest of the crew must have been very confused, we were doing a zig-zag pattern while I tried to figure out the way the ship would respond. Steering under sail for the first time was a whole new learning curve, as keeping the right angle to get the wind in the sails was a bit of a challenge.
The accommodation was comfortable (the boat wasn’t full, so I had a cabin to myself). The food, compliments mainly of Pierre (cook) was fantastic and I found the entire crew really friendly and hospitable, not to mention professional and, even without any sailing experience I could see that they were highly competent. It was great especially to learn the history of the Foundation Pacifique from Pietro, who, it turns out, helped someone I know do research on whales many years ago. Communication was a bit of a problem; most of the crew spoke English, but a few didn’t and my French is non-existent – I did pick up a few words and phrases along the way.
Between Durban and East London, we were a bit far offshore to really see the coast, but from then on we were in view of the coast most of the time. I have never seen that part of the coast from the sea before, so that was also a new experience for me. The last part of the trip was really special – we were close to the coast and the cliffs between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna are really spectacular. Going through the entrance to Knysna lagoon (known as the Knysna Heads), was a bit nerve-wracking, with cliffs on one side, breaking surf on the other and a narrow channel that is just deep enough for the draft of the Fleur. A friendly guy from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) gave us some helpful guidance.
We had to periods of sitting at anchor, for a couple of days each – once in the estuary at East London and once in the sea off Plettenberg Bay. These times were a bit frustrating, but made as pleasant as possible by a bit of wildlife / bird watching and they gave me the chance to do some sampling for plastic close to shore. »
At Knysna in late November 2018, David had to leave the boat due his need to back in office. But while on board, he had briefed the crew so that more samplings could be made until Cape Town.
Since its launch from Seville in April 2015, the 20,000 Sounds under the Seas program on ocean noise pollution, in partnership with the Laboratory of Bioacoustic Applications (LAB) of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, continues its harvesting of underwater sounds, be they natural of produced by the human activity (shipping, sonars, oil and gas prospection among others).
In Singapore on 14 March 2018, during the press conference organized on the occasion of the stopover of Fleur de Passion in the City-State, the biologist and engineers Dr Michel André and responsible for the program insisted on the importance of this source of pollution of the oceans and the necessity to tackle this issue urgently.
« Marine noise pollution is recognized today as one of the greatest disrupters of marine ecosystems that threaten the natural balance of the oceans », recalls Dr Michel André and responsible for the 20,000 Sounds Under The Seas program.
« This pollution, little known to the general public because it is invisible and inaudible, at least for human ears, increases with the development of industrial activities at sea and spreads at high speeds in all the corners of the planet. Result: there is no more "end of the ocean" that is spared », explains the French scientist.
« Except maybe between French Polynesia and Australia, where levels of noise were measured in some deep-ocean areas were to be close to natural ambient noise levels, meaning that the contribution from human operations there is minimum and could be defined as the levels that were present in the ocean before its industrialisation. In other words close to pollution zero », he adds.
The situation is totally different in other regions of the globe as on the Great Barrier Reef for example. « Because most of the marine organisms found in coral reefs produce sounds, tracking these specific soundscapes represents one efficient way to monitor and understand possible changes », explains Dr André.
« The 20,000 Sounds Under the Seas program has collected sound recordings at sample stations and is currently comparing its analysis with the heath status of the coral reefs: it is expected that the acoustic monitoring of biodiversity will significantly contribute to understand the magnitude of the damage that this unique ecosystem is facing. »
« Now, that the expedition has entered more industrialized areas, we expect these levels to significantly increase along with the presence of heavy maritime traffic », he concludes.
The French scientist and the crew of Fleur de Passion took advantage of the stopover in Singapore to install on board and test a new recording equipment yet again specifically developed for the 20,000 Sounds Under The Seas program: a yellow delta shape wing some half a meter wide supporting the hydrophone device underneath, and that the boat will taw when navigating.
Using the dinghy as a trawler, a session of tests took place off Singapore in this unique environment made of hundreds of cargo or container ships, tankers and so on anchored of the island.
Some initial results of the program are accessible on http://omexpedition.listentothedeep.com/acoustics/.
The program of monitoring greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans launched in December 2017 in the Philippines in partnership with the University of Geneva has already identified several strong methane and carbon dioxide emission areas between Mactan and Singapore where the expedition arrived on 13 March 2018. There first preliminary results where presented to the media by Prof. Daniel McGinnis, Head of the Aquatic Physics Group at the University of Geneva and responsible of the program as part of The Ocean Mapping Expedition.
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 global warming process. 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. And the least we can say is that it didn’t take long to get its first « exciting » results!
This pioneering program was launched in December 2017 in Mactan, Philippines, in partnership with the University of Geneva on board Swiss sailboat Fleur de Passion in the frame of The Ocean Mapping Expedition. It collected its first real time reference data on methane and carbon dioxide concentrations along the way down to Singapore, where the boat has arrived on 13 March 2018, coming from Puerto Galera, Brunei and Kuching. Through The Winds of Change program, some first « hot spots » were identified, areas with very strong emissions of greenhouse gases deserving as such a closer assessment.
« The first two months of data received since The Winds of Change was launched in the Philippines are very promising, and revealed exciting findings and features », explains Prof. Daniel McGinnis, Head of the Aquatic Physics Group at the University of Geneva and responsible of the program in partnership with the expedition.
« Methane and carbon dioxide concentrations clearly rise near cities, approaching islands and shallow seas, in other words in areas that are influenced by human activities or experience higher algal growth », he says.
The program has already revealed several emission “hot spots” – areas that would warrant further investigation - e.g. methane was more than 6 times higher than background levels at Mactan where the boat was anchored during her stopover in December-January », adds Prof. McGinnis
« These exciting first results present a huge step forward in the project and the overall issue of global warming, and prove our approach as a very effective method to track atmospheric gases over the sea », he also adds.
To perform The Winds of Change program, 33m-long Fleur de Passion - a former WWII minesweeper from the German Navy now converted into a ketch - 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 carbone dioxide readings every 1 minute. The boat will hence fulfill her mission for the climate until the return of the expedition back to Seville in August 2019.
« The instrument has been functioning very well, and requires little attention and maintenance by the crew of Fleur de Passion », comments Prof. McGinnis. The scientist embarked in early March for the navigation from Kuching to Singapore in order to check the maintenance parameters of the program.
« We are very proud that The Winds of Change monitoring program for greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans is producing its first field data, contributing therefore to also keep the global warming issue on the agenda, » says Samuel Gardaz, Vice-President for Public Affairs of the Fondation Pacifique, a non-profit organization based in Geneva and initiator of The Ocean Mapping Expedition.
« Such a pioneering program, as a pure initiative of civil society, once again illustrates the potential and interest of a sailboat like Fleur de Passion in terms of scientific research in addition to more conventional oceanographic vessels, » adds Gardaz.
« 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 », Prof McGinnis says.
As explained by the American scientist, « climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our time and its understanding is a major challenge for the scientific community. In order to be able to effectively reverse the trend, scientists need to have a comprehensive and accurate view of the concentrations of greenhouse gases on the surface of the oceans and to be able to better understand their role not only as reservoirs of such gases, but also as emitters, of emission source. "
« But the oceans and fresh water as a whole emit more greenhouse gases than previously estimated, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), » Prof McGinnis insists. It is therefore urgent to re-evaluate the role of the oceans in the global carbon cycle for a better understanding of global warming issues. »
« A pioneering project such as The Winds of Change aboard the Fleur de Passion sailboat is therefore a necessity to collect in real time and continuously along the way, field data that we lack on greenhouse gases. and to allow science to take a step forward in understanding the role of the oceans in the current global warming process, » he concludes.