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.