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Yacht with observing floats sails the Atlantic
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18th November 2021

Yacht with observing floats sails the Atlantic

For the first time, a sailboat loaded with dozens of measuring instruments, will sail the Atlantic Ocean to replenish the global Argo profiling floats in hard-to-reach locations. This will contribute to the real-time observation and stewardship of the Ocean, with a minimal carbon footprint.

On November 14, the S/V Iris left Brest, in Brittany, on a 12-week mission in support of ocean and climate science under the coordination of OceanOPS, which is co-sponsored by WMO and and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

The French Blue Observer team onboard S/V Iris will deploy a total of 100 autonomous measuring instruments, called Argo floats, in remote parts of the Atlantic Ocean which are seldom visited by ships and which therefore need ocean observations. So many floats are on board that the crew and observer team have hardly space to sleep!

Argo profiling floats are autonomous robots that drift with the ocean currents and move up and down between the surface and a mid-water level, collectingpressure, temperature, and salinity profiles from the upper 2 kilometres of the ocean. These instruments are veritable climate sentinels, which support climate science and feed atmospheric forecasting models, vital to understand climate change and predict extreme weather and climate events.

This innovative collaboration was born one year ago during the COVID-19 pandemic, when deployment of Argo floats and other oceanographic instruments by research vessels was deeply impacted by restrictions.

“About 1,000 Argo profiling floats must be deployed every year to sustain the Global Ocean Observing System. Often, they are deployed opportunistically by research ships, but these are very costly, and their trajectories are tied to specific missions and are not able to fill all the gaps or work in all seasons. Collaborations with citizens allows us to reach remote and not yet well sampled areas of the ocean, filling critical observational gaps,” says Mathieu Belbéoch, Manager of OceanOPS.

Dominique Berod, Head of the Earth Monitoring Division at WMO, says: “Observations are key to our understanding of how the complex Earth system – the atmosphere, oceans, freshwater bodies, land, and the biosphere – shapes our weather, climate and hydrology. Data are the start of all our knowledge, and ocean observations are crucial to support essential services needed by all sectors of society, as they face challenges, such as climate change and increasing frequency and impact of extreme weather.”

“In the face of a changing climate, and on the wave of COP-26 in Glasgow, now more than ever, ocean observations are needed for improving the understanding and predictions of weather, climate and ocean conditions. The WMO thanks all those involved in this expedition - wonderful example of international collaboration in science for sustainable development”, adds Sarah Grimes, Head of Marine Services at WMO.

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