Science and Sailing to collect environmental data in understudied Ocean Regions

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Le Swiss Polar Institute (SPI) and scientific experts from ETHZ, UNIBERN and UNIL will collaborate with the Oliver Heer Ocean Racing offshore sailing team to collect environmental data during their Vendée Globe 2024 campaign.

Following contact between the Swiss Polar Institute and Swiss skipper Oliver Heer who sees collaboration with scientists and environmental data collection as central to his responsibility as campaign leader and skipper, supporting his #RaceForChange vision, the Swiss Polar Institute brought together a group of scientific experts from ETH Zurich, University of Bern and University of Lausanne to design an innovative scientific campaign related to climate change.

Oliver Heer Ocean Racing and the SPI are so announcing a three-year collaboration to place world-class Swiss science on Oliver Heer’s IMOCA racing yacht Gitana 80 and to conduct a data collection campaign during the training and racing phases of the Vendée Globe challenge between 2023 and 2025. The Swiss Polar Institute was approached by Oliver Heer as part of his own campaign to participate in the 2024 Vendée Globe race. This campaign is focused on the theme of climate change and is moving towards climate neutrality through a partnership with ClimatePartner.

Samuel Jaccard, Institute of Earth Sciences

Prof. Samuel Jaccard of the FGSE (UNIL, ISTE) tells us more about his contribution to the project and what is expected in terms of results:

For your part, what kind of data are you interested in with respect to the set of informations that will be captured by the sensors? How long or how many runs will the collection take before the data is analyzed? Is it transmitted in real time?

Samuel Jaccard : The data collection will be spread over all the races in which Oliver Heer will participate, as well as his training rides. As far as the satellite connections allow, the data should be transmitted in real time. For my part, the data that will interest me the most are the measurements of CO2 dissolved in the Southern Ocean, which will allow to better quantify the exchange of CO2 between the surface ocean and the atmosphere. The Southern Ocean absorbs a significant amount of anthropogenic CO2, which can temporarily limit global warming. Despite the importance of the Southern Ocean in the climate system, its dynamics remain comparatively unknown, mainly for logistical reasons. These data will be very useful in this respect.

As this is an offshore sailing race, the route followed by the Swiss sailor is obviously not completely fixed in advance, depending on the weather conditions and the adaptation of the race strategy along the way, and scientists cannot, we imagine, influence this: how does this influence the data obtained and the method of processing them?

Samuel Jaccard : Indeed. The data collection will depend on the weather conditions, as well as on the race strategy. However, the general itinerary is mapped out and known and should allow us to collect valuable information about the functioning of the ocean, especially outside the main routes used by commercial ships.

How will the collaboration between the researchers of the involved institutions be divided and what are the common objectives in scientific terms?

Samuel Jaccard : We are going to work in a spirit of collaboration. We know each other well and have worked together in the past. The team from the University of Bern is primarily interested in temperature and salinity parameters, while my colleague from ETH and I will perhaps focus more on dissolved CO2 data.

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