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Tara’s incredible journey February 29, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in arctic, environment, explore, global warming, life, nature, science, technology, world.
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Tara returned to her home in Lorient, France, this past Saturday after having spent more than 500 days drifting across the High Arctic. The specially equipped schooner travelled almost 4,000 kilometres with the pack ice across the Arctic Ocean as scientists on board fed climate change data to 48 European laboratories.

Her voyage began in September 2006, when an icebreaker helped position the schooner north of Siberia. The rounded reinforced aluminum hull of the 116-foot Tara allowed her to remain frozen safely from the extreme pressures applied by the pack-ice. During her journey, Tara got as close as 160 km to the North Pole. When a pool of water formed around Tara on Jan. 20, 2008, Tara’s captain started her engines and started pushed between sheets of shifting ice on the way out to open water and home.

The expedition, organized by the Damocles climate change research program in the context of the International Polar Year, was designed to study the relationship between sea ice coverage, atmospheric conditions, the circulation of Arctic Ocean waters, and the impact changes may have on the natural system and the human activities that depend on it.

The expedition was a wonderful example of eco-responsibility. For energy, Tara had electric generators supplemented by two wind turbines placed on the ice and a dozen solar panels. All unnecessary plastics were eliminated; iron, glass and organic waste was placed in a hole maintained in the pack ice; paper products were burned; a small amount of waste was stored to be disposed of on Tara’s return home; and toilets were set up on the ice so as not to contaminate the environment — part of this organic waste will remain frozen in the ice as it drifts to the Greenland Sea, where it will be gradually released into the warmer waters and broken down by natural processes.

Scientists onboard Tara monitored the ocean, the atmosphere and the ice. Last year, measurements revealed the springtime collapse of surface ozone in the Arctic for the first time. Scientists also discovered dramatic evidence of climate change in the year-round ice, which is only one-metre thick in places. The polar ice surface has diminished between 8 and 10% in the past 30 years, and the pack ice has lost 45% of its thickness during the same time

A floating laboratory like Tara may now be the only way to safely study conditions in the Arctic because of the shrinking pack ice. Clearly, many cultures and creatures depending on ice for survival are at risk; it’s no wonder there are so many problems with polar bears travelling inland to search for food. Warming in the north will help shipping and resource extraction, but at what price? Canada needs to do more than state its sovereignty over the northern passage. All the countries which border the Arctic Ocean will need to work together to ensure that this sensitive environment is protected.

Click here to hear the sound of ice pressing on Tara’s hull.

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Related Links:
Tara Expedition homepage
Tara breaks free
Damocles homepage



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