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December 15, 2021

Argo Float Release Via Sailboat Sets Sustainability Mark

The 82- foot long S/V Iris tied up at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution dock, moored next to WHOI’s R/V Armstrong.  The Iris departed Woods Hole on December 14, and will spend the next two months deploying  about 78 Argo floats in the South Atlantic, before finishing its epic voyage back in Brest, France. Credit: Blue Observer

The 82- foot long S/V Iris tied up at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution dock, moored next to WHOI’s R/V Armstrong. The Iris departed Woods Hole on December 14, and will spend the next two months deploying about 78 Argo floats in the South Atlantic, before finishing its epic voyage back in Brest, France. Credit: Blue Observer

NOAA and partners have joined together to launch approximately 100 new Argo floats across the Atlantic Ocean to collect data that supports ocean, weather and climate research and prediction. These will bolster the international Argo Program, which maintains a global array of about 3,800 floats that measure pressure, temperature, and salinity of the upper 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) of the ocean.

The French sailing vessel Iris arrived in Woods Hole, Mass., after deploying the initial batch of 17 Argo floats across the Atlantic. While in Woods Hole, the S/V Iris crew will pick up the remaining 83 floats for the second leg of the voyage in the South Atlantic, towards the island of St. Helena, off the coast of Namibia. The mission is one of the largest Argo float deployments in the Atlantic and is expected to last almost 100 days at sea, filling in crucial observing gaps.

This low-carbon research mission using an 82-foot sailing vessel was made possible through a new partnership between the private oceanographic company Blue Observer and international Argo Program partners from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NOAA, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Europe.

“Coming at a moment when we need meaningful action to tackle the climate crisis, this low carbon emission research mission sets a strong example for future ocean observing research,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “This voyage is a model of global public-private partnership that is helping us improve data that drive life-saving weather and climate forecasts.”

During what is one of the largest missions by a sailboat to deploy profiling floats, the S/V Iris crew will deliver Argo floats to predefined GPS positions, replacing those at the end of their life, and deploying floats in some new, under-measured regions to strengthen the Argo array. The mission lifetime of each float is about five years. During a typical mission, each float reports a profile of the upper ocean every ten days, transmitting data to shore by satellite.

“Argo has revolutionized our ability to detect and monitor how the global ocean is changing as climate changes,” said Peter de Menocal, Ph.D., president and director of the Woods Holeanographic Institution. “The whole ocean warming trends observed by Argo floats is proof positive that climate change is due to greenhouse gas emissions.”

The initiative was born during the international COVID pandemic, when deployment of Argo floats and other oceanographic instruments by research and commercial vessels was sharply curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions.

“About 1,000 Argo profiling floats must be deployed every year to sustain the Global Ocean Observing System,” said Mathieu Belbéoch, a manager of the Global Ocean Observing System and partner. “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 allow us to reach remote and not yet well sampled areas of the ocean, filling critical observational gaps.”

The low-impact journey comes on the heels of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, with its urgent message of curbing the planet’s warming emissions. This innovative collaboration between intergovernmental, public, and private sectors also takes place within the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and is funded by NOAA, WHOI,Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Euro-Argo.

The February 2022 eMag edition of Marine Technology Reporter looks inside the world of oceanography.
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