VIDEO: PlanetSolar plots a course for research - Soundings Online

VIDEO: PlanetSolar plots a course for research

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What does a 102-foot catamaran do for an encore after completing an historic 37,000-mile circumnavigation under solar power without burning an ounce of fossil fuel?

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It joins the work force.

The $26 million Turanor PlanetSolar is becoming a workboat, though one with a different type of commercial calling: research and education.

Its work will be serious, says German industrialist Immo Stroher, owner of the 100-ton carbon-fiber voyager. “It will work for the protection of our environment,” he says.

Stroher spoke aboard PlanetSolar June 3 at the Sunset Harbour Yacht Club in Miami Beach as her scientific crew fine-tuned their instruments for a four-month, 5,000-mile voyage from Miami to Norway to study the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current.

Martin Beniston, a climatologist from the University of Geneva and the project director, says PlanetSolar will be a platform for measuring the biological, chemical and physical properties of the Gulf Stream’s waters and the air over it, so it’s helpful that the boat has no carbon emissions to taint the readings.

PlanetSolar arrived in Miami after breaking its own solar-powered trans-Atlantic speed record, arriving in St. Martin on May 18 in 22 days, 12 hours, 32 minutes — four days faster than its 2010 record — and posting an average speed of 5.3 knots on the voyage from the Canary Islands.

Click play to watch footage of PlanetSolar's trip to Miami.

PlanetSolar will stop in New York; Boston; St. John’s, Newfoundland; Rekjavik, Iceland; and Bergen, Norway. The crew will take readings when it enters and leaves ports, documenting the effects of pollutants on water and air.

In the Gulf Stream, the scientists will be looking at:

• Concentrations of phytoplankton. Beniston says phytoplankton play a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis.

• Huge ocean eddies. Cold-core and warm-core eddies that swirl in and along the edges of the Gulf Stream serve as engines for raising phytoplankton to the surface and transferring heat. The scientists will measure the temperature and chemical properties of the water at different depths and the volume of phytoplankton in the water column.

• Deep-water formation. The scientists will measure the physical, chemical and biological properties of the cold, dense, saline waters that sink to the bottom of the ocean in the waters off Iceland and Greenland and fuel deep currents that flow to Antarctica, then into the Pacific and Indian oceans, influencing climates around the world.

• Naturally occurring aerosols. The oceans throw fine particles into the air through the interaction of waves and wind. Depending on their chemical makeup, some of these aerosols reflect sunlight and moderate atmospheric warming and others absorb sunlight and increase warming. The research team will measure concentrations of aerosols and identify their chemical makeup from the fluorescent color they emit when bombarded with an ultraviolet laser.

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PlanetSolar will send the data it collects to Geneva daily via satellite for analysis. It also will carry a trawl net that the crew will deploy to clean up fields of plastic garbage in collaboration with the Waste Free Oceans Foundation.

Vessel owner Stroher says there is a fair amount of interest in hiring the vessel out for educational purposes and as a featured exhibit for events. He says he’s open to any proposal to use PlanetSolar for “positive” purposes.

“No trafficking of drugs, no trafficking of girls, no trafficking of arms,” he says. “Anything else we can talk about.”

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