Science and adventure on first leg of ocean expedition

Jul 04, 2013
Science and adventure on first leg of ocean expedition
A pod of whales came close to the yacht in the Indian Ocean

Scientists undertaking a UNSW-led expedition to study microbes in the Indian Ocean have weathered huge seas and had a close encounter with giant whales during the first leg of their voyage from South Africa to Mauritius.

"We have also collected lots of data. The scientific part of the expedition has been successful beyond our wildest dreams," says expedition leader, Dr Federico Lauro, a UNSW and national sailing champion.

Members of the UNSW-led team set sail in late May from Cape Town in an 18 metre yacht – Indigo V – and recently arrived in Port Louis in Mauritius.

Dr Lauro is back in Sydney, preparing for the next three legs of the 10,000-kilometre long voyage. The expedition will restart in September, sailing from Mauritius to the Maldives, on to Phuket and then to the final destination, Singapore.

Ocean microbes help sustain life on Earth but little is known about those in the Indian Ocean, which contains some of the most under-sampled waters on the globe.

The boat is specially equipped to record water characteristics such as temperature, salinity and pH. Water samples are routinely collected, filtered and the frozen for back in the laboratory.

An on-board study also checks the health of the , which provide much of the oxygen we breathe, and how this relates to , currents, water temperature and latitude.

On the way to Mauritius the boat encountered a wild storm with sustained gusts of more than 45 knots and waves more than 15 metres high. "They were the biggest waves I have ever seen," says Dr Lauro, who is an experienced ocean sailor.

The boat was also were surrounded at one stage by a pod of Bryde's whales that swam so close  the sailors could smell the whales' breathe.

"We pulled up the sails, so we could get out of their way, but the pod kept following us. When we changed course, the whole pod would change course with us," says Dr Lauro.

The team includes researchers from UNSW, Macquarie University and the University of Technology, Sydney, as well as from the Desert Research Institute and the University of California in the US,  the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark in Denmark, and the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering.

Different members take part in different legs.

Explore further: New Australasian Antarctic expedition

More information: indigov.unsw.edu.au/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Australasian Antarctic expedition

Jun 04, 2013

To celebrate the centenary of Sir Douglas Mawson's 1911-1914 expedition to Antarctica, two University of New South Wales scientists are leading a modern-day voyage to retrace the route taken by the great ...

Pilot whales stranded on New Zealand beach

Nov 15, 2012

A pod of 28 pilot whales that were left stranded on a New Zealand beach on Thursday are likely be put down as there is little chance of refloating them, wildlife officials said.

Recommended for you

Melting during cooling period

12 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A University of Maine research team says stratification of the North Atlantic Ocean contributed to summer warming and glacial melting in Scotland during the period recognized for abrupt cooling ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

15 hours ago

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Melting during cooling period

(Phys.org) —A University of Maine research team says stratification of the North Atlantic Ocean contributed to summer warming and glacial melting in Scotland during the period recognized for abrupt cooling ...

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.