A developing partnership with JCOMMOPS

This article was published in the Blue Planet Log magazine (Issue 2 – July 2013)

We need volunteer vessels to deploy autonomous instruments

It may be a bit of a mouthful, but what JCOMMOPS is all about is that of a platform support centre of the joint technical commission (JCOMM) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

This body of technical experts provides international coordination of oceanographic and marine meteorological observing, data management and services, combining the expertise, technology and capabilities of the meteorological and oceanographic communities.

We have been contacted by Martin Kramp, the recently appointed ship coordinator at JCOMMOPS, regarding the Blue Planet Odyssey scientific program.


Martin Kramp

Martin has some precise ideas on how the Blue Planet Odyssey could contribute to some of the scientific programs supported by JCOMMOPS.

The participating sailors could help us in many ways and they would help themselves at the same time. Meteorological data could be transmitted free of charge from the sailors to shore, the data would be quality-checked immediately and then distributed to the worldwide meteorological community – again free of charge.

That means that such data would then be used in weather forecasting. In some parts of the world the Blue Planet Odyssey yachts will pass through areas where almost no in-situ data exist. The data will thus improve the potential to increase the quality of the weather bulletins significantly!”

How does it work? With a satellite communication system and a computer onboard, and the instruments the yachts have for wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, air and sea temperature, all that needs to be done is to install the free software and spend 5 minutes per day to compile a report. There is no obligation to do this. But if it is done, all those friends and family at home can not only follow your position, but also see on the internet what the weather is like where the fleet like where the fleet is currently sailing.”

Another suggestion springs from discussions held with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA) on data gathering at sea.

We need volunteer vessels to deploy autonomous instruments in all ocean areas, and in particular where no commercial shipping routes transit”, Martin specified.

These instruments could be the so-called Argo floats, which create salinity profiles from the surface to depths of up to 2000m. Or drifter buoys, which take measurements only at the surface. The procedure and the size of the instruments are similar. Once at the appropriate position, the instrument is deployed in the water and… that’s it. With a weight of around 20 kg, and the size of two diving tanks, most yachts should be able to find place to stow such a float.”

The crew of Lady Amber prepares an Argo deployment. Floats come in different sizes, this one being one of the largest, with a weight of around 25 kg. 3500 Argo floats have been deployed in the oceans but in many areas the target density of 100% has not yet been achieved. Around 800 new floats must be deployed every year to keep the array alive, at a float lifetime of approximately 4 to 5 years. In some areas the Blue Planet Odyssey will sail through there is not a single float is in the water.

Martin comes from a sailing background in both cruising and racing yachts. He first crossed the Atlantic in the nineties with the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and so knows the character of ocean rallies. After university Martin decided to focus on a professional career in sailing. He became the project manager and skipper of Aldebaran, a modified OVNI 43, which was equipped with a science laboratory and communications studio, owned by the German marine research and broadcast company Aldebaran.

Later on he became the manager of the OceanoScientific Programme, which developed fully automated scientific instruments to be used on racing yachts.

Only a few commercial and research vessels sail around Antarctica, whereas the round-the-world races sail there regularly, and data from that area is very important for scientists”, Martin explains. “The implementation was very difficult because of onboard conditions, with permanent shocks, humidity, limited energy and space, and all on a platform which often surfs at great speed or crashes through the waves.

These IMOCA 60 carbon racing yachts, which participate in the Vendée Globe or Barcelona World Race, shorthanded and non-stop, have canting keels. Sailing upwind, these keels are often almost at the surface on the windward side, and due to hydrodynamic conditions cannot be used to suck water samples into the vessel. Additionally, water should always be in motion in the system, to avoid bio-fouling during the long times at sea. The development of an efficient flow-through system for ocean sensors was a real challenge”.

We managed to realize a stable and bubble-free waterflow, which is crucial to obtaining good data quality”, Martin added. “Against all expectations, we not only succeeded, we also managed to gather wide-spread parameters from both ocean and atmosphere, thus creating exceptional datasets”.

Those successful results emboldened Martin to stress at scientific congresses, meetings and conferences held in recent years why the sailing community should be encouraged to play an important role in data collection.

This is one idea Martin is keen to pursue with the Blue Planet Odyssey program. “Systems like the one we designed for racing yachts could also be used on cruising yachts, and the resulting data would be very valuable. Those of you who might be interested in installing such a system, please let us know. We are very enthusiastic about this developing partnership”, Martin concluded.

Details of our cooperation with JCOMMOPS will be defined in the upcoming months and a pilot project is planned within the Atlantic Odyssey in November 2013. We are happy and proud to have such an important partner participating in the Blue Planet Odyssey scientific program.