Expedition Pioneers Issue A Call For Citizen Oceanographers

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Despite the existence of technology such as GPS navigation and satellite imagery, much of the Earth’s oceans remain unexplored – a problem that has led to the authors of a new PLOS Biology study to call for volunteers to help fill in the gaps.
Dr. Federico Lauro, a microbiologist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, and his colleague explained in their paper that they are looking for sailors who are willing to become “citizen oceanographers” and help the scientific community learn more about some of the world’s choppiest bodies of water.
These recreational sailors could help provide essential new scientific knowledge about the oceans by sampling and testing remote waters from their yachts, the researchers explained. Dr. Lauro, who is also a national sailing champion, helped pioneer this type of data collection when he led an international scientific expedition across the Indian Ocean as a member of the Indigo V Expeditions team.
Indigo V Expeditions members include experts from 12 different institutions in Australia, Canada, Singapore, Denmark and the US, and they demonstrated how this approach can work during a 6,500 nautical mile “proof of concept” voyage across the Indian Ocean, which took them from South Africa to Thailand.
During that four-month long expedition, they regularly collected samples and took measurements of tiny marine microbes using special equipment on the S/Y Indigo V, a 61 foot (18 meter) sailing yacht. Not only were they able to collect valuable data, the entire expedition cost less than two days of ship-time aboard, they noted.

“The ocean is too vast for any vessel to sample very much of it, no matter its capabilities,” said report co-author Joseph Grzymski, an associate research professor at Nevada’s Desert Research Institute and lead expedition scientist on the Indigo V voyage. “Maximizing the number of observers, rather than the advanced capabilities of observers, requires a very different approach to the choice of vessel, personnel, instrumentation and protocol.”
The research team said they were able to inventory surface water bacterioplankton populations in all but the most extreme conditions, while also taking basic measurements of ocean physics and chemistry. They were eventually able to recover DNA and RNA from samples that had been preserved using a non-toxic salt solution.
“The world’s oceans are largely unexplored and we have a shortage of oceanographic data because it is financially and logistically impractical for scientists to sample such vast areas,” Dr. Lauro said Wednesday in an interview with the AFP news agency.
“By using what’s known as ‘citizen science’, Indigo V Expeditions set out to prove that the concept of crowdsourcing oceanography can solve the great data collection bottleneck,” he added. “With the right equipment, citizen scientists could gather large quantities of information as they sail around the world.”
In order to help volunteers with their data collection efforts, citizen scientists will be provided with a rugged box containing all the instruments required for them to collect biological samples and to measure physical parameters like temperature, conductivity, depth and weather conditions, the study authors said.
An automated prototype device is currently under development at Indigo V Expeditions and is expected to be ready by early next year, they added. This device should make it easier for volunteers to take part in citizen oceanography, and once the yacht reaches its next port, the device will be collected and passed along to another participant.
The device will also come with a small solar panel for energy collection to recharge its batteries, and a satellite connection to transmit data or an emergency distress signal, Dr. Lauro and his colleagues explained. They believe that, by recruiting citizen scientists, they will be able to establish consistent data points with multiple samples, ultimately providing more reliable research data at a fraction of the normal cost.
Ocean from DK Publishing. The power and wonder of the ocean is as strong today as ever, with new expeditions to its depths, and new discoveries beneath melting ice, in developing reefs, and on shores around the world.