Ocean sailing takes on the Southern Ocean ice

The round table discussion Sailing in the Southern Ocean: Ice Gates and Climate Change highlighted how the most unpredictable side of climate change is revealed down in the Southern Ocean. The detection of huge quantities of Antarctic ice requires a different organisational and technological approach which up until a short time ago was impossible for a round the world regatta. Ocean sailors will become agents in the discovery of new realities in future round the world regattas.

News FEB 6, 2013 15:48

ce gates or exclusion zones? Or maybe a mixed approach? What is the current status of the current ice detection systems? What solutions are on the horizon to avoid collisions with unidentified floating objects? These were some of the questions being debated with a view to the Barcelona World Race 2014/15 and to the future of ocean regattas overall. The round table Sailing in the Southern Ocean: Ice Gates and Climate Change held on February 5th at the Barcelona World Race Interpretation Centre welcomed twenty or so members of the press and was streamed live over the internet and translated simultaneously into English and French. The debate underlined the organisational and technological challenges posed by introducing measures to increase safety in the Southern Ocean and also laid out the broad array of possibilities opened up by the collaboration between the worlds of ocean sailing and ocean science.

 Evidence of climate change and how it is affecting the melting of the polar ice caps was the main theme of the first contribution to the debate by Jorge Luis Valdés, the Head of Ocean Science at UNESCO's International Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC). Valdés, a scientist who has taken part in numerous marine expeditions, presented the scientific data supporting a reality affecting the planet and in particular the oceans. He praised the existing relationship between the sport of sailing and oceanography, an example of which are the projects to measure the saline levels in the sea and to detect the concentration of micro plastics in the world's ocean during the upcoming edition of the Barcelona World Race. These projects will transform the skippers and their boats into veritable oceanographic agents in some of the most remote marine environments for where little data is currently available: “Protecting the oceans is urgent and we have to generate more scientific knowledge, move forward with a collective vision and continue in the development of sustainable activities. In that sense ocean sailing, and in particular the relationship developing with the Barcelona World Race, creates an ideal framework for this and allows us to progress with the collection of important data”. 

Following the intervention by the UNESCO scientist, Barcelona World Race meteorologist and esteemed router of offshore records Marcel Van Triest was joined by navigator, current holder of the Jules Verne Trophy and entrant in four round the world regattas Joan Vila. Marcel Van Triest was the impulse behind the ice study developed for the previous edition of the Barcelona World Race and was also the router for the Banque Populaire V spectacular round the world record achieved aboard a maxi-trimaran. The Dutchman described his different experiences in the field of ice detection and outlined the different techniques and procedures currently available. The meteorologist and also navigator himself, made it very clear that there is a difference between preventing of collisions with floating ice when tracking the progress of one single boat and trying to do the same when you have a fleet spread out across the ocean, as is the case in a round the world regatta:“The level of precision you are able to achieve with one boat is enormous and almost in real time but that is just not possible with an extensive fleet of boats in terms of the means required and in particular the money needed to do so”. 

Joan Vila described his experience with Banque Populaire V when as on board navigator he was in daily contact with Van Triest's office in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The Catalan navigator, the first Spaniard to have won a round the world regatta, explained how an extensive area of the ocean containing fragments of the huge B-15 iceberg forced the team to change the routing for their record. He also outlined the abilities of the on board detection systems currently being used which, in his opinion is where technology needs to make progress short term, especially when faced with the worrying issue of UFOs (Unidentified Floating Objects) which pose an even greater danger to sailors than ice with numerous incidents in recent ocean-going regattas: “Current satellite systems are unable to detect an object smaller than 100 metres. We really need to develop on board detection systems. For now there don't seem to be any short term effective solutions up ahead”. 

The debate was moderated by journalist Víctor Lavagnini and was broadcast live via the Barcelona World Race website and other international sailing sites such as Voiles et Voiliers, Sailing Channel TV, Sailing Anarchy, Todo Regatas, VSail and Lorient Grand Large. Viewers participated actively in the debate with questions to the main contributors and via the website, Twitter and Facebook. Over the next few days we will publish some conclusions from the round table. 

Some images from the debate: