Tag Archives: Malaspina Expedition

Ocean exploration, from empire to empirical

Creatures in chloroform, musty maps, and navigation by brass instruments. That was ocean exploration 18th-century style. Nowadays it’s satellite links, mandatory life vests on deck, and flow cytometers measuring minute lifeforms from the murk below – a very different kettle of fish.

The España Explora. Malaspina 2010 exhibition juxtaposes two Spanish expeditions launched over 200 years apart: between 1789 and 1794, commander Alessandro Malaspina led Spain’s imperial survey of its global holdings. In 2010, the Spanish government launched the high-tech Malaspina expedition, an oceanographic venture far removed from anything the commander would be able to recognise.
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Spain’s ship comes in

Here’s my overview story about the Malaspina expedition for Nature’s news section. See the original at Nature’s website [html] or as it appeared in print: [pdf].

In the age of networked buoys and remote-sensing satellites, a global oceanographic cruise might sound like a relic from the golden era of exploration.

But the seven-month trek of Spain’s BIO Hespérides, which concludes next week when it docks in Cartagena, aims to deliver a global, comprehensive portrait of the ocean and how it is changing that the project’s backers say could not be assembled in any other way.

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Fieldwork: Close quarters

In the scientists’ lounge aboard the BIO Hespérides one evening last March, Jordi Dachs points at the schedule for the next day’s oceanographic observations. The Spanish research vessel is chugging across the Indian Ocean at a speed of about ten knots. “The storm has put us seven hours behind,” warns Dachs, an environmental chemist at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research in Barcelona, Spain, whose responsibilities as chief scientist on the ship include planning researchers’ time and instrument use. About two dozen scientists brace themselves against the rhythmic pitching of the vessel. “We might not lower the sampling rosette all the way on some days,” says Dachs, “to save time.”

His suggestion fills the room with tension. Lowering and retrieving the rosette can take many hours, but the water samples it retrieves from the ocean’s depths — as much as 4 kilometres down — hold the biggest potential for new discoveries. Sampling excursions in the Indian Ocean’s deep waters are relatively rare, making the samples particularly valuable.

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Malaspina Expedition: Pausing in Perth

DSC_9703S 32° 3’ 0″ E 115° 43’ 58″

Broken electronics sit on a shelf in one of the laboratories on the Hespérides, awaiting repair. Finger bones smashed by errant sampling bottles are knitting nicely, the medic says. And supplies ordered last week before we lost our main satellite connection await the ship in port. The Hespérides is now pausing in Perth, Australia. The ship stays long enough to pick up more supplies, drop off some researchers, and pick up a few more before heading off to Sydney. It’s also a chance for the sailors and scientists who continue to Sydney to recharge their mental batteries after 30 days at sea. Continue reading Malaspina Expedition: Pausing in Perth