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On a recent spring day, the research vessel Tara raised anchor. Its sails caught the wind and it sailed away from its home port in France. Among the 20 scientists on board was Dr. Jorge Michel Flores, a postdoctoral researcher in two labs at the Weizmann Institute of Science – those of Prof. Ilan Koren, of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, and Dr. Assaf Vardi of the Plant and Environmental Sciences Department. Flores had received the offer to join the thirty-day trans-Atlantic expedition just a short time before, but it was an offer that was hard to refuse.
For Tara, the it’s the journey that matters, not the destination: In the thirteen years it has been at sea, it has crossed over 300,000 km of ocean. The scientists on board are there to conduct research on the ocean’s ecology and the impact of climate change on this environment. Flores collected samples of both ocean water and aerosols – particles that are swept up from the ocean into the atmosphere – for continued research in the lab. He also took his turn, along with everyone aboard, performing kitchen and cleaning duties. “There was no division of labor between captain, crew and scientists,” he says. “The atmosphere was one of complete cooperation.”
This expedition was meant to assess the biodiversity of coral reefs, including the algae, bacteria and marine viruses that both assist coral growth and sometimes blight it. The purpose is to learn how resilient the ocean’s reefs are to climate change and whether they will be able to adapt to the pressures of human activity.
After thirty days at sea, days of high waves and long hours of becalmed seas with no wind in the sails, the Tara arrived in Miami. Flores disembarked there, and the ship, with a change of crew, continued on its journey. By the end of 2018, the Tara will have crossed eleven time zones and two hemispheres on its way to Japan, China and New Zealand.
Prof. Ilan Koren's research is supported by the Benoziyo Fund for the Advancement of Science; and the Dr. Scholl Center for Water and Climate Research.
Dr. Assaf Vardi's research is supported by the Benoziyo Fund for the Advancement of Science; the Angel Faivovich Foundation for Ecological Research; the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation; Dana and Yossie Hollander, Israel; the Brazil-Israel Energy Fund; the estate of Samuel and Alwyn J. Weber; Scott Eric Jordan, La Habra Heights, CA; and the Raymond Burton Plant Genome Research Fund. Dr. Vardi is the incumbent of the Edith and Nathan Goldenberg Career Development Chair.