The world’s largest solar boat, SolarPlanet’s MS Tûranor, was launched again on February 28, 2013 to study the Gulf Stream, with the mission of gaining understanding of the processes that regulate climate. The $16 million boat won the distinction in 2010 of being the first boat to journey around the world using only solar energy. Many people have seen the boat in person in various ports as the voyage took nineteen months.
The catamaran’s new purpose is transporting a team of scientists who will monitor and study the air and water in the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream, the current which affects both Europe’s west coast and North America’s east coast. They will study atmospheric aerosols and measure biological activity in the sea by sampling phytoplankton. They can tell if they are in the Gulf Stream by taking the ocean temperatures, since the current is warm water.
Waste Free Oceans has also developed a study for the North Atlantic Ocean Gyre, one of the five huge plastic garbage patches endlessly swirling in the sea. The scientists need to find a better solution for the gyres than just using fishing boats, according to Bernard Merkx with Waste Free Oceans.
On board the boat are special scientific instruments such as the University of Geneva’s Biobox, a device that does aerosol laser-analysis. It will used for the first time on the Tûranor to identify and monitor particles in the air such as pollens and spores. The hope is that monitoring the particles at sea will lead to warning people with allergies. Since the catamaran is solar-powered, it has no emissions that could influence the sensitive instruments and their data.
The boat set out from La Ciocat, France, where its instruments are being tested in the Mediterranean, towards Miami, Florida. Starting in May 2013, it will spend four months traveling along the east coast of North America, stopping at the ports of New York City, Boston, MA, St. John’s, New Brunswick, Canada, then head east to Reykjavík, Iceland and end up in Bergen, Norway in August. This is roughly the 5,000-mile route of Gulf Stream’s main path across the Atlantic.
Physicists, biologists and climatologists from the University of Geneva, led by the university’s director of Institute of Environmental Sciences, will be doing the research aboard the Tûranor in the project called PlanetSolar Deep Water. Their 30 meter long bi-hull vessel is powered by two electric motors in each hull that get their photovoltaic energy from 537 square meters or 5,780 square feet of solar panels. The motor’s maximum output is 120 kW which propels the craft to as much as 14 knots, or about 16 mph.