The Volvo Ocean Race boats pass through some of the most remote parts of the earth’s oceans – places where we previously have had no data on the spread of these tiny particles.
This groundbreaking data collected as part of the Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme has, so far, found microplastics in Antarctic waters and remotest part of the most remote ocean on earth – Point Nemo in the Southern Ocean.
We are beginning to understand the scale of the issue and the Race has a pivotal role to play in advancing our knowledge of this area of science.
The valuable samples, collected by the Turn the Tide on Plastic and Team AkzoNobel boats, are sent to a scientific laboratory in Kiel, Germany, where they are analysed for levels of microplastics.
The information collected is then published, open source, for the scientific community to use as a benchmark for further studies.
Dr. Sören Gutekunst, of GEOMAR Institute for Ocean Research Kiel, funded by the Cluster of Excellence Future Ocean, analyses the preliminary microplastics data.
He said: “I go to the stopovers and pick up the microplastic filters that the team collects as well as the rest of the data that’s gathered by the onboard systems.
“In Germany, I measure the samples for microplastic concentration using a high energy laser. A computer programme then identifies particles that might contain microplastic per cubic metre.
“I then have to cross check them manually to make sure that they are microplastic particles. This process takes around two hours per filter and the boats each collect three filters every two days.”
He said: “We are measuring a number of variables on two of the boats. Temperature, salinity, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll and, of course, microplastics.
The Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme has brought together an elite scientific consortium to capture this data that is contributing to a better understanding of the world’s ocean and climate.
Microplastics are often invisible to the naked eye and can take thousands of years to degrade. By collecting information on their levels, the mission is helping scientists gain insight into the scale of plastic pollution and its impact upon marine life.
The Volvo Ocean Race Science Programme is funded by Volvo Cars, who are donating €100 from the first 3,000 sales of the new Volvo V90 Cross Country Volvo Ocean Race edition to support the initiative.