Vendée Globe: skipper Fabrice Amedeo sets sail in partnership with the University of Bordeaux
Fabrice Amedeo set sail on November 8th 2020 to complete his second Vendée Globe. This time around, the French sailor intends to make his sporting challenge even more meaningful by combining it with an oceanographic project. In order to do so, he has joined forces with several research institutions including the University of Bordeaux.
November 8th 2020, 33 boats set off from Les Sables d'Olonne on a solo tour of the world for the Vendée Globe 2020. Unlike the other sailors, Fabrice Amedeo is carrying out two projects, one sports related and one related to science, aboard his boat Imoca Newrest - Art et Fenêtres. Keenly aware of ocean conservation issues, the skipper intends to sail “usefully, for science” and is sailing with sensors aboard to allow the collection of oceanographic data and information on microplastics at sea. These will be studied by researchers at the institute of Chemistry and Biology of Membranes and Nano-objects (CBMN - CNRS, Bordeaux INP and the University of Bordeaux) and the Oceanic and Continental Environments and Paleo-Environments laboratory (EPOC - CNRS, École Pratique des Hautes Études and the University of Bordeaux).
The first oceanographic sensor, installed aboard the boat in September 2019, measures CO2 levels, salinity and the surface temperature of the ocean. This data is essential for a better understanding of climate changes and the Earth's water cycle. It will be collected continuously and sent directly to Fabrice Amedeo’s French and international partners* for analysis.
Sailing for science
Looking to take the project further, the skipper installed a second sensor in 2020 to collect microplastics in the waters he navigates. To analyze the samples, he has teamed up with research laboratories recognized for their expertise in the study of microplastics, two of which are on the Bordeaux campus. “United in a consortium, the CBMN and EPOC laboratories and Ifremer (DCM** laboratory) will share the task of identifying and quantifying the microplastics collected by Fabrice Amedeo during the Vendée Globe. The EPOC laboratory will also study the toxicity and metallic impregnation of these microplastics. The IRD (LOPS*** laboratory) will be in charge of modeling the results to determine the distribution of microplastics in the oceans crossed”, explains Sophie Lecomte, a CNRS researcher at the CMBN involved in the project.
“Ocean campaigns are carried out on very localized sites and often two or three years apart", the scientist adds. “It is therefore difficult to get a global view. The great thing about the Vendée Globe route is that it allows us to examine a very large and little studied area in a very short space of time. We will be covering three oceans in the same winter. It's unprecedented."
The microplastic sensor continuously pumps and filters seawater. Every 24 hours, Fabrice Amedeo changes the 300, 100 and 50 µm mesh filters and stores them aboard his monohull. “The process is fairly quick and simple, so it can be done during the race”, the chemist explains. “If something prevents him from keeping to schedule, we can recalculate the quantification of microplastics using data on the time, distance traveled and the boat’s speed.”
Measuring plastic pollution to help prevent it
When the skipper returns, Jérôme Cachot, professor in aquatic ecotoxicology at the EPOC laboratory, and his team will carry out initial identification (plastics, natural fibers, etc.) and sort the particles collected by size, shape and color. Chemical identification using spectroscopic techniques will then be carried out by the CBMN researchers to reveal what types of plastics are present. Lastly, ecotoxicologists at the EPOC laboratory will analyze the largest microplastic particles to determine whether they contain metals and if they are potentially dangerous.
Initial tests were carried out during the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables race last July. “We successfully tested the equipment and validated the analysis protocol”, says Sophie Lecomte. “Ifremer will analyze one half of the samples and we will analyze the other, so it was important to show that our data can be compiled.” The 10-day race also allowed the scientists to make an initial observation, that of the the presence of microplastics all along the route between Brittany and the edge of the Arctic Circle.
Gobi, a French manufacturer of eco-friendly drinking bottles, is supporting the project as a patron of the Bordeaux University Foundation. This funding will allow a Master 2 intern and a technician to be recruited from February 2021 for the sorting and initial analysis of samples.
At Sables d’Olonne, Fabrice Amedeo cast off and returned to the open sea. Although he has to complete the 85-day race around the world alone, he can count on the support of the Bordeaux scientists who will be following his progress closely before they take over to analyze the data he has collected.
* The scientific partners involved in the study of the collected data are: UNESCO, Ifremer, Geomar, JCOMMOPS and the Max Planck Institute.
** DCM - Detection, Sensors and Measurements Laboratory (Ifremer)
*** LOPS - Physical and Spatial Oceanography Laboratory (UBO, CNRS, IRD and Ifremer)
CNRS research director, expert in vibrational spectroscopy
Professor of aquatic ecotoxicology, EPOC laboratory
Scientific communication officer