Scientists Test Yacht As Miniature Research Vessel

Pleasure cruises can be valuable scientific expeditions.

Indigo V On Leg Three Of The Journey
Indigo V On Leg Three Of The JourneyIndigo V Expeditions

The ocean is vast and full of data. Getting that data, however, is tricky. A new paper published in the journal PLOS Biology argues that there's a cheap and easy way to get more information about more of the ocean: citizen scientists. Equipping the people already travelling the ocean with simple tools to document the world around them could mean more data and a better scientific understanding of the ocean.

Scientists, being scientists, wanted to see if the idea works in practice. The predominantly sail-driven yacht Indigo V sailed from South Africa to Thailand, sampling water (and the things living in it) along the way. Almost everywhere, the crew was able to do science. From the paper:

In all but the heaviest seas, the crew was able to inventory the surface water population of bacterioplankton using a simple pump and filtration apparatus and make basic measurements of ocean physics and chemistry. DNA and RNA were successfully recovered from samples preserved using a nontoxic salt solution (RNAlater, Qiagen, Valencia, California).

The Indigo V carried a small lab on board. Building and prototyping the lab still cost $200,000. That's a pittance compared to the $30,000 per day operating cost of a dedicated research vessel, and a fraction of the price of many yachts. If the idea takes off, citizen scientists could turn pleasure cruises into research expeditions. If it doesn't, well, there are always robots willing to do the job.

Watch a video about monitoring the ocean with yachts below: