Plankton Planet on Board Perseverance: Unprecedented Scientific Exploration of the Mysteries of the Southern Ocean

An ambitious initiative led by Member of the European Parliament Catherine Chabaud and CNRS biologist Colomban de Vargas came to life on Wednesday, January 17, 2024, with the launch of the participatory oceanology program Plankton Planet aboard Perseverance, the polar exploration and future resupply schooner designed by Jean-Louis Etienne for the Polar Pod.

Discovering the Microscopic World of Oceans

During a three-week rotation in the Antarctic Peninsula, the Plankton Planet team will install their new “frugal” instruments on board Perseverance. These instruments, both cost-effective, open source, and designed for simple field use, aim to explore and measure the microscopic life thriving in marine waters, playing an essential role in regulating the planetary ecosystem.

The Invisible Importance of Marine Life

Though most of us cannot see it, seawater harbors between 10 and 100 billion organisms per liter, forming the largest planetary ecosystem. This invisible life plays a fundamental role in the Earth’s functioning, regulating oxygen levels and supporting all forms of life in and around the sea.

Measuring the Microbiome to Understand the Future of Our Planet

Plankton Planet’s mission is to tackle the scientific challenge of the coming century: understanding the biodiversity of the planetary invisible life. This involves knowing who these organisms are, where and when they form balanced assemblages, and how they interact. This knowledge is crucial to understanding how local and global human impacts affect the biological foundation of marine ecosystems.

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Science Accessible to All Sea Explorers

Plankton Planet proposes an innovative solution by using a new generation of “frugal” instruments, simple and relatively inexpensive, allowing “seatoyens” (sea explorers and users), such as scientists, sailors, boaters, and industrialists, to contribute to a standardized measurement of biocomplexity.

Perseverance: A Mobile Laboratory in the Most Extreme Zones

During the three weeks of navigation, filmmaker Dorothée Adam and engineer-biologist Noan le Bescot will test the “Plankton Planet” instruments in eccentric and challenging conditions. They will film and illustrate scientific protocols within one of the last wild ecosystems on Earth, offering a unique insight into the invisible life of the ocean.

Perseverance, as the resupply ship for the future Polar Pod, will explore hard-to-reach areas of the Southern Ocean, a key regulator of global climate. This mission is part of the ongoing effort to measure the oceanic microbiome on a planetary scale, contributing to the understanding of climate and environmental changes.