Some of the most essential life forms on the planet are microorganisms that we know virtually nothing about. Phytoplankton and zooplankton comprise the bottom of the food chain in ocean ecosystems and play vital roles in regulating the Earth’s climate. But with that climate rapidly warming, these building blocks of the sea are disappearing at a rate of about 1% per year. Studying them and collecting samples of organisms that in many cases have never been seen before was the idea behind the two-and-a-half year journey around the globe by the Tara Oceans, a 118-foot schooner with an onboard crew of researchers, which came to an end in Lorient, France in March. (We first reported this incredible story earlier this year.)
The ten-year process to analyze the samples is now in its beginning stages, while future missions by Tara Expeditions are being planned. Next year, the crew will visit the Arctic to create a new inventory of biodiversity there, and in 2014 they’ll head to the Pacific Ocean to study coral reefs, including visits to South Asia, which the recent voyage failed to reach. For now, we can simply marvel at the stunning fruits of Tara’s labors so far with previously unimaginable visions of plankton, protozoa, and crustaceans from deep in the world’s oceans.