Next November, the Malaspina expedition 2010 will set sail from the city of Cadiz. This interdisciplinary project led by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) aims to evaluate how global change is impacting on the oceans and to survey their biodiversity. The expedition has the backing of the Spanish Royal Navy and the BBVA Foundation, and takes its name from mariner Alessandro Malaspina, the leader of Spain's first round-the-world scientific expedition in the late 18th century, in what is the bicentenary of his death.
The Malaspina Round-the-World Expedition 2010: Global Change and Exploration of Global Ocean Biodiversity is coordinated by Carlos Duarte, CSIC researcher and a close collaborator of the BBVA Foundation. "This expedition will circumnavigate the globe, but it will also change the face of Spanish oceanography, ushering in a new level of cooperation. This is an ambitious project, global in scope, which addresses two important needs: to assess the impact of global change on our oceans and to explore the still unknown ecosystem that is the deep sea".
For nine months, the oceanographic research vessels Hespérides and Sarmiento de Gamboa will cover a combined 42,000 nautical miles. Most of the sailing will be done by the Hespérides, which will depart from Cadiz and call in at Rio de Janeiro, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Cape Town, Perth, Sydney, Honolulu, Panama, Cartagena de Indias and Cartagena then back to Cadiz. The Sarmiento de Gamboa, meantime, will follow a route from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Miami. Each port of call will be the occasion for talks and public events alerting to the consequences of global change and the importance of marine research, and publicizing the Malaspina campaign.
In all, over 250 researchers from 19 Spanish institutions are participating in the project, rising to around 400 if we add on students and researchers from the 16 foreign partners in the project, among them NASA, the European Space Agency and the universities of California, Rio de Janeiro, Washington and Vienna.
The team will make tests at 350 points and gather 70,000 samples of air, water and plankton from the surface down to around 5,000 meters depth. The aim is to complete a multidisciplinary study spanning eleven thematic areas, to evaluate the impact of global change and the state of deep-sea biodiversity. As well as measuring temperature, salinity and nutrient concentrations in diverse ocean zones, the team will study ocean-atmosphere gas exchange, the fate of the CO2 absorbed by the oceans, the influence of chemical substances in the ocean and their possible toxicity. They will also look at the diversity and metabolism of phytoplankton, zooplankton and deep-sea microorganisms.
The samples collected will be added to the Malaspina 2010 Collection along with written and photographic records of the expedition's progress. This Collection will then be sealed and stored for several decades awaiting new scientific developments; a kind of time capsule that will give future generations an abundance of material to investigate and use to develop new techniques.
The project has the further goal of strengthening the marine sciences in Spain and nurturing new scientific vocations. To this end, over 50 young postgraduate students will be invited on board for different parts of the journey to complete their master's dissertations or PhD theses under the auspices of the Expedición Malaspina Fundación BBVA-CSIC Doctorate Program funded by both institutions.
Alessandro Malaspina: from hero to traitor
Alessandro Malaspina (Mulazzo, 1754 - Pontremoli, 1810), frigate captain in the Royal Armada, launched Spain's first ever round-the-world expedition in July 1789 with the corvettes Descubierta and Atrevida. During the journey, which lasted five years, the scientists on board collected abundant data, mapped out territories, recorded the wildlife they encountered and analyzed the ocean waters. Malaspina was first rewarded with promotion but later fell foul of conspiracy charges. He was imprisoned then exiled and his journey forgotten until the end of the 20th century.