The world’s largest solar boat, MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, arrived in New York on Monday during the early phase of a scientific expedition to study the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, a key regulator of climate.
The boat is special because it runs only on the sun’s energy — more than 29,000 solar cells cover the ship’s deck which powers 8.5 tons of lithium ion batteries housed beneath the boat. The batteries can last for more than 10 years.
An onboard research team, led by professor and climatologist Professor Beniston from the University of Geneva, is using the boat to collect data from the ocean and air that is uncontaminated by exhaust.
We toured the large solar craft before she leaves Manhattan for Boston in a few a days, heading next to Canada, Iceland, and finally ending in Bergen, Norway, in August.
The largest solar boat ever built arrived in New York on June 17, marking the first stop on a campaign to study the Gulf Stream, an ocean current that transports heat from the tropics to the Arctic across the Atlantic Ocean.
The boat is powered only by solar energy, which means scientists do not have to worry about their results being distorted by pollutants from the boat's engine.
Piloting a solar-powered boat comes with some challenges. Close attention must be paid to the sun, as opposed to the sea or the wind.
Each solar block can support the weight of one person. You can sit and even walk on them although they are not indestructible.
The team keeps spare solar panels on board in the event that one is damaged. It takes about an hour to install a new panel.
The captain uses charts provided France's meteorological organisation to plan the best path. Speed is important — the vessel moves fast when there is plenty of sun and more slowly in rough seas or if bad weather is predicted in the days ahead.
Typically, the boat cannot go more than three days without sunlight. A screen on the left-hand side tells the captain how much battery power is left. After sitting at port all morning, battery life is at a healthy 98%.
In May 2012, MS Tûranor circumnavigated the globe, proving that a trip around the world powered only by solar energy was possible
Throughout the expedition, lead science investigator Professor Beniston plans to look at the the role of small organisms known as phytoplankton on climate as well as how oceans emit fine particles called aerosols. These measurements will hopefully improve our understanding of their role in climate change.
After leaving New York, the solar craft will continue to sail along the Gulf Stream, passing through Boston, St. Johns, and Reykjavik, Iceland before disembarking from Norway toward the end of the summer.
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