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Atlantic Sargasso Weed: On-going Research Update

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 08, 2016 03:06 PM
Contributors: Joan Conover (SSCA) and Dr Franks
The annual migration of cruising boats to warmer Caribbean waters is now underway, from both North America and Europe (and a few from South America). Many of these boats are helping with research into the abundance of Sargasso weed blooms that have been appearing throughout the North Atlantic.

Published: 2015-12-04 00:00:00
Topics: Atlantic Crossing , Environment

Atlantic Sargasso Weed: On-going Research Update stuck in Sargasso weed off Guadeloupe in 2014

For an explanation of this phenomenon and how you can assist with the research, see this news item posted in November. For updates on on-going research see comments at bottom of report.

Jim Franks, a senior research scientist at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, is carrying out research into this phenomenon and Joan Conover of the Seven Seas Cruising Association is co-ordinating a citizen-science project involving cruising sailors in the Altlantic to help with the research.

She herself has been getting involved:

"We have just completed a trip through the Gulf Stream from Virginia to the British Virgin Islands. During the trip we took water samples from the center of the stream, tested for several items, and sent results to Dr.Franks. The weed here in the BVIs, is dying out, it looks old and brown with little feeder roots showing. Long streamers are seen when you look down from the cliff tops..following the waves, winds. Our driver around Virgin Gorda said the weed was 'gone' now, but two months ago it was awful and the smell made people sick. He said in the Spanish Town area the lobsters and fish oxygen in water and the local population are not happy with the loss of so much of their livelyhood from the sea".

Joan is collecting feedback from cruising boats to pass on to Dr Franks. She reports that many cruisers say it's not at all like last year when their engines got fouled due to the large areas of Sargasso found in the waters off the East Coast of the USA and on their way to the Caribbean. There are however still a large amount of boats on passage from Europe who have yet to report in, and a few still coming from the USA to the Bahamas and Virgin Islands.

Ongoing reporting by vessels as to where Sargasso Weed is located, and sometimes where it is not, is needed continuously. The cycles continue to wax and wane, but the situation continues. ARC vessels who are near or were near West Africa, close to the ITCZ, may have very valuable data to contribute, as do individual vessels.

Dr Frank comments on research results so far;

"We believe it is more of a cycle involving the seasonal flow of the currents rather than local blooms. The bloom may still be occurring in the equatorial Atlantic (that’s why we are working to expand satellite imagery analyses of that region). I suspect it will start to show again around Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname in late winter/early spring and be near Trinidad by early late spring/early summer….flowing northward throughout the summer up to the BVIs, etc. That seems to be the case for recent years."

There is a caveat, says Dr. Franks. "This (seasonal cycle of movement) is still basically hypothetical on our part at this point until we can improve on assessment of satellite imagery. I honestly hope this doesn’t happen again this year….but we just don’t know at this point."

Its vital for the country nations around the Atlantic to be able to project, similar to weather, when the Sargasso weed impacts will occur, Dr. Franks research will help provide that. He needs the photographic images at water or ground level, lat/longs associated with the photos, and dates and time. Even beach photographs of current information will be of use to help develop satellite tracking of the events.

Find out how to contribute to this research at the below link.

Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Dec 11, 2015 02:56 PM

Feedback from Joan Conover:
I just sent a test package to Dr. Franks with dried sargasso weed. It's a perfect test, I dried the weed between paper towels pressed between pages in a heavy book. When dry, I carefully placed it in a ziplock bag marked with Lat/long/DTG. Then the bag and sample, still with the paper towel around it, were packed flat between foam blocks, and mailed (Snail Mail) back to Dr Franks. It works, and he can use the sample for DNA testing if it's from a key area, such as Sierra Leone, Africa.
I plan to see if I can get one SSCA Host, near there, and one in the Canary Islands to collect samples and send them in to Dr. Franks. Also, I will be using the two new SSCA CS hosts in South America, near Suriname and French Guyana, to be a reporting group, and send in samples when the weed cycle starts again.

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