The Science of Around the Americas - Sailors for the Sea

The Science of Around the Americas

By: Michael Reynolds, Ph.D. | March 1, 2010

A detailed account of the science and emotions of sailing Around the Americas.

On July 17, three months ago exactly, I filed a report from Barrow Alaska and went home to Seattle for one of driest, hottest summers Seattle has seen in a good while. This was in fact the driest Seattle summer in at least 60 years, with just 0.24 inches of rain recorded at SeaTac Airport between June 1 and August 9th, and it was hot too, with historic record-shattering temperatures topping 103 degrees. I felt almost guilty, as my boat mates were exploring the Northwest Passage in heavy fleece.

But the first of this month I was thrilled to return to Ocean Watch in Boston to serve once again as the on-board scientist. The program for obtaining scientific observations and measurements was in perfect order thanks to Bryan Reeves and Harry Stern, who you met in blogs during the passage. 

During the first three months of this voyage a great deal of interest and excitement was centered on the adventure of getting through the passage and on the people we met. The scientific observations and measurements were interesting, but it was not until we came to the East coast, after the conquest of the Passage, that we ran into a thirst for more information about the scientific goals of this project. 

Characterizing these goals, though, is not as easy or straightforward as one might think. Most contemporary oceanographic research is conducted via intensive research campaigns involving considerable instrumentation, typically deployed at a fixed location for some interval of time. In this instance, since Ocean Watch is underway most of the time she is at sea, we are using the on-board instruments to gather “datasets of opportunity”. 

Also, compared to typical research vessels, Ocean Watch is small, and quiet – without a large crew and immense engines, we produce considerably less underwater sound. These characteristics, as well as our goal of staying comparatively close to the coast in order to make our scheduled port visits, enable us to gather a very different set of observations of the oceans than our larger, noisier counterparts. 

Around the Americas is a “voyage of discovery”, and our primary mission is to build awareness throughout the Americas of increasing threats to our fragile ocean environment and to mobilize North and South Americans to take action to improve the health of our oceans. As such, we are not out to prove or disprove any particular scientific hypothesis. We nonetheless recognize that we are in a unique position, both by virtue of our size, our route, and by being under sail a good deal of the time, and are using this vantage point to acquire multiple data sets for members of the scientific community. We are essentially serving as proxy for a host of scientists, each with different instruments, goals and objectives. In order to gather data for our scientific partners we have had the challenge of developing and operating a complex array of instrumentation, and all data are returned to them for analysis. 

The data acquired by these instruments, along with our interviews and personal experiences, will create a unique window through which few normally view, and our mission is to share this window with others, giving them the opportunity to look, think, and make their own decisions. 

What to Expect

In the coming months, scientific reports will be filed by myself and by the various scientists and organizations involved with the project. Reports will include personal experiences, descriptive oceanography, details of our instrumentation, and background and contextual information from our scientific partners.

Only those who risk going too far – Will know how far they can go.
– T.S. Eliot


You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action

  • Join this leading community of Green Boaters to save our oceans. 
  • Follow us and spread the message on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Donate to Sailors for the Sea to help educate and activate the sailing and boating community toward improving ocean health.