World's Largest Solar Boat Tracks Impact of Climate Change

Lorraine Boissoneault
Published: June 20, 2013

Gerard dAboville, captain of the world's largest solar boat, Switzerlands MS Turanor PlanetSolar, stands on the boat's solar panels on June 18, 2013 at North Cove Marina in New York. Solar panels cover more than 5,554 square feet of the ship's surface. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Boats have relied on the wind to travel around the world for hundreds of years, but last year was the first time that a vessel powered only by the sun completed the full circumnavigation. And now the MS Turanor PlanetSolar is on another mission: measure how climate change is affecting the Gulf Stream.

The expedition team on the 102-foot boat, comprised of scientists from the University of Geneva, will be collecting phytoplankton samples from the ocean and aerosols from the air to understand how the Gulf Stream -- an ocean current in the Atlantic that moves water from the tropics to the Arctic -- is responding to climate change, according to The Guardian.  Because the boat is powered by 5,554 square feet of solar panels, the scientists won't have to worry about any polluting substances that could distort the data.

"I myself live in Brittany, west of France, and we are very worried. We all know that if the Gulf Stream changes, even a little bit, our climate will deteriorate quite a lot," Gerard d'Aboville, the boat's French captain, said in an interview with Agence France-Press (AFP).

Turanor, which docked in New York City on June 17, 2013, moves at an average speed of 5 knots (5.57 mph) and can carry up to 60 people, according to CNBC. The boat's recent trip across the Atlantic was the fastest ever made by a solar-powered vessel -- 2,867 miles in 22 days. For its research voyage, it will be traveling up the East Coast of the U.S. and then back to Iceland and Norway. 

"With a usual boat you take care of the sea, the wind, the currents," d'Aboville told The Guardian. "Now you have to take care of the sun."


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