“The answer is in nature” is the theme of this year’s World Water Day. Sailors are well aware of this and the FNOB continues to play a big role in exploring the seas so more can be learned about the world’s water.

The next Barcelona World Race will build further on this with brand new oceanographic projects and initiatives linked to climate research, to find out more about the sea, nature and life itself.

The world’s water is one. Over 1,380 million cubic kilometres (km3) which has remained almost unaltered since our planet formed. Sea water occupies 96.5% of this immense volume, some 1,331 million km3.

The fresh water we know of comes from a cycle which begins with the evaporation of sea water. The process is kicked off by the absorption of half of the sun’s energy which hits the world’s surface. The evaporated water flows up to the atmosphere where it takes up around 12,900 km3 which makes up 0.001% of the world’s water. This is a tiny proportion of the total water, but it is vital for us; a part of this, after condensation or freezing, returns to the Earth’s surface as rain, snow or hail and in this way supports life on our planet.

Although on a planetary scale, the water cycle is small, on a biospheric scale it is enormous and any changes, however small, have a significant impact: droughts, floods, hurricanes and typhoons, the melting of the polar ice caps are all phenomena whose intensity and frequency has varied significantly and of which science still has a lot to learn.

Climate change is causing changes to the water cycle which have an impact not only in the atmosphere. The melting of the polar ice caps is causing not only alarming rising sea levels but changes to marine currents. Oceanographers have yet to understand the impact of these changes, with the currents and their movement playing a leading role in precipitation as well as the force and trajectory of extreme meteorological phenomena, they also play a part in maintaining the balance of marine fauna.  

It has been decades since scientists proved that sea water absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, the key gas in the greenhouse effect. In fact, sea water contains 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere. CO2 is an acidifying gas and it has been calculated that since the start of the 19th century it has caused the pH of the oceans to change from 8.17 to 8.10 and if CO2 emissions do not slow down that figure may be close to 7.95 in 2050 (pH 7 is neutral and below 7 is acidic, and above 7 is alkaline). The more alkaline sea water is, the greater its ability to capture CO2, which is why scientists fear that the acidification process may lead to the collapse of the CO2 capturing abilities of the sea, which would accelerate climate change with unforeseeable consequences. 

We need to learn more about the sea, its dynamics and how it reacts to contamination. It is vital in the bid to find answers and solutions which can help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change and to protect our waters, essential to life. Ocean sailing, and in particular round the world sailing, is a fantastic platform for scientific research projects with this objective. Since the start, this has been one of the key aspects of the FNOB’s mission. 

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