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UN teams up with top sailors to research oceans

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations is teaming up with top sailors to conduct scientific research in remote areas of the oceans during a non-stop race around the globe.

UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the Barcelona Foundation for Ocean Sailing, which is organizing the race, announced what they called an "unprecedented alliance between the sailing and scientific communities" at a news conference Friday.

Barcelona's deputy mayor Maite Fandos, who is president of the foundation, said the third Barcelona World Race starting Dec. 31 will be "turning our skippers into agents of the collection of ocean science from salinity levels to micro-plastic pollution."

Mathieu Belbeoch, the commission's technical coordinator, said each skipper will put an "Argo robot" with sophisticated instruments into a remote area to measure the dynamics of the ocean. The "robots" or "floats" are part of a global project researching climate change.

There are currently more than 3,600 battery-operated floats in the world's oceans but Belbeoch said there are major gaps.

"What is important is that these skippers are reaching remote places that don't see many ships" in the southern oceans, he said.

The three-month race goes from Barcelona to Barcelona via three southern capes — Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn — and the Cook Strait.

Jean-Pierre Dick, winner of the two previous two-crew Barcelona races in 2007-08 and 2010-11, said: "We know they are remote because it's very cold there, there are a lot of big waves, and there are very little fishermen and very few commercial boats going there."

Belbeoch said the current idea is to set an "Argo Day," probably when the first ship is south of Australia and the last one is south of South Africa, and from that day every skipper can decide the best time to deploy their float.

"What is important is that the handicap is the same for every race — same mass, same instrument, and same starting date to deploy the instrument," he said.

Belbeoch said the floats are slightly smaller than a man and weigh between 20-30 kilograms. The ones the skippers will test go to a depth of 6 kilometers (3.7 miles), he said.

According to Argos, about every 10 days the floats pump fluid into an external bladder and rise to the surface measuring temperature and salinity. Satellites determine their position and collect their data, the bladder then deflates, and the float returns to its original depth to drift until the cycle is repeated.

Dick said where to put the float in the boat is going to be a problem because the weight moves from side to side while sailing, but once that's settled "you have nothing to do except spend a quarter of an hour putting the float in the water."

"I think that's feasible," he said. "It's a great opportunity to do this if, of course, the sport's fairness is maintained."

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