UMaine Scientist Takes Lead on Ocean Expedition

Contact: Lee Karp-Boss, or Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777

University of Maine School of Marine Science research professor Lee Karp-Boss will leave Wednesday with an international group of scientists and researchers from Chile to Easter Island on a leg of the Tara Oceans Expedition, a three-year worldwide sailing journey to study oceanic ecosystems.

Karp-Boss, who studies phytoplankton and their form, function, and relationship to the environment, is serving as the chief scientist on board for the current leg, which will take the researchers 2,100 nautical miles from Valparaiso on the west coast of Chile to Easter Island.

The Tara, a 118-foot schooner, left from Lorient, France, on Sept. 5, 2009, and has since been through the Mediterranean Ocean, in the Middle East, around southern Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean to South America. By the time the Tara returns to Europe in November 2012, the expedition will have traveled 150,000 kilometers with about 60 ports of call.

A rotating crew of five scientists each stays on board for about one month monitoring 20 experiments, each running for 24 hours. There are 50 laboratories from 15 countries participating. Karp-Boss’ husband, Professor Emmanuel Boss of the UMaine School of Marine Sciences, has had an instrument sampling on-board the Tara since the boat left France. The instrument is studying the distribution of optical properties related to phytoplankton and other upper-ocean particles, and linking them to the color of the ocean as observed from space.

Tara Oceans Expedition is primarily a European-funded venture, but has also received support from NASA, the United Nations, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other U.S. organizations.

In a blog entry on the Tara expedition website, Karp-Boss says she is delighted to participate in this leg of the trip because the boat will be in the area of an upwelling near the coasts of Chile and Peru. This is an area particularly rich in microorganisms, which explains the large amount of fish in the region.

She is also excited to be involved in this part of the trip because it traverses similar waters as “Kon Tiki,” the 1947 book about adventurers in the south Pacific Ocean.

“Beyond the scientific interest, I am also excited at the idea of navigating in the same waters as the Kon Tiki,” Karp-Boss says in the blog entry, which is in French. “The raft adventure was my favorite book when I was an adolescent.”

For more information about the trip and to follow along with Karp-Boss, go to