The Foundation’s Board of Experts annual lunch – 23 September 2015


‘We are currently carrying out the first inventory of the state of the oceans’

Chris Bowler, who has worked in France for nearly ten years, specializes in research on diatoms (unicellular organisms that capture solar energy and produce a quarter of the Earth’s oxygen). His research studies and expeditions on board the schooner Tara, built by Jean-Louis Etienne, are today providing vital data on the world’s oceans.

During the four-year Tara Oceans expedition, Chris Bowler sailed round the world, conducting new research on plankton and venturing further north than any other schooner had gone before! ‘Our task is a major one: that of mapping the biodiversity of marine plankton, the wide range of organisms that makes up over 95% of marine biomass’, explained Dr. Bowler.

The essential role played by plankton

‘If we don’t carry out this inventory, how will we be able to study changes in the ocean in the years to come, or in 100 years’ time or beyond? And how could we assess ongoing climate change?’

The other key challenge of the research is to develop new applications. We already knew that plankton played a fundamental role in combating the effects of greenhouse gases by absorbing CO2 and transporting it down to the seabed. We also knew that all fish depend for their survival on plankton, which forms the basis of the food chain. ‘By identifying new resources, our research is opening up new directions. Take, for example, the case of algae used to produce biofuel. We may also discover new molecules and genes that will help in the fight against diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, etc.

In 2010, Dr. Bowler was awarded the CNRS (French National Scientific Research Center) Silver Medal. This year, five of his articles were published in the May issue of Science magazine – an unheard-of achievement in the field of marine biology and oceanography! ‘I should point out that behind this research lies a consortium of international scientists (around 30 laboratories worldwide), and that the core of the project is French, with support from Veolia, EDF, Prince Albert II during all the expeditions.’ said Dr. Bowler, adding: ‘This is very important for France’s image in the field of marine biology.’

Oceans that are all too often forgotten…

In conclusion, Chris Bowler commended Fondation Ensemble for its commitment to protecting marine ecosystems, and called on all of us to take action. ‘Knowing that almost 90% of the heat generated in the atmosphere by oil combustion is absorbed by the oceans makes it hard to accept that they receive so little attention in the current climate negotiations.’ In this context, Dr. Bowler drew attention to the appeal launched by Ocean & Climate, which has already received 10 000 signatures. The goal is to collect 100 000 signatures before the opening of the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21).

Dr. Bowler also discussed his participation in the seminar ‘Climate and Foundations: where does our general interest lie?’, jointly organized by Fondation Ensemble and eight other foundations in Lyon in September 2015.

Chris Bowler : Director of research at the CNRS ; Director of the environmental and evolutionary genomics section, Institute of biology, Ecole Normale Superieure, scientific coordinator of the Tara Oceans Projetct since 2009

Access the Tara Oceans website here.

Sign the Ocean Call for Climate.

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