An incredible one million new species of sea life has been discovered by just one small research vessel.
Called the Tara, she set sail two and a half years ago to probe the health of the world’s oceans and seas and her 70,000-mile expedition gave our understanding of marine life a massive boost.
As the schooner sailed the globe 30,000 sea water samples were taken, which revealed a huge diversity of tiny plankton.
The microorganisms were found in 30,000 samples of water
These microscopic organisms are crucial sustenance for fish and whales and help regulate atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Remarkably, more marine micro-organisms were recorded than scientists believed existed - 1.5 million in total, with their sizes ranging from around one centimetre to those too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Dr Chris Bowler, the scientific co-ordinator of the expedition, told The Independent that the study provided a "snapshot and health check" of the world's oceans.
Microorganisms play a vital role in regulating the health of marine systems
He said: "Nobody has ever done this on the scale that we have before. The task now is to understand the physical and climactic constraints that have created these ecosystems.
"How much is pollution affecting them, how much is temperature change affecting them? If a species of plankton sensitive to temperature migrates, it could devastate that food chain and therefore local fisheries.
The study took two and a half years to complete and covered 70,000 miles
"We want to find out the role of each species within an ecosystem so that we can better predict what the oceans could be like in 50 or 100 years' time if we continue to change them."
He added: "Before, there was little data on a planetary scale."
Tara's research duties are by no means over.
A crew is hoping to sail her through the Arctic Ocean by the infamous northwest and northeast passages in May 2013, providing the ice pack can be penetrated.
And in 2014 she will embark on a study of Pacific corals.
See the Tara research team at London’s Science Museum Climate Change themed 'Lates' On Wednesday 26 September, a free event from 6.45-10pm.
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