Vendée Globe 2020: skippers and scientists work together to support ocean observations

From the start of the Vendée Globe race, 10 skippers will carry scientific instruments onboard to support the Global Ocean Observing System, within the framework of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

 The collaboration is developed under the coordination of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), supported by UNESCO through its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

“About 2,000 autonomous instruments (such as profiling floats and drifting buoys) must be deployed every year to sustain the Global Ocean Observing System. Usually, the deployment of ocean observing instruments is done through research oceanographic ships, which are very costly and not able to sail everywhere throughout the ocean regardless of the season. Racing yachts allow us to reach remote and not yet well sampled areas of the ocean, filling critical observational gaps, especially during this challenging pandemic period” says Mathieu Belbéoch, OceanOPS Lead.

GOOS is a collaborative system of continuous in situ and satellite ocean observations, implemented by numerous programmes and organisations. These observations provide key oceanographic and meteorological data for several applications, such as climate studies, forecasts and early warnings, and marine ecosystems health monitoring. 

The in situ observing network, implemented by 86 countries, is internationally coordinated and monitored in real-time by OceanOPS, joint centre of IOC/UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) under GOOS.

Currently, 10,000 in situ observing instruments, including networks of autonomous profiling floats, drifting and fixed buoys, piloted underwater robots, ships, sea level tide gauges, and even marine mammals, monitor the global ocean and measure its main physical and biogeochemical parameters.   

In January 2020, a partnership was signed between UNESCO and IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association) to support ocean science and protection of the ocean. For 2 years, these organisations will carry out various joint projects including met-ocean observations.

In 2020, 6 drifting buoys and 1 Argo profiler float were deployed by the IMOCA skippers during the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne race.

Today, the IMOCA skippers take things up a notch, confirming their deep commitment to the protection of the ocean. During the Vendée Globe, with the help of OceanOPS, 7 meteorological buoys and 3 profiling floats, will be deployed by the IMOCA skippers, in under-sampled areas of the ocean.  

“This initiative will help to better understand the changing climate. I will deploy the profiler float leaving the Pot-au-Noir, a shipping route which is usually sparsely navigated. Though the float weighs 28 Kg and keeping extra weight to a minimum is crucial for the race, it is worthwhile. This is my choice. The future of the planet is seriously in danger”, says Louis Burton, Bureau Vallée 2/IMOCA skipper.   

“Being able to contribute to the planet’s well-being in such a concrete way, deploying a scientific weather buoy, is an important part of this race for me. I am already an ambassador for my own region, the Baltic Sea, which requires constant vigilance in order to safeguard it and its heritage for future generations. The Baltic Sea is a part of the larger ecosystem including the entire ocean. And the ocean gives us this life we are living. That is why we all must act” says Ari Huusela, STARK/IMOCA skipper.

The atmospheric pressure data acquired by the drifting buoys and transmitted, in real-time, to the operational centres will help to improve weather forecasting. Additionally, the high-quality temperature data from profiling floats will enable scientists, throughout the world, to significantly improve the estimates of ocean heat storage. 

The scientific actions carried out by the IMOCA skippers, during their trip around the world, will be a significant contribution to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which begins on 1 January 2021.

“One of the Ocean Decade challenges is to ensure a sustainable ocean observing system that delivers timely data and information accessible to all users on the state of the ocean across all ocean basins. The IMOCA skippers, with their commitment to the ocean observations, today, become real sailors for science and ambassadors of the Ocean Decade” says Albert Fischer, Director, GOOS Project Office at IOC/UNESCO.

List of sailors deploying scientific instruments during the Vendée Globe 2020:

  • Drifting buoys: Romain Attanasio, Manuel Cousin, Maxime Sorel, Ari Huusela, Stéphane Le Diraison, Alexia Barrier and Kōjirō Shiraish
  • Profiling float: Alexia Barrier, Boris Herrmann and Louis Burton

Four skippers, Didier Costa, Boris Herrmann, Alexia Barrier and Fabrice Amedeo will also carry onboard oceanographic instruments to measure sea surface salinity, temperature and CO2. Fabrice Amedeo will also measure the microplastics pollution at sea.

For more information, please contact:

Albert Fischer (

Chief of Section, Ocean Observations and Services, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO

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