Catamarans are fairly odd-looking boats, but earlier this week a special breed was docked at the North Cove Marina in Lower Manhattan. Alongside the typical handful of South Florida-based yachts that pop up here during the summer was an angular, flat-topped catamaran with a glistening blue deck called the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar. There's a reason why this boat stands out: last year it became the first ship to circumnavigate the globe on solar power alone. The 89,000 kg (nearly 100 ton) ship needs a massive solar array to capture enough energy to push itself through the ocean. An impressive 512 square meters (roughly 5,500 square feet) of photovoltaic cells, to be exact, charge the 8.5 tons of lithium-ion batteries that are stored in the ship's two hulls.
The Tûranor PlanetSolar (tûranor means "power of the sun" in Elvish) is taking a break in New York from its current mission: a science expedition from Miami to Norway led by a University of Geneva-based research team. The climatologists, biologists, and physicists aboard the PlanetSolar are taking measurements of the Gulf Stream to better understand the relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere in an effort to gain new insight about climate change. In particular, they're studying and measuring currents, airborne particles called aerosols that reflect infrared heat and solar radiation, and the myriad natural phenomena that allow the Gulf Stream to function. Since the PlanetSolar is seaworthy and is emission-free, it allows the team to ensure that measurements aren't skewed by exhaust.
During the New York stopover press was invited aboard the PlanetSolar for a view of this boat that functions without any carbon emissions. The vessel might not be the most practical — it's big, it's slow, and it needs to avoid clouds — but it's a bold demonstration of how renewable resources might power ships of the future.