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Flagship of the University, “La Licorne” probes the waters of the lake

Flagship of the University, “La Licorne” probes the waters of the lake

It is named after the ship of Tintin’s adventures and Captain Haddock, but the comparison stops there. The crew of La Licorne is not composed of sailors, but of professors, students, doctoral students and scientists of all kinds. This Dutch hull boat of 17 tons and 13 meters long, which does not leave the fresh water of Léman, sports the banner of the University of Geneva.

Yes, UNIGE has its own fleet. Finally, two boats. And even! “We mostly use La Licorne because our second boat, much smaller and flat-bottomed, does not sail often. But it remains very practical when it is necessary to engage divers, especially for archaeological research in the harbor, “says Jean-Luc Loizeau, professor of teaching and research at the Department F.-A. Forel of environmental sciences and water.

Particle hunting

The Unicorn, she goes out a lot more. “It varies by year, but a little over two years ago, for the purposes of a phytoplankton development study, it was initiated almost every two weeks. We have also often used it in 2017 to install particle traps. ”

It is understood, the boat stamped with the acronym UNIGE ensures scientific missions and is not a pleasure boat. Although it has some characteristics, since it can accommodate no less than a dozen people on board and is equipped with a cabin “where you can sleep, but it happens very rarely,” smiles the master teaching and research. Note that La Licorne opens to the public during the Night of Science.

In Vidy Bay

Moored in the port of Versoix in the summer – and a stone’s throw away in winter, at Port Choiseul, more sheltered from the wind blows – the boat willingly leaves the waters of Geneva, according to its missions. One of its favorite sites is located in Lausanne: Vidy Bay is indeed very popular with researchers. “This is an almost unique place for the study of sediments,” says Jean-Luc Loizeau. To my knowledge, there is only one of the same kind on the Spanish coast. ”

This peculiarity is due to the presence of the outlet of a sewage treatment plant (WWTP) whose discharges contaminate the sediments of the bay. “We found a very particular mineralization, probably due to a set of factors: the morphology of the bay, the presence of the WWTP, and off a large city.”

Tsunami and bathymetry

To ensure its various missions, La Licorne obviously has a specific equipment. Notably a crane that can lift up to 500 kilos. And according to research carried out, it hosts various scientific instruments, such as corers (which allow to take samples of materials), sampling bottles or a multibeam sonar. What to conduct studies in the depths.

The university boat participated in the documentary “A tsunami on Lake Geneva”. Recall that a scientific research of UNIGE has recently demonstrated that a tsunami did indeed occur on the lake in the sixth century, and that the phenomenon could recur.

More peaceful, in 2014, La Licorne crisscrossed Lake Geneva to completely redefine bathymetry, the measure of depth. “The last campaign of this type dates back to 1886-1889,” says Jean-Luc Loizeau.

From the Netherlands to Geneva

Highly sought after, the flagship of UNIGE was acquired by the Forel Institute in 1980 for around 250,000 francs. It was completely repainted last year. This bath of youth has allowed to hide his hull of his name, La Licorne. “Until then, only the name Institute F.-A. Forel was registered, notes Jean-Luc Loizeau. Moreover, on Lake Geneva, he is better known under the name of Forel. ”

A lake he might never have navigated on! “Built in a shipyard in the Netherlands, it seems indeed that it was previously intended for the coast guards of Portugal,” slips the teacher and research master. Who is also one of the four people in the Department F.-A. Forel to own the license motor boat, essential sesame to drive La Licorne. (TDG)

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