New Arctic research on ocean acidification and microplastics brought live to classrooms around the world

Students around the world have been sending in questions directly to the Arctic Live Research Expedition scientists about their work on microplastics, ocean acidification and the impacts on marine life. Over 260 schools have signed up to get front row seats to the free XL Catlin Arctic Live education webcasts running from 4-10 May from Svalbard, a Norwegian island between mainland Norway and the North Pole.

Through 30 YouTube webcasts, students between the ages of 7 and 16 are accessing frontline research through interviews with scientists, live investigations and Q&A sessions with polar educator Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop.

‘XL Catlin Arctic Live uses a novel approach to bring to life the latest field science from the Arctic’s fragile ecosystem to thousands of students,’ said Chip Cunliffe, Director of Sustainable Development, XL Catlin. ‘We aim to ignite curiosity for the natural world and inspire future STEM careers in order to encourage young people to become engaged with the protection and preservation of the environment.’

This integrated programme is a joint effort of XL Catlin, Digital Explorer, the University of Exeter, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and NERC.

Operating from the NERC Arctic Research Station, Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop from Digital Explorer has teamed up with lead scientists Dr Ceri Lewis of the University of Exeter, Dr Helen Findlay of PML and BAS station manager Nick Cox. As the fastest changing environment in the world, the Arctic is a critical area for scientific research. A recent Alfred Wegener Institute study reveals record concentration microplastics in the Arctic sea ice.

‘The Arctic is a potential sink for small plastic particles that have been transported from the oceanic gyres,’ said Dr Lewis. ‘With an estimate 5·25 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, they pose considerable risk to the marine environment. Therefore, it is important for us to study the amounts and origination of microplastics in the ocean. This helps contribute to international efforts addressing its potential threat to marine life.’

For Dr Helen Findlay another key threat is ocean acidification, which is caused by increased absorption of carbon dioxide by the marine environment. ‘The change in ocean chemistry is happening faster now than any other point in the past 300 million years,’ said Dr Findlay.

‘Ocean acidification is affecting carbonate chemistry, which makes it harder for the organisms such as clams to produce calcium carbonate structures. Simply said, more acidity makes it harder for these organisms to form their shells which is putting at risk their long-term survival and the role they play in food-webs,’ Dr Findlay explained.

NERC – Natural Environment Research Council (via: Public), 8 May 2018. Press release.

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