Ocean College

Research Project on Climate Change and Natural Hazards

Part 1 – Climate Change and Natural Hazards

The world we are living in is subject to constant change. A changing climate, population growth and urbanization are key challenges for future generations. Natural hazards such as storms, heavy rainfall and floods or the rise of the sea level make it in many regions of world already necessary to adapt to these changing conditions. By providing proofs through experiments and models, science forms the basis for adaption strategies to tackle these challenges.

The goal of the research project “Natural hazards and global change” is to give the students of Ocean College an in-depth look into geoscientific research. With a direct connection to lessons in physics, math and geography, abstract topics such as global warming and their impact on our lives will become accessible through the student’s own experience during this project. By conducting surveys with flood affected households during shore leaves, the participants of Ocean College not only collect important scientific data, but also experience first-hand the consequences of urbanization and changing weather patterns for the lifestyles of many people. The digitally collected data will be analyzed with the students and shared with the scientific community through a web-database. This database is used as an important input for scientific models, which can help to quantify and forecast future natural disasters.

Part 2 – Microplastic Analysis in the Ocean

Plastics face us everywhere. Its properties are ideal for many everyday products especially the stability and endurance. On the other side the long lifetime of the material causes problems when plastic articles turn to waste and evidently often end up in the sea. Estimated 170 Mill tons of plastic waste already have accumulated in the world´s oceans topped up by 6-10 Mill tons each year.

There is dramatic impact to the marine environment:  Seabirds and fish suffer a lot from these artificial materials with no nutritional benefit.Plastics in the sea are exposed to strong UV radiation in combination with high salt concentrations of the sea. Together with the mechanical forces of the waves plastics deteriorate to smaller and smaller particles. So micro plastic, which is defined as plastic with a diameter less than 5 mm is going to be formed. This  kind of plastic is found nearly everywhere and adsorbs poisonous chemicals. It is presently under public and scientific discussion.

In the cooperation project “Natural hazards and global change” the members of the Ocean College cruise will participate in the research program of the NGO One Earth – One Ocean (OEOO) and learn about plastics in the sea. OEOO is going to create an internet platform including a map showing the microplastic distribution and its concentrations. The necessary data are taken and processed during the journey. The cooperation between Ocean College and OEOO offers a variety of possibilities: Young people get directly involved in the scientific work for the microplastic research project. The scholars take the samples, prepare them for analysis and conduct the protocol and documentary work necessary. Particles captured on fiberglass filters are going to be analyzed by microscope and FTIR spectroscopy in order to identify their chemical construction.

The collected data will be included in a database and released to the public in form of an interactive map. So scholars of the Ocean College program are involved in the process of setting up a plastic distribution map. This project introduces into the structure of scientific work and modern research methods. With the boat available and the analysis instruments on board the scholars are offered the possibility to develop and conduct their own research program. So water samples can be taken from different depth and compared according to microplastic or the guts content of collected fish can be analyzed. Also pH measurements are possible to check for ocean acidification. The transatlantic crossing and the experience of different countries and cultures give insight how people deal with the plastic flood abroad.