Arctic research brought live to classrooms across the globe

Students around the world sent questions directly to scientists about their work on microplastics, ocean acidification, and the impacts on marine life

More than 260 schools signed up to get front row seats to the free XL Catlin Arctic Live from Svalbard, a Norwegian island between mainland Norway and the North Pole.

Through 30 YouTube webcasts running through May 4-10, students between the ages of 7 and 16 accessed frontline research via interviews with scientists, live investigations and Q&A sessions with polar educator, Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop.

Chip Cunliffe, Director of Sustainable Development, XL Catlin, explained how they aimed “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.”

The integrated programme was a joint effort of XL Catlin, Digital Explorer (DE), the University of Exeter, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Operating from the NERC Arctic Research Station, Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, from Digital Explorer, teamed up with lead scientists, Dr. Ceri Lewis of the University of Exeter, Dr. Helen Findlay of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, 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 revealed record concentration microplastics in the Arctic sea ice.

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“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 ocean, 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, 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.”

The Arctic Live Research Expedition is a programme that will continue during the next three Arctic springs and is designed to integrate frontline science with outreach to schools around the world.

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