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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.

The Arctic Live Research Expedition - external link 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.

NotesSponsored by:

XL Catlin is the global brand used by XL Group Ltd’s (NYSE:XL) insurance and reinsurance companies which provide property, casualty, professional and specialty products to industrial, commercial and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises throughout the world. Clients look to XL Catlin for answers to their most complex risks and to help move their world forward.

It is the proud sponsor of field research and educational outreach programmes that explore and communicate the changes taking place in our planet’s oceans. XL Catlin Arctic Live is now in its fifth year and has reached 283,000 students from 98 different countries around the world.

In partnership with:

Digital Explorer designs and runs STEM and global citizenship education programmes, which make use of virtual exchange, live broadcast and virtual reality. These technologies create classroom encounters that widen young people’s world view. Learning is further underpinned by an online library of teacher resources and training. Combined, these provide children with the experience and knowledge to develop as engaged citizens and critical thinkers for the 21st Century.

The University of Exeter is a Russell Group university that combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 21,000 students and is in the top one per cent of universities worldwide. Exeter is also ranked 14th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 13th in the Guardian University Guide 2018. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University ranked 16th nationally, with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality, while in 2017, Exeter was awarded a Gold rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) assessment.

Plymouth Marine Laboratory is an independent, impartial provider of scientific research and contract services relating to the marine environment. PML focuses on understanding how marine ecosystems function, their role in the Earth system and how we can protect this important environment for the prosperity of future generations. A truly interdisciplinary marine research centre, PML delivers highly innovative research and solutions for national and international marine and coastal programmes. PML’s research is timely, highly relevant to UK and international societal needs and has at its core the mission to contribute to issues concerned with understanding global change and the health and sustainability of marine ecosystems.

British Antarctic Survey, an institute of NERC, delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the polar regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic work together to deliver research that uses the polar regions to advance our understanding of Earth as a sustainable planet. Through its extensive logistic capability and know-how, BAS facilitates access for the British and international science community to the UK polar research operation. Numerous national and international collaborations, combined with an excellent infrastructure, help sustain a world leading position for the UK in Antarctic affairs.

NERC is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world’s most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

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