Science Year 2016-17 – “Seas and Oceans”: Discover. Use. Protect.

Science Year 2016-17 is a joint German and British research project which extends more than 200 years of cooperative research exploring the oceans and seas. Running for 16 months, from June 2016 until September 2017 the Science Year cooperation falls under the title of “Seas and Oceans”: Discover. Use. Protect.

Our oceans and seas are vast, mysterious and still largely unexplored, in fact, we know even less about some aspects of our oceans than we know about objects in space. The seas and oceans are the origin of all life and vital to the future of humanity.

“The seas and oceans are a source of food, an economic space and they influence our climate,”

says Federal Research Minister Johanna Wanka.

“That is what we want to show the public.”

The questions and themes which the research will examine are diverse: What can we still expect to discover in the depths of the oceans? What is the importance of shipping routes for our prosperity? What can we do to tackle the pollution of the seas? How will rising sea levels impact on coastal regions?

At least 90 percent of the sea is still unexplored. It is said that we know more about the dark side of the moon than about our planet’s oceans, particularly the deep ocean floors. German researchers are using remote-controlled underwater vehicles, mobile sea floor drill rigs and many other innovative technologies to discover more about marine life at depths of up to 11 kilometres below the surface. They are exploring the habitat of millions of undiscovered species living between high peaks, steep canyons, lava-emitting volcanoes and vast plains all underwater.

Humans have been exploiting the oceans as a source of food for over 140,000 years. More than two thirds of all goods transported to Germany are brought here by sea. The oceans also influence our global climate in that they have absorbed about half of all carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity in the past 150 years. Yet, many of us have forgotten just how much humankind depends on the seas and oceans.

At the same time, millions of tons of plastic waste enter our oceans every year, turning our seas into huge rubbish tips. Plastic bottles, synthetic fibres and other plastic waste disintegrate into microparticles, sink to the ocean floor or are washed up on our beaches. They take up to 450 years to decompose. Researchers have already found microplastics in numerous fish species which then enter our food cycle, too. That is why protecting the seas from further pollution is also about protecting us humans from as yet unknown health risks.

The German Marine Research Consortium (KDM) is the expert partner supporting the Science Year 2016-17. The KDM is the central association of all major German research institutions in the area of marine, polar and coastal research with broad expertise in marine sciences.

The Science Year is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), The British Council, and the UK Science & Innovation Network.

Photo credit: http://www.colourbox.com. Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from Wissenschaftsjahr 2016-17.

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