Interdisciplinary research for our largest natural habitat

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The Schleswig-Holstein song, the anthem of the north German state of the same name, begins with the line “Schleswig-Holstein, embraced by seas”. So it is hardly surprising that Kiel, its capital, is also the capital of ocean research in Germany.

200 scientists – and the sea

In 2006, more than 200 scientists teamed up in Kiel to research the world’s seas. Not only marine biologists but also geoscientists and economists, medical researchers, mathematicians, computer scientists, lawyers, sociologists and social scientists work at the cluster of excellence “The Future Ocean” funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Their aim is to obtain a fundamental understanding of what defines the oceans as an ecosystem and what impact humans have on the changes to our seas. The researchers are studying their political and economic role and their significance in terms of climate change.

 

Video "Future Ocean"

Understanding the ocean — sustaining our future

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Solutions for sustainable fishing

One team led by the environmental economist Professor Martin F. Quaas has chosen to focus on conflicts of interest in fishing. How can the need to make a profit be reconciled with the desire for social justice and species conservation? To this end, the researchers have developed a mathematical model based on the example of the cod. A dispute has flared up about this fish: the European Union wants to drastically reduce fishing quotas, which has had fishing associations up in arms. The calculations now reveal that it makes no sense in ecological terms to protect just one species of fish, and nor is this socially fair. If only the cod stocks in the Baltic Sea are protected, this will jeopardize its prey, the sprat – and therefore the livelihood of the sprat fishermen. “While the approach may not be ideal in economic terms, it does reconcile the various interests”, says Rüdiger Voss from Kiel University.

Seaweed – a marine miracle

The ecosystem that is the ocean comprises not only fish but also plants. One particularly important one is seaweed. Underwater seaweed meadows are teeming with life: mussels, sea slugs and crabs abound, fish use them as breeding grounds and young fish find safe hiding places. After eight long years of research, the Kiel scientists with partners from nine other countries have succeeded in decoding the genome of Zostera marina, also known as common eelgrass or seawrack. This is of great interest because it is a good example of how a plant can adapt to completely new living conditions – Zostera marina originally grew solely on land. What is more, because this seaweed in the northern seas is threatened by climate change, the study could also help to identify species that better tolerate higher temperatures – cross-breeding could then help make the seaweed meadows in the northern regions more resistant.

Amateurs enjoy first-hand experience of ocean research

The researchers in Kiel attach considerable importance to making their findings accessible to the public – for example with the aid of massive open online courses (MOOC), online lectures at university level. In the ten modules of the MOOC “One Planet – One Ocean: From Science to Solutions” for instance, the Kiel scientists and the International Ocean Institute (IOI) explain how the ocean functions and illustrate ways in which the seas can be used sustainably – the courses are in English, free of charge and open to anyone.

 

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