Marine Research--Challenges and Chances

Almost three-quarters of Earth's surface is covered by water. However, life in the abyss is still alien to us. Ocean currents determine our world's changing climate. Oceans still hide unknown resources of minerals, fuels, and biologic species. For future generations of mankind, deeper knowledge about the extremely complex nature of the world's oceans will be essential in order to conquer and sustain these treasures. Now, research programs and new initiatives all around the globe are inviting young scientists to participate in this discovery and, at the same time, open excellent career opportunities--both inside and outside academia.

"Marine research is an uncommonly multidisciplinary science. It is fascinating to see how all sciences--from physics to biology, chemistry, and geology contribute to the current progress in the field," says Stefan Mulitza, from Bremen's Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM). And, beside the thrill of scientific research, prospects for an academic career are now better than ever before, the postdoc explains. "During the next years, a considerably younger generation of scientists will take over many tenure positions in marine research since the university system's rapid expansion in the early '70s is now causing a wave of retirements," says Mulitza. He also believes that the expected change of generations already triggered a change of funding philosophy at Germany's research funders.

And Mulitza may be right. Last month, Germany's major research funding agency, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), published a 200-page memorandum (Denkschrift) on marine research that may be seen as a novum. Preparing the paper, young scientists were heavily involved in setting up a list of priority topics for the next decade of marine research. "It doesn't make sense if a couple of old men try to decide where the future of this huge area lies," Susanne Faulhaber tells Next Wave. Faulhaber is responsible for the DFG's marine research programs. The list of hot topics includes major areas such as ocean-climate interplay (e.g., El Niño), biodiversity (e.g., deep biosphere), geologic boundary conditions (the Gulf Stream's history, black smokers, gas hydrates), and marine technologies.

Faulhaber also believes that the rapidly developing marine sciences offer great opportunities to young researchers from all scientific disciplines. "Marine research contributes essentially to the understanding of the complex interactions between atmosphere, biosphere, and oceans. It creates knowledge that may serve as a basis for national and international decisions of environmental policy," she says.

Whether inside or outside academia, graduates from the marine sciences have excellent career opportunities. "Our graduates work in research, consulting, oil industry, governmental agencies, and educational outreach," MARUM director Gerold Wefer tells Next Wave. And this is not accidental. Where other academic disciplines still struggle to make their curricula more interdisciplinary and international, marine research has been that way from the beginning. "Our students spend usually 6-months at a partner institute in Texel, Amsterdam, Bergen [Norway], or Lisbon [Portugal]," says Wefer. And Mulitza recalls that even the meaning of "soft skills" such as social competence becomes suddenly clear at a research vessel somewhere in the South Atlantic. "This quite extraordinary all-round training enables our students to occupy many niches," agrees Wefer. Maybe teacher Neptune demands more than others to develop both excellence and personality.

Further Reading

  • Meeresforschung im nächsten Jahrzehnt--Denkschrift, Wiley-VCH Verlag, Weinheim (2000).

  • Studien und Berufswahl, Bund-Länder-Kommission für Bildungsplanung und Forschungsförderung und Bundesanstalt für Arbeit, eds., Verlag Karl Heinrich Bock, Bad Honnef (published annually).

  • Studienführer Mathematik/Naturwissenschaften, R. Böhm und H. Manns, eds., Lexika Verlag (1996).

  • Careers in Oceanography and Marine-Related Fields, The Oceanography Society, ed., 4052 Timber Ridge Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23455 USA (1995).

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