Setting sail for science

Images on this page used courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200

The ocean is a special habitat. On land, the inhabited zone extends only a few tens of metres above ground and a few metres below ground. The oceans are different and this alone is reason to cherish, understand and protect this habitat in all its diversity.

Dr Charlotte Braungardt, Associate Professor in Environmental Science

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Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200

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The Pelican of London sailed through Tower Bridge at the end of a voyage which saw it visit ports and communities right around the UK
<p>image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>
<p>Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>
<p>Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>
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image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200

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Epic voyages of legacy and discovery

In August and September 2020, scientists from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences joined an ambitious round Britain voyage. Coordinated by UK-based charity Darwin200, the tall ship Pelican of London set sail from Folkestone and visited the major ports of the British Isles before arriving in London almost seven weeks later.

During the voyage, Dr Charlotte Braungardt and Dr Richard Sandford led a range of scientific experiments in fields including marine plastics, ocean chemistry, plankton, marine ecology and ocean processes. The data they gathered will add to an ever-growing global dataset painting a picture of life in our oceans and the effect we are having on them.


Read updates about the voyage on Dr Charlotte Braungardt's blog

This voyage is a precursor to the global Darwin200 expedition, which will harness the legacy of Charles Darwin by retracing his journey onboard HMS Beagle. It is a two-year round the world voyage starting in 2021, during which onboard conservationists will conduct five global research projects and visit the same 50 ports where Darwin made landfall.

At these ports, the ship will act as a floating laboratory for young scientists to conduct the same experiments Darwin himself did two centuries previously, discover the changes that have occurred and put forward solutions to reverse any detrimental impact to the natural ecosystem.

The voyage’s prime objective is to find 200 next generation global conservation leaders, to showcase the beauty of the natural world and discover solutions to protect the planet. It also aims to inspire 200 million people by providing a platform of free, interactive resources for students, teachers and the general public to be part of the voyage in real time.

For millennia, we have treated water in general and the oceans in particular with utter contempt. Water has been abused for carrying our waste, our oceans are choking in plastic, and erosion and sewage carry nutrients and sediments onto shelf seas, where they choke the most precious shallow sea communities, from sea grass to coral. But the world is waking up and with deep understanding of the environment comes a deep connection. We are part of nature, and what you are part of, you protect – don’t you?

Dr Charlotte Braungardt


The world’s oceans are fabulously diverse, ecologically rich, complex, interactive environments whose function depend on a range of processes. It is only by understanding them fully that we can explore how the oceans work and, importantly, provide solutions to the environmental challenges they are experiencing as a result of human activity. There are theories which suggest this little blue planet may be the only one of its kind – surely we should pass it to future generations in a better state than we first found it.

Dr Richard Sandford


Inspiring young people in ocean science

In 2019, Dr Braungardt and Dr Sandford took part in another sailing experience encouraging young people to think about the impacts of ocean science. A crew of 22 young people, aged between 15 and 20, took part in SEA the Future, a seven-day oceanography voyage organised by the charity Adventure Under Sail, also on board the Pelican of London. As well as gaining experience of sailing in the English Channel they are carrying out a number of experiments examining the state of the oceans and human impacts on them.

Read more about the SEA the Future voyage

The ship

Pelican of London is a 45m sail training ship, built in 1948 as an Arctic trawler. Since 2012, she has been operated as a specialist sail training vessel for young people by the charity Adventure Under Sail. During the voyage, she was crewed by up to 10 professional crew along with up to 12 sailing participants. Additionally, up to 14 Darwin200 staff and research programme participants were accommodated to undertake exciting science projects during the UK Voyage.

Covid-19

A rigorous Covid-19 strategy was in place to prevent it being contracted by any participants of the UK voyage. All participants were tested for Covid-19 prior to commencement of the UK Voyage, and temperatures taken on a daily basis for the first 14 days of participation. Strict protocols were also in place throughout the voyage.

What makes a good wind turbine? 

Watch young scientists design miniature versions to discover which blade shapes and sizes generate the highest voltage output, with Dr Braungardt testing them for effectiveness.

What is contained in a single drop of water? 

Watch young scientists find out by undertaking a series of systematic studies of plankton in UK waters.

<p>Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>
The voyage encountered a huge range of amazing marine species, from sea mammals and birds to life on the seabed
<p>Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>
<p>Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>
<p>Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>
<p>Image courtesy of Rohan Holt/Darwin 200<br></p>

Environmental science at Plymouth

We place particular importance on fieldwork to develop your knowledge, skills and confidence in outdoor environments.

Our extensive research underpins our teaching, using state-of-the-art equipment in ISO accredited laboratories.

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