PhD position in Public Engagement with Oceanography (1.0 FTE)

Updated: about 2 months ago
Deadline: 29 Jun 2021

The ocean plays a pivotal role in the climate system of the Earth. Approximately 25% of all carbon dioxide emitted through anthropogenic activities ends up in the ocean, and more than 90% of the heat due to climate change has gone into warming ocean water. This excess heat and carbon put severe stress on marine ecosystems, from rising temperatures to ocean acidification. Add to this the pressures from other anthropogenic activities such as overfishing and noise pollution from shipping, and the picture emerges that even the most far-flung marine ecosystems are impacted by our human actions.

Most of these impacts on the ocean are receiving considerable attention in public and social media, and one type of oceanic pollution, in particular, seems to be hitting the headlines a lot: microplastics. But while plastic obviously does not belong in the ocean, there is no scientific evidence that the amount of microplastic pollution currently in the ocean is high enough to be harmful to marine ecosystems. Meanwhile, the scientific evidence that climate change harms ecosystems is unrefuted.

So here is a dichotomy: while the scientific evidence for the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems is clear, the public’s concern for ocean warming and acidification has been relatively limited. The situation is reversed for marine plastic pollution, where the public concern is much greater than the scientific evidence for its harm seems to warrant.

In this PhD project, you will be teasing out the mechanisms behind this dichotomy, and then particularly with a focus on the role and messages of scientists and other important stakeholders such as journalists, activists, and policy makers. How have these different groups engaged with the general public and each other about marine plastic pollution and oceanic climate change, and what impact did this have?


In particular, you will:

  • analyse and compare the content and reach of messages from (Dutch) Twitter accounts that regularly send out tweets about the impact of either ocean plastic pollution or oceanic climate change;
  • create and analyse a 60-year chronology of (Dutch) mainstream media mentions and discussions about either ocean plastic pollution or ocean climate change;
  • conduct and analyse (semi-)structured interviews of key stakeholders including from academia, NGOs, and ministries to assess the effects on policy and business choices of the messages in social and regular media about ocean plastic pollution and oceanic climate change.

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