The Science Award

17 March 2021

This award recognises the individual or research team that has made an original scientific contribution about the ocean this year. Nominees for this award must have significantly contributed towards a peer-reviewed publication or study that is directly useful for the benefit of global marine conservation or ocean health.

The finalists are:

  • The DSSV Pressure Drop team: Ring of Fire Expedition
  • Dr. William (Wai Lung) Cheung – University of British Columbia
  • Lauren Biermann – Plymouth Marine Laboratory

The DSSV Pressure Drop team: Ring of Fire Expedition

The privately owned and operated DSSV Pressure Dropcompleted the 'Ring of Fire' Expedition during the first half of 2020. Despite the complexities of Covid-19 the team were able to complete six dives to full-ocean-depth at the Challenger Deep (Mariana Trench) using EM-124 sonar, an array of conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) units and precision acoustic measurement equipment. This is the first time the deepest point of the world’s ocean has been mapped in detail.

The team then proceeded to map the Northern Mariana Trench, 'the Black Hole', Japan Trench, Kuril-Kamchatka trench, Aleutian Trench. The biological samples collected at each of these sites is expected to yield dozens of new species but also help to understand how hadal fauna is dispersed in these forgotten reaches of our ocean. The hadal zone (the ocean below 6000m) is virtually unknown and is considered the last frontier of exploration on Earth. It is expected to provide key data critical to our understanding of the dynamics of the ocean.

Dr. William Cheug (Wai Lung) – University of British Columbia

Climate change is impacting marine biodiversity and the people who depend on them. However, previous projections of these climate impacts did not consider the effects of heatwaves, such as the one in the North Pacific in 2014-2017. This project shows that marine heatwaves will severely amplify the climate impacts on already threatened fish stocks e.g., doubling the rate of biomass decline of salmons in Pacific North America. The study underscores the urgent need for conservation measures to consider episodic extreme events to avoid biodiversity catastrophe and impacts on human wellbeing such as Indigenous food security. The study also provides a methodological framework that can be applied to fish stocks worldwide to inform heatwave-adapted conservation planning globally and regionally. The article has drawn considerable attention from mainstream news (e.g. CBC) and social media - ranking the top 2% of ~280 thousand articles of similar 'age' of publication (based on Altmetric score).

Lauren Biermann – Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr Lauren Biermann of Plymouth Marine Laboratory made a breakthrough in addressing marine plastic pollution in 2020, being the first to show how floating plastics can be detected and monitored using freely available satellite imagery. Her work is published in Nature Scientific Reports. Until Biermann’s paper, no studies had successfully managed to use satellite imagery to identify and track plastic litter in the marine environment. This research shows that it’s possible to detect aggregated patches of macroplastics floating in coastal waters using optical data acquired by the European Space Agency.

Demonstrating remote detection of marine plastics has convinced the European Space Agency (ESA) to allocate resources to this task and Biermann is working with ESA toward a future plastics detection satellite mission.

Return to the finalist page here.