PhD students connect coast and society in a changing climate

Solving complex questions about interactions between the sea and climate change, and how they relate to society, requires a broad set of skills. In a new research school, PhD students from diverse scientific disciplines at Stockholm University get a unique opportunity to learn how transdisciplinary approaches and research communication can lead to sustainable management of coastal environments.

What unites students in from widely varied subjects like marine geology, business accounting, and ecotoxicology? They all provide important perspectives necessary to answer questions on societal challenges and solutions to climate change in coastal seas. During a kick-off meeting for the research school Perspectives on climate change in coastal seas in March, 14 new PhD students were introduced to this framework that will be their research focus for the coming years.

"I feel proud to be part of this program, and though this transdisciplinary context is new to me, I think I have a lot to bring to the table," says Emma Flévaud, PhD student in environmental law.


Adding new pieces to the puzzle

The oceans face multiple climate-related pressures such as acidification, oxygen deficiency and rising temperatures. These, among others, cause feedbacks that release potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, reinforcing the climate effects. However, under healthy conditions with prospering ecosystems, the coastal zones have effective carbon storage capacities and can be important carbon sinks.

"If we manage the coastal zones right, they could globally contribute to 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emission reductions we need to fulfill the Paris Agreement," says Christoph Humborg, Scientific Director at Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre and one of the initiators of the research school.

This intricate puzzle is partly understood and described in science, and questions remain about the links between climate change, biodiversity and the full potential of the coastal zones to serve as climate mitigators. In research initiatives like CoastClim experts in ecology, modeling, marine physics, and atmospheric sciences explore these links. For the next couple of years, the students from Stockholm University will be involved in research questions that add important information in this context.

Students and staff members at Askö laboratory 2024. Research school kick-off
The research school "Perspectives on climate change in coastal seas" also includes a supervising collegium with senior experts from eight departments at Stockholm University's Science-, Law- and Social Science Faculties. Photo: Isabell Stenson

Learning how to make new knowledge relevant for society

An important goal of the education is training in science communication and how to present findings and new knowledge to policy-makers and stakeholders in marine environmental management. Regardless of backgrounds and different motives for pursuing a research career, several participants emphasised the value of being included in a team working with a joint mission, where results can also be applied outside academia.

"It is really inspiring to belong to a group that will work towards taking care of the sea. I feel lucky to be part of this team with people who have these incredible skills," says David Lindao, PhD student in hydrology.

Being early into their careers, many discussions during the kick-off meeting concerned how to establish the best conditions for a learning environment where all questions and creative teamwork ideas are welcome. Some thoughts on combined research emerged in these sessions.

"I am already trying to find other perspectives for my food web ecology project. For instance, seeing if I can collaborate with someone from the remote sensing side," says Emil Kraft, PhD student in ecology.

Text: Isabell Stenson


The research school Perspectives on climate change in coastal seas is a continuation of Stockholm University's previous strategic marine initiative, Baltic Sea Fellows, where several postdocs, assistant- and associate professors formed a network to strengthen interdisciplinary Baltic Sea research. Today, this group has added members and constitutes a supervising collegium for the doctoral students.

Participating departments:
Baltic Sea Centre
Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences
Environmental Science
Geological Sciences
Physical Geography
Stockholm Business School