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“Nothing matters if you can’t breathe…”

By Thulwaneng Mashifane, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The Ocean Oxygen Network (GO2NE) of the UNESCO International Oceanographic Commission (IOC–UNESCO) held its first international summer school on deoxygenation at Xiamen University’s Xiang’an Campus from 2 to 8 September 2019. 

The summer school’s theme was the well-known quote, “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters”, to highlight the impact of accelerating deoxygenation in the ocean.

Ocean deoxygenation is the expansion of oxygen minimum zones in the world’s oceans as a consequence of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and nutrient loading from agriculture, sewage and pollution. Deoxygenation presents a threat to marine ecosystems as it affects the cycles of carbon, nitrogen and other key elements required for primary production and marine life in the ocean.


The first international GO2NE summer school was held at Xiamen University’s Xiang’an Campus in September 2019

Together with other early-career scientists, students and experts from different parts of the world, I participated in the summer school which was hosted at the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University.

The summer school comprised lectures, hands-on experiments and participants’ oral and poster presentations on deoxygenation in the coastal and open ocean. Introductory modelling sessions also formed part of the summer school and included data analysis using open source software such as R and Ferret.

Sharing South African study results

During the oral and poster sessions I presented results from a comparative study of model nitrous oxide and observations in St Helena Bay. This study is a collaborative effort with the University of South Carolina to validate the biogeochemical models that we develop, run and test using the Centre for High Performance Computing’s (CHPC) Lengau platform.

Our study also aims to improve model nitrous oxide representation in St Helena Bay, to understand implications under deoxygenation and provide a basis for numerical models in this region.

Studying dissolved oxygen sensors in the South China Sea

A cruise on board the R/V Tan Kah Kee in the South China Sea formed part of the summer school. Most recent dissolved oxygen sensors such as the EXO2, PyroScience O2, Unisense Switchable Trace Oxygen (STOX), castaway and pH sensors were introduced on board and deployed by instrument experts.

Divided into four groups, participants got the opportunity to learn about the sensors and to collect water samples for dissolved oxygen measurements using the classic Winkler method. The groups compiled and submitted cruise reports with results from the different sensors.

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The cruise on board the R/V Tan Kah Kee in the South China Sea introduced participants to the most recent dissolved oxygen sensors

Dongshan island, located between Xiamen and Shantou, south of Fujian Province, is home to abalone farms which contribute almost 70 percent of China’s abalone production. We visited one of these farms to learn more about the production facilities and to engage with the local farmers and workers.

We then took a detour to Dongshan Swire Marine Station (D-SMART), where a roundtable discussion was held with stakeholders from the Dongshan County. The discussions were preceded by a tour of the D-SMART in Dionggu Village, 173 km from the Xiamen University’s Siming Campus.

Phase I of the D-SMART station was completed in 2017 and upon full completion it will provide a platform for long-term-series monitoring and facilities for short-term exchange, collaborative research through visiting fellowships and undergraduate research programmes.   

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Dongshan Island is home to abalone farms which contribute almost 70 percent of China’s abalone production

Special sessions

The summer school included Science Communication and Ethics in Science as special sessions. During these sessions, participants were introduced to different strategies used to interact with the press, social media, and governmental and non-governmental organisations.

The GO2NE summer school concluded with the presentation of awards for the best oral poster presentations and the best cruise report. Participants provided feedback on different aspects of the summer school and the Director of the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science officially closed the proceedings with a vote of thanks.

Global and multidisciplinary perspective

Through the summer school, the GO2NE provided a global and multidisciplinary view of deoxygenation in the ocean. A platform was also created for the next generation of scientists to network and exchange ideas to counter ocean deoxygenation through scientific advice to policymakers. It was a unique experience being part of the initiative and to contribute and exchange knowledge with this marine science network.

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