Live Events

The northernmost polar field classroom for schools worldwide


Increasing education reach

Digital Explorer marking part of the XL Catlin Arctic Live Research expedition team travelled on April 29th to the most northerly permanent settlement in the world to bring the latest polar science to classrooms worldwide.

Launching a new format, Digital Explorer set up a field based classroom running three different types of sessions to inspire and inform students about the polar region and latest field marine research.

Using the interactive YouTubeLive platform, Digital Explorer ran 30 webcasts over five days to include: live investigations, interviews with scientists and expedition members, and ‘Ask-Me-Anything’ sessions with polar educator, Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop.

Over 260 schools registered to provide their students with the opportunity to send in ask questions and have access to front-row seats to field research investigating the impact of plastic pollution and ocean acidification on the marine life.

Participating students were between  7 and 16 years of age.

Science research

As the fastest changing environment in the world, the Arctic is a critical area for scientific research. A recent Alfred Wegener Institute study reveals record concentration microplastics in the Arctic sea ice.

Digital Explorer worked in partnership with leading marine scientists, Dr Ceri Lewis and Dr Helen Findlay of the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory respectively to provide education outreach for the field science.

Launching the first year of a three year investigation, the science team investigated marine microplastics and ocean acidification, each of which is putting the Arctic marine environment at risk.

Marine microplastics is a critical environmental issue, with an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. As plastic breaks down it becomes microplastics, which are small enough to be accidentally eaten by the small marine animals, like plankton, that support marine food webs. The Arctic is a potential sink for small plastic particles that have been transported from the oceanic gyres.

Dr Ceri Lewis’ research aims to gather more data to understand how much plastic is in the Arctic and where it comes from.  The field team is conducting plastics sampling to measure the amount of microplastics in the ocean around Svalbard and verify whether it is within the size range that can be eaten.  Knowing the abundance and sizes range of plastic in the ocean will help scientists and society better understand its impact.

Ocean acidification is also known as the other carbon problem. Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are absorbed into the ocean and make it more acidic. This change in ocean chemistry is happening faster now than at any other point in the past 300 million years and is happening fastest in the Arctic where colder waters hold more dissolved gas.

Dr Helen Findlay is leading the ocean acidification strand of the expedition science. The science team is be monitoring both the chemistry of the Arctic waters and how changes in this chemistry affect the animals living there.Ocean acidification can subtly affect many animals but especially impact those that produce a calcium carbonate structure or shell, such as clams. A lower ocean pH, i.e. more acidity, makes it harder for these organisms to form these structures.

Researchers are monitoring the proportion of animals in the seawater that have calcium carbonate structures, compared to those that do not, to see if ocean acidification is having an impact on the marine life.

A  joint-science and education response

This integrated programme is a joint effort of XL Catlin, Digital Explorer (DE), the University of Exeter, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

“XL Catlin Arctic Live uses a novel approach to bring to life the latest field science from the Arctic’s fragile ecosystem to thousands of students,” says Chip Cunliffe, Director of Sustainable Development, XL Catlin. “We aim to ignite curiosity for the natural world and inspire future STEM careers in order to encourage young people to become engaged with the protection and preservation of the environment.”

Operating from the NERC Arctic Research Station, Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, from Digital Explorer, teamed up with lead scientists, Dr. Ceri Lewis of the University of Exeter, Dr. Helen Findlay of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and BAS station manager, Nick Cox.

The Arctic Live Research Expedition having launched in 2018 will run over the next three springs.

Implemented through

XL Catlin Oceans Education: Arctic Live is part of XL Catlin’s wider commitment to oceans education. Since 2011, the XL Catlin Oceans Education created and run by Digital Explorer has brought together findings from XL Catlin’s sponsored scientific expeditions in award-winning online learning materials for teachers and students.

Starting as an education outreach initiative for the scientific research, Oceans Education has comprehensively grown and is providing teachers with resources, training and live education events to ignite student curiosity. To date, Oceans Education designed and run by Digital Explorer is estimated to have reached over 3.5 million students around the world, with the target of teaching 10 million young people by 2020.

Sponsored by

XL Catlin is the global brand used by XL Group plc’s (NYSE:XL) insurance and reinsurance companies which provide property, casualty, professional and specialty products to industrial, commercial and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises throughout the world.

XL Catlin is proud to sponsor research and educational outreach which explore how our planet’s oceans are changing. Since 2009, it has funded four major scientific expeditions: the Catlin Arctic Survey, the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey, and in 2018 the XL Catlin Arctic Ocean Risk Survey.

In partnership with 

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is an institute of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that uses the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of Earth as a sustainable planet. Through its extensive logistic capability and know-how BAS facilitates access for the British and international science community to the UK polar research operation. Numerous national and international collaborations, combined with an excellent infrastructure help sustain a world leading position for the UK in Antarctic affairs. For more information visit            

University of Exeter is a Russell Group university that combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 21,000 students and is in the top one per cent of universities worldwide. Exeter is also ranked 14th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018 and 13th in the Guardian University Guide 2018. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the University ranked 16th nationally, with 98% of its research rated as being of international quality, while in 2017, Exeter was awarded a Gold rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) assessment.

Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) is an independent, impartial provider of scientific research and contract services relating to the marine environment. PML focuses on understanding how marine ecosystems function, their role in the Earth system and how we can protect this important environment for the prosperity of future generations.

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world’s most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. From 1 April 2018, NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

Based at

The UK Arctic Research Station is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and managed and operated by the British Antarctic Survey. It is situated in the international research community of Ny-Ålesund on the high Arctic island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard archipelago. Ny-Ålesund provides a unique polar research environment that promotes cross-discipline research and international collaboration that advances understanding of global environmental issues. The international research community supports four flagship science programmes: marine, atmospheric, terrestrial ecology and glaciology. It provides facilities and accommodation for researchers from UK universities, research institutes and other recognised organisations (and their international collaborators) wanting to carry out environmental research relevant to the NERC science remit.


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