A summer school across the Atlantic

- August 13, 2015

TOSST students hit the waves off the coast of West Africa. (Provided photo)
TOSST students hit the waves off the coast of West Africa. (Provided photo)

The Transatlantic Ocean System Science and Technology (TOSST) summer school went beyond the Dal campus this May and headed to Cape Verde, West Africa.

Colleagues from the Helmholtz Research School for Ocean Science and Technology (HOSST) in Germany, as well as students from Cape Verde and other areas of West Africa (Togo, Benin, and Mauretania) joined the TOSST students for the third annual summer school.

TOSST, funded through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program, links two major centres of ocean research on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in Nova Scotia and northern Germany. Working together with HOSST, TOSST fosters a transatlantic training environment to teach technical and research skills in ocean science and advanced technologies. It also promotes the management of deep sea and open ocean environments, allowing students to collaborate and learn from experts in both Halifax and Kiel, Germany.

“The summer school was a huge success,” says Brendal Townsend, scientific coordinator of TOSST. “For 12 days, 31 students from Halifax, Kiel, and West Africa came together to share their areas of research and learn more about ocean biodiversity and management, particularly for Cape Verde.”

Though participating students did spend time in a traditional classroom learning from some of the world’s top scientists as well as local Cape Verde experts, students also participated in the International Marine and Atmospheric Science Symposium and had the opportunity to work with local communities.

Taking learning outside of the classroom

A key element of the summer school was introducing students to Cape Verde communities and how they interact with the marine environment. Students visited a local tuna packing plant, local fishing village and Fogo — a community that was recently evacuated due to a volcanic eruption.

“Being able to go out and see how the local communities relied on marine resources was a great learning opportunity,” says Yuan Wang, a PhD student in Physical Oceanography and Ocean Modeling. “It’s important to know about different cultures if you want your research to have an international impact.”

The time the group spent with local fisherman in São Pedro showed the students how much Cape Verde relies on marine resources. Separated into several small boats, the group spent an afternoon on the water fishing with the locals. Despite the language barrier, it was clear to the students the important role fishing plays to village and the necessity to protect and sustainably use marine resources.

Students also gave back to the local communities by participating in a beach clean up and were given the opportunity to leave a lasting impression. As part of the summer school, students prepared strategic plans for Cape Verdean marine science. The plans were to form potential priorities for the new Ocean Science Centre Mindelo (OSCM).

“Students presented these plans to fellow summer school attendees as well as those who will be involved with OSCM,” says Townsend. “Through their plans you could see how the experiences with the local communities really shaped their recommendations. Many had aspects of marine stewardship and community based co-management of resources.”

Focusing on research

For Yuan and Manuel Dureuil, a PhD student in Biology, the location of this year’s summer school was an extra bonus. Both of their areas of research have a connection to Cape Verde.

“I study the interaction between tropical storms and tides and a number of devastating tropical storms that come up in the Eastern seaboard start in Cape Verde,” says Yuan. “The area generates cyclones, mainly due to the instability of the lower atmosphere vertical profile, water vapour and atmospheric disturbances.”

Using circulation models, atmospheric forcing and hurricane tracks from the National Hurricane Centre, Yuan looks at how tropical storms will impact the water level, ocean temperatures and salinity. His research can be used to inform the aquaculture industry about changes to the climate and help inform coast guards about the potential impacts of extreme events.

The Cape Verde location meant that Manuel could get a head start on an upcoming research project. Manuel will be heading back to Cape Verde in the fall to study the local shark population.

“My research aims to understand the conservation ecology of North Atlantic shark populations in order to provide a basis for comprehensive science-based shark conservation,” said Manuel. “By looking at the delineation and characterization of critical habitat areas and by expanding stock assessment methods for data-poor shark species my research can help develop protection measures to the threatened North Atlantic shark populations.”
Manuel is focusing on Cape Verde as he wanted to focus his research on an area where it was needed. Many shark populations have been fished away from the Western coastline of West Africa and Cape Verde is one of the last refugees for many types of sharks.
“The summer school allowed me to talk to locals about my research,” said Manuel. “The local fisherman know the problem and are in favour of shark protection and see it as an important focus for their area.”

Building on the summer schools foundations

The TOSST program will continue to build on the summer school by focusing on interdisciplinary research and providing students will a variety of learning experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Next year’s summer school will have more of a home feel for participating students, as it will be taking place in Halifax.

Learn more about the TOSST research school.


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