A new look at the state of the oceans

The current condition of the oceans, their significance as the most important resource for the world's population, and their impact on the climate will be at the centre of discussion during the seminar 'A new look on the ocean' at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF 2006) in Munich. The primary focus of the seminar will be on utilisation and monitoring of coastal zones and their potential benefits for industries and society. Friedhelm Schröder and Wilhelm Petersen of the GKSS Research Centre Geesthacht, together with Prof Dr Karen Wiltshire of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, will be organising the seminar. On July 16, 2006, from 8.30 to 11.15, the meeting will take place at the Forum of the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Prof Wiltshire is Assistant Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven. Her own research emphasis is on plankton, and her work is carried out at the Biological Station Helgoland which is part of the Alfred Wegener Institute. One of the current projects within her field is the data base PLANKTON*NET.

Free access to the plankton data base
PLANKTON*NET is an online data base illustrating plankton organisms both visually and contextually. Originally, the data base was established at the Alfred Wegener Institute to provide a source of information for students participating in courses at the Biological Station Helgoland. Plankton is constituted by free-floating organisms in the water, from bacteria to jelly fish. The image material and related information on planktonic organisms, e.g. taxonomic descriptions, facilitate the identification of species. The data base was re-installed recently and, at present, holds more than 3000 images and over 500 species descriptions. Free access to the data base enables all registered users to add their own images and data, and to supplement existing data records. All newly entered data are reviewed, and, if necessary, evaluated by experts. This not only facilitates the fast development and expansion of the data base, but also leads to a high diversity of data entries with varied geographic origin through contributions from across the globe. This large geographic scope is of great importance for plankton research and is currently a unique feature of PLANKTON*NET compared to other data base systems.

Networking
Currently, PLANKTON*NET consists of two separate data bases - one at the Alfred Wegener Institute and another one at the Station Biologique de Roscoff in France. A third data base is planned at the University of Lisbon in Portugal. The long term goal of the project is the networking of all data bases and their integration into the existing World Data Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences (WDC-MARE). This data centre represents a virtual institute and is administered by the Alfred Wegener Institute and the Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences. Aside from WDC-MARE, there are more than 50 other global data bases worldwide that serve as long term archives and provide information for science.

PLANKTON*NET is financed in part by the European Union and has a duration of two years. Project partners include the Station Biologique de Roscoff and the University of Caen in France, the University of Lisbon and the Instituto de Investigaçao das Pescas e do Mar (IPIMAR) in Portugal, as well as the Natural History Museum in London.

Background
Research on biodiversity has been intensified considerably over the past years. Reasons for this include an increasing concern over species extinctions and habitat destruction on the one hand, and the improvement of detailed recording methods for existing species on the other. Particularly genetic methods have been used ever more frequently for species identification. In many regions, genetic tools have revealed that species diversity is much higher than previously thought. Especially in marine systems, the term 'diversity' not only describes the distinction between biological species, but also refers to the divergence within established species. This leads to a completely new evaluation of the species concept. For the recording and description of new species, fast access to existing information is absolutely imperative.

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Bremerhaven, July 16, 2006 Please send us a copy of any published version of this document.

Suggestion for editors:
Your contact person is Prof Dr Karen Wiltshire (Tel.: ++49-4725-819-238, email: kwiltshire@awi-bremerhaven.de). Your contact person in the public relations department is Dr Angelika Dummermuth (Tel: ++49-471-4831-1742, email: medien@awi-bremerhaven.de). Printable images can be found on our webpage at http://www.awi-bremerhaven.de/AWI/Presse/PM/index-d.html.

The Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in oceans of temperate and high latitudes. The AWI coordinates polar research in Germany, and provides important infrastructure, such as the research icebreaker 'Polarstern', for international scientific enterprises in the Arctic and Antarctic. The AWI is one of 15 research centres of the 'Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft' (Helmholtz Association), the largest scientific organisation in Germany.


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