Leading Oceanographers produced for over 45 years- a case study for Science Impact

Manon and IestynManon and IestynWhen Wales’ rugby team were at their zenith, there was a newly created ‘myth’ of a ‘production line’ producing star rugby players, hidden somewhere in the depths of the valleys. At the other end of Wales, there continues a lasting success which has been producing excellent oceanographers for a very real world for 45 years.

The MSc in Applied Physical Oceanography at Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences is plugging identified skills gaps in the UK environment sector, producing oceanographers who are, among other things, capable of computer modelling and are very numerate. (According to a Research Council review of the top 15 skills needed in the environment sector, computer modelling is at the top and numeracy fourth).

The course is one of the case studies included in the National Environment Research Council’s Science Impacts database, and can be found here:

The MSc course is unique in having Natural Environment Research Council Funding for the whole of its 45 years.

“The course makes physical oceanographers of top physicists and mathematicians – introducing them to the physics of the ocean and climate systems. Thirty-five percent of our students find oceanography jobs in the public or private sectors and over half go on to study Doctorates,” explains Dr Tom Rippeth, course director and Reader at the School of Ocean Sciences.

 These graduates provide needed skills in the renewable energy industry, the oil industry and hazard planning. There are skills shortages and jobs available in all these sectors.

Graduates from the course hold key posts within industry and public organisations and work in the UK and around the globe. They include the current head of The National Oceanography Centre and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Recent students on the course have produced research with very real impact, which have been covered in renowned scientific journals and national news media. These include a study showing that rising sea levels have increased the sea’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, work showing how tidal farms could affect the sediment on the seabed and work on the Menai Strait Mussel beds which contributed to the Marine Stewardship Council certification of the mussel fishery in the Menai Strait- which accounts for 50% of the UK Mussel fishery.

Sophie Ward, from Ruthin, who completed the MSc in 2010, said “My MSc research project fed really well into my PhD in terms of skills learned.” Both Sophie’s MSc project and PhD research relied on numerical modelling of sea level rise. She is now investigating marine renewables.

As well as numerical and oceanography skills, the course also focuses on transferable skills such as essay-writing, which are vital for a career in science. “The MSc was incredibly intensive, but really thorough” Sophie Ward added.

Current student, Manon Francis, from Llangefni says:
“ It’s fantastic to be able to study such a world leading course, just 15 minutes’ drive from my home. The course is really enjoyable if hard work at times! I’m hoping to do further research and interested in ocean circulation. This is an important area of science which could have massive implications for the planet and for humanity.”

Current student Iestyn Woolway from Porthmadog hopes that his career will eventually take him to the Arctic, as he has a long-standing fascination with that part of the world. He hopes first to follow a PhD at one of two prestigious American universities that he’s applied to.

He says: “there are so many career opportunities in this field- I could either follow a route looking at climate change in the Arctic and how that affects the globe. Climate change is affecting a great deal in the Arctic at the moment and there are many opportunities- such as working as a consultant to one of the big oil companies- there are so many oil reserves becoming available in the region.”

Publication date: 27 July 2011