Great interest for research on plastic waste


There has never been more interest in researching the effect plastic pollution has on the High North. The institutions of the Fram Centre in Tromsø are experiencing a rush of students wanting to pursue a degree in the field.

“I more or less grew up by the seaside, so I’m really worried about what’s happening. There’s a lot we still don’t know about plastic pollution,” says Stine Benjaminsen.»

“We could have admitted, even more, that’s how great the interest is. But the great influx of qualified and enthusiastic students makes for better researchers in the long term.” This is according to Dorte Herzke, senior researcher and section leader at the Environmental Chemistry Department at NILU – the Norwegian Institute for Air Research. Five students are currently working towards Master’s degrees in the field of microplastics at the Fram Centre, in cooperation with NILU, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Institute of Marine Research, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, and Ghent University (the Netherlands).

Students with supervisors from Fram Centre member institutions have previously done research on plastic: since 2014, the Centre has welcomed students from Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Great Britain, the United States and the Netherlands.

“But we’ve never before had so many at the same time, and affiliated with the research environment at UiT,” says Herzke.

New laboratories

The growing number of students is a concrete result of the expansion of the Fram Centre’s building in Tromsø. In June 2018, the researchers in Tromsø could start using three brand new laboratories situated in the new building. One of these is NILU’s environmental pollution laboratory.

“Yes, it has meant a lot. We now have room for more students and can pay more attention to them. And there’s a new clean room that allows us to carry out research we couldn’t do before. This gives the Fram Centre a competitive advantage,” says Herzke.

In addition, the expansion of the Fram Centre building has given Akvaplan-niva more lab space, which also allows them to compete for new assignments.


Three of the students researching plastics are (left to right) Svenja Neumann, Ingunn Solheim Johnsen and Unni Mette Nordang. Standing behind them are supervisors Geir Wing Gabrielsen of the Norwegian Polar Institute, and Dorte Herzke of NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research. Photo: Helge M Markusson / Fram Centre.

New research programme

Two of the student positions are financed through two Fram Centre research programmes, and more positions are likely to open up later this year when the new research programme «Plastic in the Arctic» is launched.

“This is plastic collected on beaches in Svalbard,” says Unni Mette Nordang. She gestures towards a few test tubes containing tiny pieces of plastic in different colours. “Now I’m going to test it for potential environmental pollution,” she explains. Nordang’s Master’s studies are supported through a partnership between NILU and UiT.

Stine Benjaminsen is associated with UiT The Arctic University of Norway and finished her Bachelor’s degree in pollution biology last year. She is now studying for a Master’s in marine ecology and resource biology and is very concerned about the effect of plastic on the environment.

“I more or less grew up by the seaside, so I’m really worried about what’s happening. There’s a lot we still don’t know about plastic pollution,” says Benjaminsen.

International attention

The opportunities to study and do research and the academic environment at the Fram Centre have drawn international attention. Svenja Neuman from Germany, who is normally a student at Ghent University, is now a visiting student at the Norwegian Polar Institute, with Geir Wing Gabrielsen as the supervisor.

“I came here via Oslo and Svalbard, and I’ve settled in really well,” says Neuman.

Gabrielsen, who also teaches at the University Centre in Svalbard and UiT, nods at this familiar story.

“I notice a huge amount of interest among students, both nationally and internationally. There’s a great lack of knowledge when it comes to plastic pollution, which means it’s crucial to educate bright students who can contribute to research, management and enterprise in years to come,” says Geir Wing Gabrielsen, who is head of the environmental pollution section at the Norwegian Polar Institute.

To China

In mid-February, four students and four researchers/supervisors travelled to Shanghai in China. They will be collaborating with Chinese researchers and students, and the topic will be plastic pollution.

The trip, financed by the Research Council of Norway through the project PlastPoll, is a concrete result of the Fram Centre collaboration.

“There are great challenges associated with education, monitoring and research on plastics. In China, our students will have an opportunity to meet Chinese students and teachers working on plastic pollution. This visit will give us a chance to share our experiences of methods used to sample and study plastic, as well as studying the effects of plastic pollution. The visit to Shanghai will be useful for all of us and initiate closer collaboration with China on this vital problem area,” says Geir Wing Gabrielsen.

Project Manager Herzke adds: “It’s important that the students go where the plastic is produced, and where pollution is a major problem. By strengthening the cooperation between Norway and China – two countries with vastly different challenges associated with plastic pollution – we can learn a lot from each other, including how to find solutions to this problem in the future.”


Helge M. Markusson // Fram Centre