Marja Koski privat

Six questions for the professor - meet Marja Koski

Thursday 02 Mar 23

Marja Koski from DTU Aqua has been appointed professor and holds her inaugural lecture on Friday 3, March. She is an expert in plankton and marine environmental effects and with her professorship expands the area to environmental effects of shipping. Meet Marja Koski through her answers to six questions about the professorial role, the research area and where it all began.

On Friday 3 March, Marja Koski officially becomes a professor at DTU Aqua when she gives her induction lecture. Marja Koski belongs to the Section for Oceans and Arctic and she is also project manager on the large European project ECOTIP, which deals with tipping points in the Arctic sea areas. On the occasion of the appointment as professor, we asked Marja Koski to introduce herself by answering six questions.

What do you think about being appointed professor?

I'd actually first like to take this opportunity to wish that it will be like in several other countries, where you become a professor when you are qualified for it. In order to obtain a professorship here, you must have an area that the institute wants to develop. However, several researchers at Aqua are qualified to become professors, just as I have been for a long time.

But I think it is fine to be appointed professor, because there is credibility in being a professor, and that is important when applying for funding.

But otherwise I am concerned that it is more about the work you deliver than about what you are called.

Would you like to describe your research in a few words?

I am researching biodiversity and plankton in the Arctic. My research began with plankton in the Baltic Sea. Everything we humans want from the sea, such as fish and carbon storage, is based on plankton.

My research is about the effects of climate change and other human pressure factors. But the special area in which I will develop this professorship is about the environmental effects of shipping. Especially pollution effects and chemical releases to the sea.

This is an important area to address, because there is more and more shipping in the world – and it is especially important in the Arctic, as the Arctic is a particularly vulnerable ecosystem.

What interests me is why different organisms respond in different ways to e.g. pollution and climate change. We know very little about that. But if we don't understand it, then it is difficult to predict what happens under different conditions in different places - except where you have just measured.

So, my area in the professorship is very much about mechanisms - that is, how and why different organisms react differently to environmental influences and how this affects ecosystems. And it could be climate change, but it could also be all the pollution that comes from ships.

"It is almost certain that when the ice melts in the Arctic, there will be more activity, not least in the form of shipping. And here there are many aspects to research, not least new fuels for ships - not much is known about the effects of a possible release of ammonium."
Marja Koski, Professor, DTU Aqua

How will your research area at the department develop after your professorship?

It is certain that when the ice melts in the Arctic, there will be more activity, not least in the form of shipping. With this area, the institute prioritizes research into the environmental effects of shipping, especially in the Arctic. But Danish ships sail all over the world, and shipping must become carbon neutral and be developed to have as few environmental effects as possible. So there are many aspects to research: New fuels for ships such as ammonium. Not much is known about the effects of a possible release of ammonium.

And then there are the international rules for shipping, e.g. regulations on ballast water and pollution from shipping in general, of which we will assess the consequences. For instance, last year came a new rule that limited the emission of sulfur into the atmosphere. But that just resulted in an alternative solution, where you clean the discharge in seawater – which you then pour back into the sea, full of heavy metals and PAHs.

It is therefore an area of research where we can contribute with knowledge, so that in shipping you do not develop solutions that are actually worse than the first one. Or solves the wrong problem.

In this new area, environmental effects of maritime activities, we collaborate with the environmental institute at DTU, DTU Sustain, and with Maritime DTU, which has a lot of cooperation with business.

Now, I would like to take you on a big leap back in time to ask you where your interest in marine life started?

It was random. I didn't imagine that I would be a biologist - until one day when I came to think that it would be a fun job because you could be outside a lot and look at animals and things like that.

But I only got excited about studying biology when I could specialize. And I was inspired to take that path on a course in the Finnish archipelago.

And it was so amazing! So, it is actually this sunshine on a summer day in the Finnish archipelago that stands as a focal point for me in relation to my choice of the way forward as a biologist with a focus on the sea. After this, I got the opportunity to do a thesis on plankton.

When you work with plankton, you get to see things under a microscope. And it was just as amazing as seeing the Finnish archipelago. Through the microscope, a world full of diversity unfolds.

So, it is this archipelago effect of living close to the water, as most people in Finland do, a lake or the sea, swimming and sailing and rowing and paddling, that has influenced me to become a marine biologist.

As an area of research, plankton is really a smart thing, because you can look at so many different aspects of the sea on the basis of plankton. And you can research plankton by pouring some water into a bottle! It's not as easy with larger marine mammals ;)

So I stuck with plankton right from the thesis up through my research until now.

Why is ocean research important?

After all, all development is based on research. But it is important that our research in the sea is broad-based. Because if we e.g. choose to only research fish and how we get the most out of fishing, then it is very short-term - we don't know what we will be missing in 20 years or 50 years. So, I think it is important that we have solid and broad ocean research, so that it is not only research into what benefits people here and now, but also research into the effects of our use of the ocean.

Now, a few weeks ago I was at the Ocean Decade conference, and all the goals that are written down here are about what we want from the ocean - their slogan "Science we need for the ocean we want" alone testifies to the utilitarian perspective in which we humans tend to see nature.

I actually think this is provocative, because we don't understand how the system works at all. And if we don't understand the processes in the ocean, then we don't know how we affect the ocean, and we don't know what we have to do to protect life in the ocean.

How will your research area with the new professorship contribute to a more sustainable world?

I believe that our new research can help shipping to develop in a more sustainable direction, because we will contribute knowledge about the risk of different types of solutions that are being developed for shipping.

We will also with our knowledge be able to guide the shipping companies in relation to vulnerable areas and risk assessments of spills.

So, I definitely believe that with this new area of research in the environmental effects of maritime activities, we will be able to help shipping solve the right problems in the right places.

The induction event on Friday 3 March is a double lecture, with both Marja Koski and Patrizio Mariani officially joining as professors today. You can meet Patrizio Mariani in a previous interview, where we also asked him the six questions on the occasion of his appointment as professor.

Photo: Marja Koski, private

Blå bog

  • Senior researcher Marja Koski was appointed professor 1 Dec 2022
  • Research coordinator on the international project ECOTIP, where research is done on the effects of tipping points
  • Lecturer in 2014
  • Marja Koski joined DTU Aqua, then Denmark's Fisheries Research, as a postdoc in 2002
  • From 1998 postdoc in the Netherlands, Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
  • PhD from the University of Helsinki in 1998
  • Marja Koski was born in Finland in October 1968 and has two children.
  • She speaks Finnish, Swedish, English, Dutch, French and Danish.