“Why am I fascinated with Polar regions? What happens in the Arctic affects us all”

Research must be accessible to as wide a non-specialist audience as possible, says professor of arctic ecosystems research David Thomas.

What are your research topics?

I am a marine biologist with strong interests in the chemistry of marine systems. For the past 30 years, I have studied the biology and chemistry of sea ice and the underlying waters in the Arctic and Southern Oceans and the Baltic Sea. At the same time, I have researched how organic matter released from soils into rivers influences microbial activities as it passes through estuaries and coastal waters.

My aim at the University of Helsinki is to combine these research interests to investigate how the chemistry of water influences the biology as it passes from soil to rivers and coasts. Naturally, this is all within the framework of a rapidly changing Arctic due to global climate change.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Instead of being an isolated region, the Arctic is closely connected. What happens in the Arctic has implications globally: for example, water masses created by the freezing of seawater in the Arctic Ocean drive global ocean circulation.

Our research into fundamental ecological and chemical processes, and the changes taking place in them, is pertinent to society as a whole – not just here in northern Europe, but on a global scale. Hopefully the results of our research will inform policymakers. It is one of my roles to make sure the information is presented in an accessible way.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

I have had a career-long fascination with Polar regions. However, with climate change having such a profound influence on these systems, this is now a huge inspiration. 

Since early in my career I have been concerned that much of our research is not accessible outside a small community of like-minded researchers. I am strongly motivated to convey my research to as wide a non-specialist audience as possible.

David Thomas is a professor of arctic ecosystems research at the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

Watch David Thomas’s inaugural lecture as a new professor on 24.5.2021 on YouTube.

Read about the other newly appointed professors.