Erik van Sebille appointed as Professor of Oceanography & Public Engagement

Portrait picture Erik van Sebille

As of 1 November, Erik van Sebille has been appointed as Professor of Oceanography & Public Engagement. “We can only tackle the climate crisis if we increase public climate literacy,” Van Sebille says. “With my research, I aim to contribute to that. The ocean appeals to the imagination. That’s why it is an excellent point of entry to get people involved in research on climate and sustainability.”

To better connect science with society, Utrecht University is strongly committed to Open Science. One of the tracks within that programme is public engagement: involving the general public in science. “We’re already doing a lot in that area, but there are still many open questions,” says Van Sebille. “Who exactly is this general public, and what do they want? What kind of support do researchers need? By answering questions like these, I want to ensure that we can tackle public engagement even better and more effectively.”


This chair is the first in the Netherlands to combine climate research, oceanography and public engagement. Subjects that go particularly well together, according to Van Sebille. “The ocean is a wonderful way to interest a broader audience in climate and sustainability. Oceans are exciting. Everyone has an intuitive idea or feelings associated with oceans, but most people have never actually been on or in the ocean farther than a few hundred meters offshore. There is so much more to explore!”

The influence of oceans on climate cannot be underestimated.

However, the ocean is more than just a hook for broader climate communication. “The influence of oceans on climate cannot be underestimated," Van Sebille stresses. “Oceans absorb heat and CO2, and provide food and oxygen. But they are under serious threat of warming, acidification, pollution and overfishing, and we should really be concerned about that.” He is not alone in this: the United Nations has declared the current decade the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.


Van Sebille has always been very involved in science communication and public engagement about his own research. The chair is therefore a logical step in his career. “I hope that my appointment will also serve as inspiration for young scientists. Researchers often see science communication as something extra that doesn’t really help you much. But with this new chair, Utrecht University shows that it can in fact help your scientific career.”

Shared position

The chair is a shared position between two research institutes at Utrecht University: the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU) and the Freudenthal Institute (FI). With his research, Van Sebille actively contributes to the university’s research theme Pathways to Sustainability. He also collaborates closely with the Centre for Science and Culture to embed his research findings more widely within the university and society.