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Therese Karlsson

Therese Karlsson awarded for doctoral thesis on plastic pollution in the ocean


Therese Karlsson, former doctoral student at the Department of Marine Sciences, is awarded the Faculty of Science’s 2020 Doctoral Thesis Award. In her doctoral thesis, she studied plastic pollution in the ocean, contributing to our understanding of how plastic spreads and degrades. “Plastics are a group of material that are used in many ways. By understanding their pollution pattern, we can more easily work with sustainable, fact-based solutions,” says Therese Karlsson.

The Faculty of Science’s Doctoral Thesis Award is given for successful and innovative research presented in a well-written doctoral thesis.

Therese Karlsson says that there are many different types of challenges within her research area, particularly in how best to measure polluting particles. In a larger perspective, however, she would say that the main challenges involve communicating about plastic pollution in a good way, so that the suggested solutions match the problems.

“It’s much more effective to keep plastics from ending up in the environment, than to focus on cleaning up. We also have to be clear that our current production and consumption patterns are not sustainable, regardless of material,” says Therese Karlsson.

Now works at Greenpeace

At the moment, Therese Karlsson is working part-time at Greenpeace, where her job has included working on a campaign to stop expansion of Preem’s refinery in Lysekil.

“As a researcher, you have a responsibility to disseminate your knowledge and collaborate transdisciplinary, so that research results can get through to the society, policy makers and the public. My time at the University has made it very apparent to me scientifically that we have to transition to a more sustainable society, and allowing an expansion of a fossil fuel industry goes against what the research says we need to do.”

“We are in the midst of a crucial period for how society will develop, and creating a sustainable future requires that we make major changes, both in how we produce and how we consume materials and energy. So, I will continue working with these issues in different ways and am currently considering where I can be most useful.”


Award explanation

Therese Karlsson’s doctoral thesis and publications have significantly contributed to moving forward the research field of plastics in marine environments, particularly in terms of sources, spreading, and degradation processes of different forms of plastic. Her research is transdisciplinary in nature, integrating cutting-edge research with interactions with public agencies, municipalities, NGOs, and companies. Even though she is early in her academic career, Karlsson already has an impressive list of publications with a large number as first author and with well-cited contributions. Therese has been invited to speak at conferences, to serve as a reviewer for journals, and to give talks for decision-makers. The public and the media have shown considerable interest in Karlsson’s research projects and plastic in the environment in general. This has led to a large number of media appearances where Karlsson has learned to skillfully communicate what is known about plastics in marine environments in a balanced and factual way and with a language that the general public can understand, while also maintaining high scientific integrity.