Ocean Gardens

Imagine you visit a landlocked region where none of the inhabitants have ever been to the ocean. Although they may not be aware of it, every single day these people breathe oxygen generated by marine photosynthesis, benefit from the lowered atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels induced by marine phytoplankton, and consume food that was fueled by marine ecosystems. In essence, the ocean can be viewed as a garden that provides beauty, resources, and CO2 drawdown for society.

Your challenge is to create an accessible platform that visually, sonically, and interactively educates users about important ocean-provided services in a way they can easily understand.


The ocean makes up 70% of Earth by area, and up to 90-95% of the volume of Earth that is habitable for life. Half of all net primary production (the rate of new biomass on Earth; e.g., leaves growing) is from marine phytoplankton (unicellular plant-like organisms that perform photosynthesis). These phytoplankton form the base of the entire ocean ecosystem; they not only provide food for other animals in the sea and oxygen for us to breathe, they also absorb carbon dioxide and enable carbon sequestration. Many people do not recognize the giant role the ocean plays in our everyday lives. Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would require removal of approximately 100-1000 gigatons of carbon dioxide from 2000-2100. Currently, phytoplankton remove between 5-12 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year, and current efforts are exploring how those rates may be bolstered in the future.

Recently, food and energy insecurities have been exacerbated by climate change, conflict, and disease, and global energy demands are expected to continue to grow. Ocean-based solutions, including deep seabed mining, have been suggested as ways to support the shift to renewable energy and increase the food supply. Industries have begun exploratory extractive activities, but our scientific understanding of the impacts of these activities on the ocean is trailing behind. There is a sense of urgency to educate members of the public about the role the ocean plays in their lives, so they can make informed decisions about future policies that could influence such activities. Science education is a primary avenue by which the public and lawmakers understand and value ocean ecosystems. How can we make the science more accessible and translatable to others?


Your challenge is to create an accessible platform that visually, sonically, and interactively educates users about ocean-provided services in a way they can easily understand. The overall goal of this challenge is to clearly convey the ocean’s importance to people who are not familiar with the way it affects daily life. Think about how you can combine techniques (e.g., visuals, sound, software, video, cartoons, or comedy) to create a platform (e.g., a website, app, video, performance, coloring book, etc.) that introduces the ocean and its services (namely phytoplankton growth and carbon dioxide drawdown) to people who have very little prior knowledge.

For example, the ocean can be viewed as a vegetable garden, where phytoplankton are growing at different rates. You could use this analogy as a primary tool to build understanding of the ocean processes by converting relative phytoplankton abundances to what might be expected on land for various crops (e.g., corn, squash, spinach, carrots, raspberries, etc.). Based on how many phytoplankton are growing, you could calculate the levels of carbon dioxide that would be expected to be absorbed and determine how these numbers compare to real-life examples of carbon dioxide production—an average car trip to the grocery store, for example. The garden analogy is just one example of how you might illustrate ocean processes; other ideas could be explored as well (e.g., the ocean as a friend, as a superhero, a restaurant, etc.). We can’t wait to see what you come up with!


As you develop your solution, you may (but are not required to) consider:

  • Different species of phytoplankton: For example, large diatoms are less abundant compared to prochlorococcus, which is a very tiny and very abundant species. Note that the concentration of small cells (for example, those that are 0.6 micron wide) can be about 106 individuals per milliliter but the concentration of large cells (for example, those that are 50 microns wide) can be about 1 individual per milliliter. How do these relative abundances compare to species concentrations on land?
  • Different areas of the ocean: How does coastal California differ from the Arctic Ocean, especially in terms of light needed for phytoplankton to grow?
  • Satellite images show a variety of these ‘ocean gardens.’ How do ocean gardens look different from land gardens?

    For data and resources related to this challenge, refer to the Resources tab at the top of the page. More resources may be added before the hackathon begins.

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