Toxic Legacies of War - North Sea Wrecks Symposium 2023

Should we be concerned about war remnants in the North Sea and other oceans? What knowledge do we have about the hazards that war wrecks, underwater munition (UXO) and chemicals such as TNT in the water may pose? Are we to be more concerned about this environmental problem?


In the North Sea Wrecks project, we explored these questions and investigated the extent to which munitions in the sea pose a threat to the environment and the marine food chain. In this project, financed by the EU Interreg North Sea program, nine institutions from five countries cooperate to gather more knowledge about that problem.

After 4.5 years of work, we want to present our results and discuss with scientists, politicians and the interested public how we want and especially need to deal with this challenge in the future.

We present our scientific research results, public awareness and science communication methods and the risk assessment tool developed in the project.




► Date:         19.-20. April 2023


► Program: Download Program Symposium 2023

Abstracts and presentations


► Registration: Deadline March 31, 2023. (Registration closed)

Important: As places on-site are limited (first come, first serve), there will also be moderated online participation via video conference. Please indicate when registering whether you would prefer to participate on-site or online. More details will follow after your registration.


► online participation: detailed information after registration


 Venue:      Alfred-Wegener-Institute

Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI)

Am Handelshafen 12, 27570 Bremerhaven (Germany)


► Hotels Bremerhaven: see here


For all other enquiries please contact the organisation team of the German Maritime Museum:

⇒ Sven Bergmann & Cornelia Riml (Project Management):




DAY 1               |     19. April 2023



9.00              Reception open

10.00            Greetings and Organizational Remarks:

Ruth Schilling (Managing Director of German Maritime Museum/DSM);

Dr. Uwe Nixdorf Directorate of Alfred-Wegener-Institute


10.30            Keynote I: Guilherme Lotufo

(US Army Engineer Research and Development Center):

"Unterwater Munitions as an Environmental Hazard"

Chair: Edmund Maser (UKSH)


11.10                Short Coffee Break


11.20               Keynote II: Jacek Bełdowski

(Institute of Oceanology, Polish Academy of Sciences):

“A Decade of Chemical Munitions Studies in the Baltic Sea and New Perspectives”,

Chair: Katrin Kleemann (DSM)


12.00              Lunch Break


13.30              North Sea Wrecks (NSW)

Presentation of the central topics and results of the project, led by the experts of the NSW project, moderated by Welmoed van der Velde (NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz/NHL):

  • Overview and Conceptual Approach of NSW
  • From the Archive to the Wreck Site: Research and Data Collection
  • Biomonitoring, Toxicological Analyses and First Results
  • Risk Assessment and Policy Recommendations
  • Follow-up, Transnational Cooperation and Raising Public Awareness


15.30               Coffee Break & Exhibition Space

(on-site and online)

  • Demonstration of Wreck Risk Assessment Tool (
  • Data Repository/Uxo Warehouse (Periplus Consultancy)
  • Travelling exhibition “Toxic Legacies of War – North Sea Wrecks” (DSM)
  • Travelling exhibition online session (DSM)
  • Breakout-Sessions (online) for networking among online participants


16.30               Round Table Discussion:

(Different) European Perspectives on Munition at Seas and Transnational Efforts, with:

  • Andrea Klomp (Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Cultural Heritage Agency)
  • Polly Hill/Matthew Skelhorn (UK Ministry of Defence)
  • Anita Künitzer (German Environment Agency)
  • Marnix Pieters (Flanders Heritage Agency)
  • Lars Møller Pedersen (Danish Royal Navy)

moderated by Jens Sternheim (NSW Advisory Board)


18.00             End of first day


19.00            Conference dinner (optional) at Villa Seebeck




DAY 2               |     20. April 2023



9.00                Workshop Session 1:

Alterations of Wrecks on the Seafloor

Chair: Jennifer Strehse (UKSH)

  • Effects of Geological/Seafloor Processes and Risks for War Wrecks – Insights From Two Wrecks in the Danish North Sea (Katrine Juul Andresen, Aarhus University – Department of Geoscience/AU)
  • The Corrosion Rate of Steel Wrecks in the Belgian North Sea, an In Situ Research (Kris De Baere, Antwerp Maritime Academy)


9.40               Workshop Session 2:

Effects on Organisms

Chair: Sven Bergmann (DSM)

  • Long-term Blue Mussel Samples From the German Environmental Specimen Bank Show First Evidence of Munition Contaminants Uptake (Jennifer Strehse, Tobias Bünning, Edmund Maser, University Medical School Schleswig-Holstein, Institute of Toxicology and Pharmacology/UKSH)
  • Microbial Community Responses to a Wartime Wreck: the John Mahn Case Study (Maarten De Rijcke, Flanders Marine Institute/VLIZ)
  • Measuring Biological Effects in the Field and Laboratory and Translating Them into Risk Monitoring (Matthias Brenner, Alfred-Wegener-Institute – Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research/AWI); Simon van der Wulp,


10.40            Coffee Break


11.10               Workshop Session 3:

Consequences and Dealing with Disaster

Chair: Matthias Brenner (AWI)

  • Communicating Slow Disasters as a Matter of Concern in Transdisciplinary Research – Experiences in NSW and Other Projects (Sven Bergmann, German Maritime Museum)
  • Consequences from a Total Collapse of a Shipwreck in Skagerrak Filled with Chemical Ammunition (John Aa. Tørnes, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment/FFI)
  • Munitions in the Sea – Chemical Analyses Alongside (Underwater) Blast in Place Operations (Edmund Maser, Tobias Bünning, Jennifer Strehse, University Medical School Schleswig-Holstein, Institute of Toxicology and Pharmacology/UKSH)


12:10              Lunch Break


13.30            Keynote III: Alex Souchen

(University of Guelph, Canada):

What Can History Tell Us About Underwater Munitions? Methods, Meaning, and Missing Records”,

Chair: Sven Bergmann (DSM)


14:15                Final plenary discussion: How to communicate environmental problems and research: experiences, success and limits                   

  • With experts in museum, public awareness, science communication and project management



15.30           Coffee & Farewells 


16:00           End of Symposium


Nine partners from five different countries are working together in the Interreg project North Sea Wrecks. © simple GmbH

Pile of 120 mm grenades on the wreck of the British destroyer HMS BASILISK. Ship sunk after serious damage through German aircrafts at 01.06.1940 © Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee

Corroded artillery shell with visible explosives and young mussels © Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt (FFI) - Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

Researching historic naval maps in the archive of the German Maritime Museum © German Maritime Museum

Light Cruiser SMS MAINZ. Source: Photo Archive German Maritime Museum

3D-picture of the wreck of the Barrier Breaker Nr. 163 FRIESLAND. Data source: German Aerospace Center – Institute for the Protection of Maritime Infrastructures, Bremerhaven. © German Maritime Museum

European lobster (Homarus gammarus) on the wreck of the SM UC 30. © Danish Navy and Aarhus University

Preparation of the mussels for sampling in the environment of the wrecks © German Maritime Museum

Analysing data in the laboratory. © Institute of Toxicology and Pharmacology for Natural Scientists, UKSH

Data correlation in the WRECKNS software

© GmbH

Threats to the marine habitat. Graphic based on a picture from Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) © Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI)

Presenting the travelling exhibition of the project to the public © German Maritime Museum



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