vrijdag 17 oktober 2014

The beginning of the end

Time passes way too quick still it feels like months ago since we arrived. Besides lots of fun activities there is the reality of doing experiments. Due to some unfortunate circumstances the chemicals that we send way in advance to Ny-Alesund still did not arrive. These chemicals are needed to disinfect and clean the waste water in order to remove all exotic species and harmful chemicals before we can dispose it. After a lot of troubles, we finally got the message that coming Monday the activated carbon will arrive, at least 1 out of the 2. So for now we have one challenge less!

Crossing a river towards the glacier © Noël Diepens

During the weekend, Noël made a nice cabin trip up to Daerten. The original plan to leave in the light on Friday did not work out so we walked with our heavy backpacks in the moonlight over the glacier and mountain ridge to the cabin.  The next day we hiked up to an ice cave in a glacier and explored the inside. Sunday, 45km, a herd of reindeers, a polar fox, superb views further, we arrive tired and hungry back to Ny-Alesund. In the meanwhile, Ariadna went for a good hike together with a German PhD, spend the evening dancing in the bar, and spotted a real Russian rocket burning in the sky. Sunday evening is the time to go for a round or two in the sauna, which is perfect after all these activities. Normally, we would first take a swim in the fjord, but this time there was fresh snow to cool down in. After this good weekend, it was time to take out the first set of animals, 17 aquaria in total. Monday morning we put on some good working music and got our hands (and the rest of the surrounding) dirty with mud. The animals were placed in clean water to clear the gut content and the next two days we spend on dissecting and preparing the samples for storage at -80°C. The coming week, we will take out 2 more batches and just before we leave the last one. All with all, we will have plenty of time to enjoy ourselves in the marine lab. As we are the only ones working there we have all the space (and freedom to play music) we need.

Beautiful view of the full moon from Ny-Ålesund shore © Noël Diepens

Dark days are quickly approaching us with only 5 hours of light these days. Soon all light will be gone. As the darkness is increasing, temperatures are decreasing. Although the outside temperatures are still below -15°C it can feel like -23°C because of the wind chill factor. The good thing about these cold days is that there is often a clear sky, so a great opportunity to see beautiful sun rise/set, full moon, and northern lights. Although we saw already some northern lights they were not so strong here. Ny-Alesund is just outside the range in which the northern lights are best seen.

 Hard working days at Kings Bay marine laboratory © Thomas Dupeyron

We keep up the good mood, enjoying the scenery every day, and be creative to solve all our challenges!

Warm and sunny greetings,

Ariadna and Noël

maandag 29 september 2014

Alive and kicking in the Arctic

So sampling work has come to an end and we felt compelled to write a few lines about the results of it. We had time to experience a real snow storm during 3 days in a row which obviously made us postpone all kind of outdoor activities, but fortunately for us we could make up these days during an incredibly sunny and calm sea weekend. Throughout the sampling period we were also allowed to bring some “curious minds”  on board who were also eager to enjoy the magnificent landscape view and also invite us to have some quick espresso and pistachio cookies (thank you Moritz)!

Ben Frederiks completed his stay as field assistant last Monday to join Antigua’s guided tour along the West Spitsbergen coast starting at Longyearbyen. We still didn’t get any news from Ben but we could check the last itinerary of the schooner heading south on Maritime Traffic website. We hope he’s having a blast at this moment sailing over the Greenland Sea on such a beautiful boat!

Great views of Kongsfjorden from Blomstrand island © Ariadna Szczybelski

At the same moment Ben was leaving, Noël Diepens came to take Ben’s place. Noël quickly adapted herself to my surprise saving some time to play basketball with other scientists and testing the climbing wall on her first day at the station. She had obviously time to get the attention of other shy amateur climbers and these started to join her after dinner time (smart girl). We think this could derive into something more exciting over the next weeks ;)

Noël joined us on board during the third and last week of sampling when a seemingly weird phenomenon (or just bad luck on the previous sampling days) happened. For the general understanding, I will make a short recap of what the sampling plan was before we even arrived at the station. From the beginning we chose different benthic species with different feeding habits to focus on based on sampling results during summer of 2013; namely Astarte borealis (filter feeder), Macoma calcarea (deposit feeder) and Nephtys ciliata (omnivorous) (check previous posts on this blog). I should say I was also a bit skeptic of finding these same species in the same numbers as in summer time and this was exactly what happened with Nephtys sp. and Macoma sp.  

The latter ones would normally account for 10-40 individuals and 10-30 individuals per sampling day, respectively, which brings up a lot of uncertainty on how to make the most of your experimental set up when you didn’t get enough replicates even after your second week of sampling. Then, as if by magic, Macoma and Nephtys started to emerge from the third week when we were still lacking four days to finish our available time on board. To give you an idea of our happiness, we started to collect Nephtys individuals of up to 10-15 cm long (sometimes two or more of these came up in the same grab!) whereas in the previous weeks we barely could find an individual exceeding 4-5 cm.

We, however, started to strategically collect after the first week of sampling another filter feeder (Ciliatocardium ciliatum) and another deposit feeder (Nuculana pernula) to cover our backs. But why these? Well, Macoma and Nephtys were not randomly chosen neither. ARCIND PhD project intends to not only compare the inter-specific differences among these Arctic species with different ecological traits in terms of organic pollutants sensitivity, but also to compare their response towards these substances with the likely induced response in Atlantic counterpart species such as Macoma balthica and Nereis virens (long-term exposure experiments have been carried out at IMARES Yerseke facilities in summer 2014). We then thought choosing Ciliatocardium and Nuculana was a quick movement since the response of both would be comparable to other similar species response as Cerastoderma edule’s (common cockle) and/or Nuculana minuta’s (minute nutclam).

So all in all we got a very decent list of caught individuals if you compare the available and the (needed) individuals for our current exposure experiments: 689 (450) A. borealis, 261 (280) N. ciliata, 175 (150) M. calcarea, 150 (170) C. ciliatum and 148 (150) N. pernula.

We, of course, had time to celebrate the end of the sampling season for ARCIND project and the Teisten working season at Ny-Ålesund in excellent company (see picture below), but also the scientific committee had organised the Arctic version of the Oktoberfest which, I have to say, can be the envy of many other countries’ version of this German party event.

To all the people that made our work possible and really enjoyable during these last three weeks: takk for innsatsen, du er den beste!

                                           From left to right: Ariadna Szczybelski, Noël Diepens and Axel Meldahl © Ariadna Szczybelski

zaterdag 13 september 2014

How to survive: "an Arctic weekend"

A few days ago, the experiment of one of the German Phd-students was ended. She conducted experiments with spider crabs from the fjord, and it was time to release them. Great excuse for a crab race! In the afternoon, a large group of scientists and Kingsbay people gathered at the pier in the harbour. Wine, beers and lollypops (yes, you read it right) were provided and everyone chose his/hers favourite crab, named it, and lined it up at the start line. I regret to inform you that Angela Merkel lost the race, she had a great start, but slowly crawled back towards the start line… Django won the race, the little crustacean was by far the fastest. And now, all the crabs are happily released in the fjord again.
The crab race, many tears were shed during this afternoon ©Ariadna Szczybelski

So in between work, we do have a lot of fun, with other stations as well. And that’s not a coincidence, most of the work we conduct is in cooperation with other nationalities. Call it a benefit of working in a small village with inhabitants out of 25 different nations.

The crab race was during dry weather, this story however, is about: “how to survive bad weather or free time”. In case of bad weather it is always possible to work indoors, finish that one paper or analyse data. And when that's finished, there are plenty of activities Ny-Ålesund has to offer.

Quite often a movie night is organised, the AWIPEV station is used a lot for this purpose since it houses a beamer and large screen. Do keep in mind that the movies shown are not always worth a try, Harold and Maude (1972) and episodes of Shaun the sheep have a lot of fans here up North, I think I’m in danger while writing this. Anyhow, it is always a lot of fun to do something with others to spend free time.

Several huts in and around Kongsfjorden © Ben Frederiks
In the weekends old hunter huts can be visited, you can spent the night for the weekend and make hikes to other areas around the fjord. These huts are often reserved by people who want to escape the chaos of the weekend (especially during summer, when the amount of landing tourists can count up to 3000). Luckily, there are a lot of huts and cabins placed in  the area and it is a great experience to visit another place in the fjord sometimes.

For the one person who’s more into physical activities, there are plenty of mountains and glaciers to conquer and trails to walk and it is always possible to visit the local gym, a large hall with basketball field and gym machines. The same building houses a huge collection of DVD’s and a sauna, pretty neat combination… For the hard core movie fan who’s seen it all, there is always Netflix. So there is not a chance that you’ll be found doing nothing in this small northern village.

Why this topic? Well, Ny-Ålesund is this weekend the epicentre of bad weather, at the moment hard gusts make the houses tremble on their foundations and it’s raining cats and dogs. On Sunday it is expected to snow again big time. Thus, work on the Teisten is not an option, and we’re perfectly on schedule with the lab-work. There’s only one thing we can say for now: Have a great weekend!

woensdag 10 september 2014

Back in Ny-Ålesund , the Bioindicator team!

Alright, we do apologize for this late message. But as usual we have been occupied with experiments, labwork and an occaisional beer since we landed last thursday. Therefore, we take this moment to inform you all that we are doing just fine. Here's our story...

Who are we again? We are Ariadna Szczybelski and Ben Frederiks, last year we have visited Spitsbergen during summer to start the fieldwork period on the Arctic archipelago. Now we are back again to do the very same job for Ariadna's Phd-project, Ben is an assisting field researcher and later on Noël Diepens will join too.

Shortly explained, Ariadna's Phd research is dedicated to monitor the effect of pollution by offshore oil exploitation in Arctic regions. This effect can be monitored by exposing organisms (that are common in the area) to the pollutants, these organisms are therefore the so-called bioindicators. During this research we expose 2 species of bivalves and one polychaete (worm) species to clean and contaminated sediment. By doing so, the effect of toxicity can be monitored.

Dutch Arctic station in a snowy landscape © Ben Frederiks 

The entire experiment is situated in two climate rooms in the marine lab of Kings Bay AS (Ny-Ålesund), conveniently located at the entrance of the harbour. This is where the laboratory part of the fieldwork is conducted. 
The actual fieldwork is taking place onboard the Teisten, a 30 foot workingboat that can bring us anywhere in the fjord.We collect the organisms by lowering a grab to the bottom of the fjord between 15 and 40 metres. Whatever the grab brings up is sieved, sorted and taken back to the lab. 

Ariadna working on the Teisten during snowfall. © Ben Frederiks 
So, something more about the area. Last year we arrived in june, now we are here during late summer/fall. The same area is completely different, colours have faded and a cold wind reminds you of an approaching winter. Last Tuesday heavy clouds brought in snow, which covered the area with a white blanket. Axel, the captain of the Teisten explained to us that skiing was already possible at the beginning of october last year. So it seems winter is not far away anymore. It does allow you to make beautiful pictures of the area, but it can be quite chilly, for example when working on the boat, out in the open fjord.
But then again, we're in the Arctic, and prepared for it, no complains from our side!
Since we are late in the season the Dutch station is closed, simply because it's too cold. Ariadna and I currently sleep in the hotel, which is fine as well. The amount of people has shrunk to approximately 80 persons, giving the village a more cosy ambience. 

So, this is a short update of our staying in Ny-Ålesund. We are more than pleased to be back in town, it is a great experience and in the next weeks we will keep you up to date of our activities.

Cheers from a snowy Ny-Ålesund,
Ariadna & Ben

Yes we're back! Ariadna was actually wearing clogs © Ben Frederiks

dinsdag 5 augustus 2014

Arctic adventure approaching the end

An overview of Ny-Alesund
Time flies in Ny-Alesund. The last days  have been very busy. Interviews with Fang Peng, the Chinese station leader, Fabio Giardi, the Italian station leader, Aaron Russ, the expedition leader on board of Le Boréal for Abercrombie & Kent, Asne Dolve Meyer, the general advisor of Kings Bay, Ole Oiseth, the director of Kings Bay and Sébastien Barrault, the research advisor of Kings Bay and the previous station leader of the joined German- French AWIPEV (German Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the French Polar Institute Paul Emile Victor (IPEV)) research station. The last persons on my interview list are Bjorn Eirik Norman, the field inspector on behalf of the Governor of Svalbard in Ny-Alesund and Maarten Loonen from the Dutch research station. Hopefully I will manage to talk to them tomorrow.
Greenpeace visit with Emma Thompson and Michelle Thrush
Almost every day a cruise ship visited Ny-Alesund, so I joined tours with Le Boréal on behalf of Abercrombie & Kent and with the Quest on behalf of Polar Quest and Polar-Kreuzfahrten. Le Boréal is one of the more luxurious cruise ships, owned by Compagnie du Ponant. We were lucky, because all the harbour workers and me got a tour on board. It is a really fancy cruise ship with a concert room, a spa, a fitness room with a view on the stunning landscape, a piano and library room... This tour made it worth to get up early in the morning on the only day so far I could have staid longer in bed. On Saturday a special ship visited Ny-Alesund. Greenpeace's Esperanza is performing a communication campaign in the Arctic with Emma Thompson, a famous British actrice, and Michelle Thrush, a Canadian actrice and activist and their daughters on board. Ny-Alesund was one of the places they visited in their Arctic journey and I was lucky enough to join them on their tour through town. 
Sunday evening tradition
Of course I also enjoyed some free time. Saturday evening the whole town gathered at the bar. That reminds me of another interesting fact I have to tell you about Svalbard. You can only buy one crate of beer and two bottles of liquor a month. Wine, however, you can buy unlimited. If I want to buy a drink here, I have to show my boarding pass and they will stamp it. If you come here by boat, you do not have a boarding pass. So in order to be able to buy alcohol, you have to get permission from the Governor of Svalbard. Another tradition on Ny-Alesund is the Sunday evening swim. After the swim, which is more like a dip, you run to the car and drive to the preheated sauna to enjoy a beer. As I am only here one Sunday, I did not have another choice, I had to participate. It was not as cold as I expected it to be, I could still feel my toes. Tonight I went to a lecture about the history (1916-2014) of Kings Bay, the state owned company which coordinates activities at Ny-Alesund, by Rolf Hanoa, professor at the University of Bergen. He will write a book about the history of Kings Bay for its hundred anniversary in 2016.
Tomorrow will be by last day in Ny-Alesund. On Thursday I will fly back to Oslo to spend another five days there. In Oslo I will try to arrange interviews with WWF Arctic Programme, the Department of Polar Affairs, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and the Northern Research Institute. Other reasons to look forward to go to Oslo are to enjoy the real summer and the urban setting. It seems like my unique Arctic adventure is reaching its end, but I enjoyed every bit of it. 

vrijdag 1 augustus 2014

Field work in the world's most Northern settlement

Welcome in Ny-Alesund, the world's most Northern settlement. When I arrived in this truly northern town surrounded by an amazing landscape of mountains covered with snow, the fjord, glaciers and tundra, I did not expect it was so well equipped. Different countries have research stations here: Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, China, South Korea, India and Italy. To ensure the community feeling, Kings Bay, which coordinates activities in Ny-Alesund, provides a canteen where the whole town shares breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, there is a gym and a sauna. Everything that is going on in town is listed on a board, so you stay updated on different research projects and social activities.
My daily view in Ny-Alesund
However safety comes first. Every researcher has to take the safety training for polar bear protection. No exception for me. It is quite an adventure to take this course. After an indoor lecture, we practiced shooting standing and kneeling and trying to shoot three bullets within a 15 seconds frame, in case a polar bear would be nearby. Afterwards we also learned to use the flaregun which makes a lot of noise and smoke to scare the polar bear away. It is good that I took this training, because this morning at 7 o clock, when most people where still asleep, including me, a polar bear wandered through town. The two years old polar bear behaved well, crossed town and swam accross the fjord. No need to scare him off. Although I have not seen him, it is rather strange to know that he passed by when I was asleep.
Linde shooting and the safety training
After this training, field work could start. So far I have joined three trips through town with expedition cruise tourists coming on shore from Ortelius and Plancius of Oceanwide Expeditions and with the Fram from Hurtigruten. I also continued my interview schedule. As difficult as it sometimes was to catch people for interviews in Longyearbyen, as easy it is up here. It is so small and you share three meals a day with everyone, which makes finding interviewees rather simple. Up til now I had interviews with Dag Lennart Andersson, the harbour master of Ny-Alesund, Philipp Schaudy, expedition leader of the Plancius of Oceanwide Expeditions, with Nick Cox, the station leader of the British research station, with Marta Karoline Jansen, the station leader of the Norwegian research station, with Yoo Kyung Lee, the station leader of the Korean research station and with Shadé Barka Martins and Silvie Galli, summer helpers of Kings Bay at the shop in Ny-Alesund. Another interesting part for my field work was to join the vegetation monitoring project in relation to trampling by cruise tourists, coordinated by Dagmar Hagen from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. Actually Dagmar is also supervising my research here, as you need a Norwegian collaboration partner to apply for the Arctic Field Grant which I received from the Svalbard Science Forum to conduct this research. Five years ago they set out trajects in the unique cultural heritage site London on the other side of Kongsfjorden and near the Nobile mast in Ny-Alesund. Of course tourists cannot know they are being monitored, therefore nails are put in the ground to mark the paths. The most difficult part was to find back these nails after five years. Luckily the metal detector and my natural searching talent made sure whe found back all nails. Afterwards we registered vegetation and tracks or damage by humans, reindeer and geese for plots. Near the Nobile mast we investigated if the path became deeper or wider.
Linde joining vegetation monitoring in relation to
 trampling by  cruise tourists at the London site
Field work occupies most of my time up here, as you never know when people are available for an interview. It is a good thing that I am rather flexible. Transcribing interviews is as well a time consuming job, but I prefer to do it now, in order not to loose information. Of course there is also time for socializing. Wednesday evening the bar Mellageret (i.e. flour storage) opens for a hotdog and beer evening. The curtains are closed in the bar to create a cozy atmosphere. At the end of the evening, the curtains are opened again. A really strange feeling to face daylight after a cozy evening and before going to bed. I also like to enjoy the sauna in the evening. Even in the sauna or in the bar I manage to make interview appointments. What do you expect in such a small community? This afternoon I gave a presentation about my research for the Svalbardkurset 2014. This is a 10 day crash course about Svalbard for Norwegian employees of Ministries, tourism business, lawyers, policy makers...whom's job is somehow connected to Svalbard. As you can read, many exciting things happen in the world's most Northern settlement.

maandag 28 juli 2014

Participatory observations on the expedition cruise ship MV Ortelius

From the second I entered my Twin Porthole cabin at the expedition cruise ship Ortelius, I regretted that I could only stay for one day. At the same time I felt excited and very welcome. 80 passengers and 40 crew members, a very luxury ratio as you ask me.
Linde on board of the MV Ortelius
We started off our journey with a safety briefing and an exercise with life jackets. Afterwards we left the port of Longyearbyen to sail in to the fjords. I spend some time on the bridge with the captain and I met someone that was working in the cruise industry, but was currently enjoying a trip with his family. It is very easy to meet people on this type of crew. People are quite interested in nature and wildlife and eager to hear about other passengers' travelling adventures and wildlife encounters. Afterwards there was a briefing on food and drinks by the hotel manager, a toast with champagne and warm snacks on behalf of the captain and an introduction to the crew. The crew came from all over the world (Great Britain, Schotland, Australia, Canada, Spain, Belgium...) and covered also different disciplines like marine biology, polar history...  After dinner I got a bit tired, but tried to stay awake to see some wildlife. The crew told me we would soon enter a good area to spot whales as they had seen blue whales there the day before. It was worth to stay awake. We spotted two blue whales, which we saw pop up four to five times with 6 to 7 minute time lapse in between. Amazing to spot the world's largest species blow-outs, fins and tails. It made my day. 
The 14th of July glacier
The next day we got a briefing on environmental guidelines and a zodiac cruise explanation. We put this in practice by enjoying a zodiac trip to the 14th of July glacier. A stunning view with the mountains covered with snow, the blue glacier and the green tundra next to it. The bird droppings fertilize the cliffs which become very green. We saw Arctic reindeer, pink-footed geese and black-legged kittiwake. After lunch we continued our trip to Ny-Alesund, the research community at 79°N. Passengers explored the village, which only opens its shop and post office when tourists come in town. Afterwards they got a historical tour to the Nobile mast, as Ny-Alesund is the starting point of many attempts to reach the North Pole by famous explorers like Amundsen, Ellsworth and Nobile. In the meantime I managed to get an interview with Jim Mayer, the expedition leader of Ortelius. In Ny-Alesund I will spend the next ten days conducting interviews with expedition leaders, researchers from the different research stations, the Norwegian Polar Institute and Kings Bay. In addition I will investigate the tours expedition cruise tourists take through the village. I will tell you all about this in the next blog.