Field blog

The benthic view

By Roxane Richard

I am a master student from Paris and I came to Tromsø for my 2 months internship at Akvaplan-Niva. This cruise was for me many new experiences at the same time and I would like to describe my feelings about it.

My very first time in the Arctic! My very first cruise! And the northernmost location that I have ever been! I spent 12 days with a bunch of scientists that did not know each other before, from different backgrounds, different nationalities, different locations and different ages! But I was quite surprised how the group mix. As we work day and night, it seems a crazy scientist’s cruise. But the sunlight during the night was absolutely worth it!

As part of the benthos group (Nathalie, Maeve, Basia and Roxane), after all our muddy sampling and experiment that everybody made fun, we worked on respiration, macrofauna and bioturbation. We also keep some samples for organic matter, nutrients and pigments content.

Hoping that we can see real differences between fjords and marginal ice zone...

Maeve (left) and Basia (right) with their benthos sample. Picture by Ivan Gromicho

Maeve (left) and Basia (right) with their benthos sample.
Picture by Ivan Gromicho

Full action with the benthic samples. Picture by Ivan Gromicho

Full action with the benthic samples. Picture by Ivan Gromicho


In Polar Bear country

In Polar Bear Country. Picture by Ivan Gromicho

In Polar Bear Country. Picture by Ivan Gromicho

By Jeffrey Krause, University Alabama, USA

I had seen a polar bear twice in United States zoos; however, seeing one in the wild was exhilarating.  I am amazed by the sheer size of the animal, these bears are enormous.  It is a rare opportunity to see a great predator and not be in danger (i.e. seeing from the ship).  The two details which surprised me most were it's appearance and movement.  The color of its fur was more yellowish than I expected, which I was told was due to it being stained by oils from its seal prey over the hunting season.  Additionally, this bear moved almost effortlessly among ice; this animal is clearly well adapted for the ice environment.  This encounter was unforgettable and I feel fortunate for the opportunity to see the polar bear in its domain.


The spring bloom is in full swing

(text by Philipp Assmy)

Hanna, Lasse, Mar, and Philipp from the Norwegian Polar Institute study the world of microscopic algae floating in the water column (phytoplankton) and living inside the sea ice (ice algae).

The NPI team enjoying the visit of the Polish Research Station in Hornsund (from left to right: Mar, Hanna, Philipp and Lasse, picture by Morten Iversen)

The NPI team enjoying the visit of the Polish Research Station in Hornsund (from left to right: Mar, Hanna, Philipp and Lasse, picture by Morten Iversen)

The ARCEx cruise comes just at the right timing for us as we observed the phytoplankton spring bloom at various stages of development at the stations we occupied so far. The world of the phytoplankton fully reveals itself under the microscope with its multitude of species that come in various sizes and shapes. At most stations during the ARCEx cruise, the phytoplankton community was dominated by a mix of diatoms and Phaeocystis pouchetii.

Overview pictures taken at low magnification (40x) showing a diatom dominated (A) and a Phaeocystis (B) dominated community (Phaeocystis colony highlighted with red arrow). Chain-forming diatoms under transmitted light (C&E) and excited with UV-light showing the autofluorescence of their chloroplasts (D&F). Scale bar in A corresponds to 0.5 mm and in C-F to 0.1 mm. (pictures by Philipp Assmy).

Overview pictures taken at low magnification (40x) showing a diatom dominated (A) and a Phaeocystis (B) dominated community (Phaeocystis colony highlighted with red arrow). Chain-forming diatoms under transmitted light (C&E) and excited with UV-light showing the autofluorescence of their chloroplasts (D&F). Scale bar in A corresponds to 0.5 mm and in C-F to 0.1 mm. (pictures by Philipp Assmy).

Diatoms live inside a glass house made of silica and make long cell chains under favorable growth conditions while P. pouchetii forms large (>1 mm in diameter) floating colonies containing hundreds of individual cells. Both taxa are the working horses of the Arctic marine ecosystem as they build up a lot of biomass in spring that feeds pelagic grazers but also transport organic matter from sunlit surface waters into the deep ocean and eventually to the seafloor. These linkages are studied by our colleagues from UiT and Akvaplan-niva and our international partners, making this cruise a truly interdisciplinary experience. Apart from counting phytoplankton under the microscope, we study their production rates and optical properties and perform manipulation experiments in the lab to study the combined effects of light, nutrients and grazers on phytoplankton community composition (see also earlier blog).

Unfortunately, we were less lucky with respect to ice algae due to the unusually poor ice conditions for this time of the year. We steamed into a large patch of sea ice southeast of Nordaustlandet to find an appropriate ice floe for an extended ice station, but ice turned out to be highly fragmented and the swell was quite considerable. A proper ice station was thus not possible but the distinct brown color of the ice and slush prompted us to collect material for closer inspection. So, we decided to use the ice we have – and take our samples there.

Mar and Philipp using the transporting basket on the crane to get to the ice floe (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann).

Mar and Philipp using the transporting basket on the crane to get to the ice floe (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann).

And, it turned out that the sea ice community was composed of an interesting mix of diatoms, flagellates and green algae that awaits further investigation – making the “ice soup” a very unusual and exciting ice environment to study.


Clear sky with a drone and a good chance of seals

R/V Helmer Hanssen in the amazing Hornsund surroundings. Credits: Ana Sofia Aniceto and Martin Biuw

R/V Helmer Hanssen in the amazing Hornsund surroundings. Credits: Ana Sofia Aniceto and Martin Biuw

Yesterday we spent the night in Hornsund, and while some of the team were busy with van Veen grabs and box corers, the drone team (Ana Sofia and Martin) together with Daniel and Jana (sound artist) took the small boat Røde Reke out for a trip find some seals to film and record. The weather was brilliant; flat sea, ice floes, and a warm sun. We couldn't have asked for more! After a bit of searching, Jana could hear bearded seals far away, using her hydrophones. We decided to head towards one of the large glaciers in the fjord and try to locate them. We detected a bearded seal pup on an ice floe a few hundred meters away from our small boat and we calmly and quietly landed on a larger floe some distance away. Ana Sofia and Martin prepared the drone for takeoff from the ice floe, while Jana was listening from the boat. We made the first flight and could see the drone flying over the seal with the naked eye, but we could not see the seal in the drone image – where was it then? On the second flight we saw a seal swimming near an ice floe and decided to film it for a bit. Suddenly, something started moving on that ice floe and we immediately saw that it was another seal. This must have been the seal we first saw, but laying with its pale belly upwards making it difficult to see against the ice. So, it turned out we had a bearded seal mother in the water and her pup resting on the floe! We stayed with them for a few more minutes and brought the drone to a lower altitude to see them a bit better while the mother was guarding the pup. Soon after, the pup went into the water and we recorded some quite lovely moments between the two just before the drone battery started to report that it was time to go back and end the day. Jana did not hear the two seals under the water, even when they came towards us after the drone had landed. A good demonstration that sometimes marine mammals may be present but don't vocalize. This was definitely a day that will stay in our memories for a long time.

«kissing» bearded seals in Hornsund. Credits: Ana Sofia Aniceto and Martin Biuw

«kissing» bearded seals in Hornsund. Credits: Ana Sofia Aniceto and Martin Biuw

(text by ARCEx PhD student Ana Sofia Aniceto)


Short visit at the Polish Research Station in Hornsund

By Emma Källgren

This is my first visit to Svalbard (which is super exiting in itself) and so far I have spent less than one hour on solid ground before boarding R/V Helmer Hansen and the ARCEx cruise 2016. But today that was about to change. On May 20th, I and my fellow scientists had a little slack-time in the sampling schedule and we used the opportunity to visit the Polish research station in Hornsund.

Hornsund_1_small

We suited up and the crew drove us onshore where we were met by the Polish scientists. The Polish crew managing the research station had lived there for the past 11 months and we were their third visit ship in two days. There had been more polar bear sightings then visitors, so they were very happy to show us around. Taking my first real steps in polar bear country I was breath taken by the wonderful nature surrounding the research station. The residential glacier was one of the features which majestically rushed into the ocean and the small ice bergs were drifting into the bay made the whole scenery surreal. When I pictured Svalbard from my office in Tromsø, I thought of snow covered mountains and ice, but I could never had imagined the sight that played out in front of me.

Hornsund_2_small

After a tour inside the research station and greeting the husky puppies, that had been born this past winter we all set out for a country stroll. Less than 1 kilometer away, the Polish scientists had risen a wooden cross near water and this was our destination.

Hornsund_3_small

After a few days on board R/V Helmer Hansen it was nice to stretch or legs and breath in fresh air. As we walked, several species of birds flew past and a few snow balls. Arriving at the monument I quickly realized that the wooden cross was probably put up there for the Polish scientists living on the station to have a place of prayer. The wooden carving placed there together with other religious ornaments made little hill very peaceful and spiritual.

Hornsund_4_small

But all good things must come to an end and since the time were closing up to our next sampling station we had to get back to the ship. After this wonderful little excursion, everyone is back onboard R/V Helmer Hansen in great spirits and eager to continue our ARCEx cruise and experiments.


R/V Helmer Hanssen turns into an ice-breaker

(Text: Ingrid Wiedmann)

In van Mijenfjorden, we also deployed a sediment trap array, which consists of a surface buoyancy, a long rope and an anchor at the bottom.

Schematic drawing of the sediment trap array (graphic by Ingrid Wiedmann)

Schematic drawing of the sediment trap array (graphic by Ingrid Wiedmann)

At different depths (20-40 m) the sediment trap cylinders are placed and they collect the sinking material during the deployment time of approx. 18-24 h.

While the sediment traps were deployed in van Mijenfjorden, a major ice floe loosened from the land fast ice and drifted towards the trap array. We are afraid that we could loose the equipment, when the ice floe would tear the rope apart. Another potential scenario would have been that the ice floe would have covered the surface buoy, and thus the equipment would have been out of sight for us and could be lost.

John, the skipper of R/V Helmer Hanssen, thus got a very special task on his birthday: He turned Helmer Hanssen into an ice breaker and went back and forth to crush the ice. In this way, the ice mainly drifted around the anchored sediment trap and we could recover it nicely after 18 h of deployment.

Sediment trap array threatened by the ice floe (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann)

Sediment trap array threatened by the ice floe (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann)

 


Action in van Mijenfjorden

(Text: Ingrid Wiedmann)

The main sampling program of the ARCEx cruise started after few hours of steaming in van Mijenfjorden. This fjord has all the past years been ice-covered during winter and spring, but this year was special. Sea ice did not form before February/ March and covered only the very innermost part of the fjord. Thus, it was possible for us to reach the inner basin of van Mijenfjorden with R/V Helmer Hanssen and do a comprehensive sampling. We collected physical data, such as water temperature, salinity, density and water currents as well as a lot of water samples and plankton nets.

The water samples from depths between surface and 60 m were partly processed by our dear filtration team Emma and Sigrid (also known as “filtøsene”).

 

The amazing filtration team Sigrid and Emma (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann)

The amazing filtration team Sigrid and Emma (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann)

They spent hours to filtering water on paper filters and freeze them. Once back at the University of Tromsø these filters will be further processed and in this way, we get an idea about the amount of autotrophic biomass (= microscopic algae) in the water. This helps us to determine, if e.g., the grazers in the water have enough “food” available.

Looking deeper into the link between algae and grazers, our colleagues from the Norwegian Polar Institute also set up a major experiment. They collected 240 L of water and divided the water into 24 different bottles. Copepods, a small crustacean grazer living in the water column, was added to some bottles and all the bottles were put into different light conditions. In this way, Mar, Hanna, Philipp and Lasse can mimic different ecological situations and they will be able to get new insights into the importance of the algae composition and grazers in an Arctic, which is just about to turn from a seasonal ice-covered fjord to a year-round ice-free fjord.

Incubation bottles of the experiment conducted colleagues from the Norwegian Polar Institute (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann)

Incubation bottles of the experiment conducted colleagues from the Norwegian Polar Institute (picture by Ingrid Wiedmann)


Last minute change of plans

Everybody, who has been on a reserach cruise knows that there will be sampling plan. However, there will also occur changes, and then there will be the revision of the sampling plan, and the revision of the revision and so on.

The ARCEx cruise already had a change in the plan, before we started from Longyearbyen on 17.5.

Chief scientist Paul Wassmann became unfortunately sick, and thus myself had to take over as cruise leader. For an early carrier scientist like me this is quite a big thing, because this means that I am the one deciding on what to do where and come up with alternative sampling plans.

However, with the well-experienced crew of the research vessel Helmer Hanssen and a nice group of 22 scientists and 2 artists, I was rather comfortable to take the task and I am looking forward to a great cruise and loads of new findings in the fjords of Svalbard (van Mijenfjorden, Hornsund, Storfjorden) and the Barents Sea.

(Text: Ingrid Wiedmann, ARCEx PostDoc)


Gratulerer med dagen

17_MayMay 17 is likely the biggest national celebration event for Norway: its National Constitution Day. Houses, cars, boats, bicycles, they all fly the Norwegian colors. All around the country schoolchildren and daycare kids parade through villages and towns, singing “Ja, vi elsker dette landet…” - together with school music bands, proud parents, and the entire community. Everything is in blue, red and white colors, including the nail polish of young girls, and balloons. The kids are treated to candy, ice cream and chocolate, even when the snow is falling, while the proud parents eat cake and drink strong black coffee. Everybody is dressed with the most fanciest clothing – Norwegian adults wearing their location typical bunad while kids take hours in the morning to prepare for THE day to be dressed as special as possible.

All this happened for nearly everybody in Norway, except for us.  Our Tromsø group left our homes right before the action started to drive to the airport and fly around noon to Svalbard. There we boarded the ship and a completely different kind of activity started. Instead of parades, children, and hip-hip-hooray, we were dealing with boxes, boxes and more boxes to unpack in order to prepare our floating labs for the first oceanographic sampling. We left port at 5pm after a brief introduction into ship safety and guiding words by our chief scientist Ingrid about the upcoming sampling events.

Everybody is in a good mood – also because we actually did get a delicious cake at 4pm, served in the ship’s mess. It was delicious.

A few more hours, and nearly all the unpacking will be done, and then the everlasting sequence of sampling, filtration, sediment sorting, experiments will start, dominating our lives until May 29.

(Text and photo: Rolf Gradinger, UiT)


Looking for answers in Arctic waters - ARCEx research cruise 17.-29.6.2016

ARCEx aims for advances in the environmental risk management. However, to provide a risk assessment, which is well-tailored to the unique exploration and future operational challenges in the Arctic, it is essential to have a solid understanding of Arctic marine ecosystems. As especially the physical and ecological processes in the marginal ice zone of Arctic seas are still not well understood, ARCEx provides ship time (R/V “Helmer Hanssen”) in May 2016 to improve the understanding of this system. During the 12 days cruise, the ARCEx postdocs Ingrid Wiedmann (UiT The Arctic University of Norway) and Nathalie Morata (Akvaplan-niva, APN) as well as the ARCEx PhD student Ana Sofia Ancieto (APN) will conduct field based research in fjords on Svalbard and the marginal ice zone of the western Barents Sea. The three young women are accompanied by a team of national and international scientists from UiT, APN, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Institute for Marine Research (Norway), the University of Bremen (Germany), the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST, Saudi Arabia), Dauphin Island Sea Lab (US) and IOPAN (Poland). In a joint approach, the 25 scientists will address various aspects related to ARCEx work package 3.1 (Ecosystems connected to benthos), 3.2 (Pelagic ecosystems and vertical export) and 4.1 (Constraints for geophysical exploration in ecological vulnerable areas). This will help to fill gaps of knowledge and provide valuable input to the development of a new environmental risk management plan. For more detailed information on the cruise, the participating scientists, and the work on the boat, please stay tuned and follow our cruise blog in May!

(text and pictures: Ingrid Wiedmann)

Loading scientific equipment in Longyearbyen on R/V Helmer Hanssen

Loading scientific equipment in Longyearbyen on R/V Helmer Hanssen

R/V Helmer Hanssen in drift ice with Svalbard at the horizon

R/V Helmer Hanssen in drift ice with Svalbard at the horizon


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