vrijdag 26 juli 2013

Meanwhile at "the office"

Yes, as usual we have been busy again!
Instead of working outside in the fjord it seems that our daily routine is occupied with "inside work".
From dusk to dawn (or from 0:900 to 23:00) Ariadna and I are working in the Marine lab located next to the Ny-Alesund harbour.

Warm clothing, music and Zooplankton..We'll manage!
©Ariadna Szczybelski
The bioindicator project is running smoothly, this week all organisms will be weight and measured, freeze-dried and sent to Holland!

The Ballast-water project is also going as planned, tests are up and running and the results are looking good. Tests are performed inside a climate room at 2°C, which is just fine for the tested organisms (Zooplankton), but chilly for the one who has to monitor them daily! But then again, we are on the North pole, it should be chilly!

The Arctic fox, a nice suprise! 
©Brigitte Weiss 
Something else that is only found in the Arctic regions and which showed up last night is the Arctic fox! Walking around the tundra and in our backyard! Our German Colleague grabbed her camera and made amazing pictures. I had the same plan but I could not find it... But it is amazing to see such wildlife so close.

The upcoming days we will be enjoying the Marine lab, doing our research and hopefully encounter some other nice wildlife. Have a great weekend!

vrijdag 19 juli 2013

The week of succes!

It's friday! We finished our sampling on the Teisten and Ariadna is as we speak (or as I write) busy with the dissection of her newfound organisms! Meanwhile I am entering data and writing this story about the horror and adventures of this week...

Enjoying lunch in between hours of hard labour, sorry Ari...
© Ben Frederiks
With the Teisten we moved back and forth the Kongsfjord this week, sampling at every possible point that could deliver us "the goods". And it was quite a task to get enough organisms for Ariadna, long days on the boat it were, but we managed to get a sufficient amount and Ariadna is the happiest girl in town!

The Teisten during nice weather
©Ben Frederiks

On the picture you can see Ariadna enjoying her lunch on the boat while watchting the astonishing views we encounter during our boat-trips during nice weater, it has not always been nice though...
But the days of hardship are over, weather was great yesterday and today so we could get ourselves a tan while being on the boat!

Even more good news this week: The expected cargo has finally landed in Ny-Alesund, hence the Ballast Water tests are officially starting! This going to be one of the main activities for the upcoming week, we are also going to start the process of freeze drying all the samples taken from the fjord before we sent them to the Netherlands for further research.

The next thing on this schedule is a good night of sleep...Goodnight!

dinsdag 16 juli 2013

-9 just the way we like it

Horrible horrible weather! With hard winds and high waves we faced the freezing temperatures of -9! At least, it felt that cold...it was even showed on the weatherforecast... Nevertheless we are out on the Kongsfjord this week, from Monday till Friday we will work 'till we drop in our search for benthic organisms.
The organisms caught will be disected in the lab, freeze-dryed and shipped to the Netherlands where further
Iceberg with Ny-Alesund in the back, even during work nice
pictures can be made. 
©Ben Frederiks
research will be performed on these organisms at the IMARES departments in Den Helder and Yerseke.

The workingday is not over after a long day on the ship, Ariadna and I (Ben) both have our projects that still need daily attention, this means working late and a lot less sleep than usual. The Tests on Ballastwater biocides were a bit delayed but while improvising one test is up and running..almost worth a celebration!

And on Thursday all materials will finally arrive! That means that there is one usefull week left to perform tests on Ballast water Biocides, a lot less time we've hoped for, but we'll make the best of it!

By the way, there is a new funfact...Last night a mother bear with cub was spotted near the pub "mellageret', that's very close to the Dutch station! It will probably be back this night, time to get our camera's ready!

vrijdag 12 juli 2013

Working, waiting, moving and polarbears!

Spitsbergen (or Svalbard, whatever you fancy) is not such an easy place to work as a scientist, that's at least what we have found out in the last week. Materials and shipments seems to be always in delay. And that one item you forgot to take with you on you're journey is the one you need the most...

This is regarding to my (Ben) experiments, the parcel that left the Netherlands 2 weeks ago was to be delivered on the 11th of July from the cargoship that provides the village with it's monthly supplies. Luckily the ship arrived, but my "stuff" is stuck in Tromsø, why is not clear but after a lot of phonecalls, Emails and money my parcel should be on it's way now...for real this time!

Being busy in the lab creates a messs
Despite the lack of materials the tests concerning the efficiency of Ballastwater biocides starts today, tough with another biocide and a lot of improvising, but that is the way things go in the Arctic. If all is going as planned the parcel will arrive on monday which will make things a lot easier.

But writing a sad  story in Ny-Alesund is impossible, too many good things happen! As I mentioned earlier, the supply-vessel arrived! This means that fresh fruit, meat, veggies and ofcourse toilet paper are once again abundant in the most Northern village! Dinner has always been excellent but some small things are only served when the ship has visited town, making dinner even better!

London 2, moved towards it's new location
Don't worry, we won't come back 10 kilo's heavier, that's because we work so hard! Ariadna's experiment is going as planned. One of her objectives is to gather as much organisms as possible and to sent them to Holland for further analysis, this is scheduled for next week and it will take quite some while to gather the goods. This week it is vital to keep on checking the water quality that is used for her tests.

This week London 2, one of the 4 "english style" houses was removed from it's location and put 10 metres further in the street. The building is being renovated and that is quite a task, lifting a house is not something you see daily but it does make good pictures! The placement is only for a short while, when the foundation has been renovated it will be located back again.

London 2, still at it's original location 
To finish for today, at around midnight two polar bears where spotted on a small island near the village, after a short swim they came ashore and walked towards the village to have a look around. But then the watchmen arrived and scared them off.. Those guys really deserve the name "Watchmen" since we slept trough the night and didn't hear a thing....

zondag 7 juli 2013

Waiting and livin' on the edge!

Since working on the boat is done we are now in the Marine lab mostly, this building is the absolutely perfect example of how complete a lab can be, it has several climate rooms, working areas and much more. But it is also located directly near the water which has the enormous benefit of seeing wildlife while at work! 
Ariadna's test in the climate room ©Ben Frederiks
For example, 5 days ago a huge group of belugas swam through the fjord and yesterday a walrus was spotted in the harbour! This of course does not affect the work performed by us, but it is a great feature that makes this place so special.

Besides watching the magnificent wildlife work has to be done! This week we started Ariadna’s tests, the organisms were put in the aquaria and water is changed every two days. With the starting of the tests monitoring becomes a standard part of the day to see if animals are staying vivid and alive.

My (Ben) materials are arriving on Thursday, from them on I can practice my skills in the lab too, until that time I am assisting Ariadna with the project. But I cannot wait till Thursday, will be a great to finally get started! That is, if the polar bears leave us alone…

This morning at around 7:30 we woke up because of gunshots near the house, assuming that it came from the shooting range we stayed at ease and kept on sleeping, after a few more shots we heard our German colleague Gigi shouting “Polar bear at the beach!”, immediately we jumped out of our beds, grabbed our camera’s and ran towards the door! And there it was: A large white polar bear walking along the shoreline being followed by two watchmen that shot flares at him to scare him away.  
The polar bear near the Dutch station only 500
meters away!  ©Brigitte Weiss
Although the bear did not seemed impressed by the explosions it moved away from the village leaving us exited and fully awake!

This it is just another reminder that our staying in Spitsbergen is not completely without risks, though it’s more likely to choke on the excessive breakfast, but the visit of a polar bear is not impossible…

woensdag 3 juli 2013

Gathering the animals... What a job!

It have been busy days since Bas, Ruben and Martine left Spitsbergen, despite the tears and hugs the show had to go on…well fieldwork in this case. For the last few days it meant collecting organisms for Ariadna’s exposure experiment.
The animals were taken from the Kongsfjord, with the good old workboat “Teisten”. The entire area was sampled to find the perfect spot where the animals needed could be found.
An amount of 100 organisms per species had to be collected, rating to a total of 400 crawling creatures! The animals where sampled from the bottom of the Kongsfjord with help op the Van Veen Grab at depths of 20 to 60 metres! The grab is able to collect a small amount of sediment each time so it had to be lifted up and down a lot of times during the day.
Ariadna sorting out a sample on the Teisten. cold hands, cuts and
rain,but she keeps on going... © Ben Frederiks

Monday was a day with horrible weather, strong gusts and a lot of showers, a lovely day to stay inside but no…we brave few went out on the boat. The sampling went well, but there was no abundance of animals to be found, meaning that we would have to work a bit harder the upcoming days. To make the hardship complete: We almost forgot dinner! Ariadna insisted to work a bit longer to finish the preparations for the next day, still keeping the weekend dinner-schedule in mind we walked back towards the service-building with great hunger to find out that the working days-schedule is a bit earlier compared to the weekend…something never to forget! (don’t worry, we still got dinner that evening).

On Tuesday Ariadna and I were joined by Thijs and Sander, the filmcrew from the Dutch scientific television program Labyrinth. These guys where here to film the work we are conducting in Ny-Alesund, it was great to have them on-board, pitty that the weather started with a fog so dense that the captain of the boat had to slow down due to the low visibility. Later on the clouds disappeared and a beautiful scenery appeared.

Later that evening a Polarbear was spotted on Storholmen island at the other side of the fjord, in no-time the whole village was looking at the enormous animal with binoculars and telescopes. It was foraging on the islands bird nests and took a nap after dinner. Unfortunately my camera did not have the range to make a proper photo of it, but it was a big one!

True, it's not a polarbear but this iceberg with Kittiwakes is
also worth a look. © Ben Frederiks
Wednesday was a great day, started sampling early in the morning, it was a calm and sunny day, we could feel the warm sun! And with this last day of sampling the results of our hard work are as followed: enough shellfish have been gathered, The Macoma and Astarte are ready to put in test! On the contrary worms are a bit harder to find Nephtys and Pectinaria are not abundant and it is questionable if these are put in test.
All with all these were pretty good days, hopefully the materials arrive tomorrow so I (Ben) can start up my tests concerning Ballast-water management systems too. It will be another exiting week!

dinsdag 2 juli 2013

Exploring the Arctic’s change at Blomstrand glacier

30 June 2013

Captain Wojtek 
© Bas Bolman
For Martine, Ruben and Bas this is the last day at Ny-Ålesund, whereas Ariadna and Ben are staying for another five weeks for their research on bioindicators and ballast water. Luckily we finally got the chance to go offshore with a large Zodiac. We had less luck with the weather: continuous rain and heavy clouds. But that certainly didn’t influence our enthusiasm for the day.

Mr Wojtek from the Norwegian Polar Institute was our experienced captain and Maarten Loonen from the Dutch Arctic Station of the Netherlands joined us as our guide. First he took us to the marble cave on Blomstrandhalvøya, an island north of Ny-Ålesund. This area has been exploited in the past for marble mining. Subsequently Maarten showed us the Blomstrand glacier. Just as most glaciers on Svalbard, the Blomstrand glacier is retreating. In 1991, after the glacier’s retreat for several hundreds of metres, it became clear that Blomstrandhalvøya is actually an island instead of a peninsula.

At 200 metres from the glacier, captain Wojtek turned off the engine of the boat. With the glacier so close to us, surrounded by smaller and larger icebergs, we could do nothing but watch the beauty of the area and listen to the soft sounds of the rain touching the mirror of the water surface and the gentle crackling of the ice. It seemed that the Arctic was telling us its own story of its slowly changing magnificent scenery.

From left to right: Ruben, Martine, Maarten and Bas
© Bas Bolman
And then our guide Maarten started to tell his story of a changing Arctic. Increasing temperatures of approximately 2ºC over the last decades might not give the impression of an enormous change. But in the Arctic, it’s the difference between snow and rain. In other words, it shouldn’t rain at Svalbard. Maarten’s research on Arctic bird populations is certainly relevant here. The Barnacle geese, Eider ducks and Arctic terns population are reduced this year; does it relate to the change in the Arctic? Or is it a natural fluctuation over the years and will populations recover over the next years? To understand the Arctic’s change it is important to do thorough research of its species and habitats. It is time for stakeholders to sit together and make plans on the interactions between humans and the Arctic in the future. 

Martine from IMARES explained about the Arctic Programme of TripleP@Sea, an investment programme of Wageningen UR to build up an Arctic knowledge base to facilitate the sustainable development of the Arctic by developing tools, guidelines and standards. These knowledge products are crucial input for a much larger stakeholder debate on the future of the Arctic. Where can we exploit activities? Which areas should be closed due to high ecosystem values? Under what conditions can activities be allowed in the Arctic Region? How can we effectively map and reduce environmental pressures of e.g. oil & gas activities?

Touched by the magical blue ice of the glacier and its ever increasing calving Maarten concluded that maybe it is time for humans to reconsider their role in the Arctic.

The next stop was at a huge green cliff, east of the Blomstrand glacier. On this cliff literally thousands of Kittiwakes and Guillemots are nesting in order to have their offspring soon and provide for a new generation. The noise of the screaming birds was again overwhelming. On the way back we passed impressive ice bergs, large blue crystals floating in the water in an endless variety of shapes. Petrols flying on both sides of the boat guided us back towards Ny-Ålesund.

Amazed of our experiences we shared our stories late in the evening with an ice cold beer. In the meantime a polar bear silently crossed the village… 

Iceberg in Kongsfjorden
© Bas Bolman

Dinner with a whale

29 June 2013

Ben working in the temperature room© Bas Bolman
Weekends at Ny-Ålesund start at a slower pace than a regular day of the week. Instead of breakfast at 7:30 AM, brunch is served at 10.00 AM. This does not mean that less work was done on Saturday. Ben and Ariadna worked in the temperature room to set up the aquarium system, fill the aquariums with sediment and sea water, and get the aeration started. With a set temperature of 5ºC in the room they were dressed as going on an outdoor hike, including hats to stay warm. The temperature room is one of the facilities in the Kings Bay Marine Laboratory, the northernmost laboratory in the world.

Ariadna and Martine
taking sediment samples

© Bas Bolman
During low tide at noon Ariadna and Martine walked over to the shore behind the station to collect sediment samples near an old waste dump from the station. This area is just outside the station border meaning that a flare gun was needed to scare of a potentially curious polar bear. Bas and Ruben functioned as guards while simultaneously enjoying the scenery and sun reflecting in the bay.

Later that afternoon a few simple tests were conducted in the lab to demonstrate the influence of ice on the behaviour of oil and efficacy of dispersants combatting oil in sea water. With sunflower oil and detergent as example of a dispersant clear differences were seen, illustrating the need for an oil spill response plan specifically for icy conditions.

Saturday night dinner is special in Ny-Ålesund. Everybody dresses up and working cloths are hardly spotted in the dining area. Candles are placed on the table and we brought bottles of wine to share. While enjoying the wonderful food and wine suddenly loud cheers were heard and everybody moved to the windows. A Humpback whale was spotted in Kongsfjorden right beside a small zodiac from the station with some bird researchers in it having the time of their lives. Humpback whales are not often seen in Kongsfjorden making it a special present during our Saturday night dinner. The Humpback whale circled the boat for more than half an hour and seemed to be very curious. People, including our camera crew, left their desert to have a closer look at the humpback whale from the harbour. As if this was not enough, half an hour later an Arctic fox was spotted running over the tundra next to the restaurant. A perfect way to end our Saturday!

Sunset at the harbour of Ny-Ålesund
© Bas Bolman