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