Arctic Tipping Points inspires Science, Communication and Artistic Creativity

This was the title and general goal for our cruise. Based upon the ATP project with its dedicated scientists and a suite of experiments exploring the effects of a warmer climate, journalists, artists and communicators were invited to experience the beauty of the Arctic and our research efforts in concert. ATP wished to inspire, but want also to be inspired by other fields of communication. In a world where most of the publishing scientists in climate research and ecology are convinced that the climate change we observe today is caused by man, they feel uneasy to be engirdled by a general public where a large fraction, probably far more then 50% of the population, believes that scientists are wrong: what we observe is natural variation, not change. How can scientist convey their knowledge in ways that result in that their knowledge is adequately taken care of and accepted by the general public? To this end one has to question if scientists have done enough to inform society, if the methods of communication selected are sufficient for the purpose and if new ways of communication should be pursued. Here the journalists, artists and communicators can come the scientist help. ATP has already prepared the book Arctic Tipping Points (www.fbbva.es/TLFU/microsites/artic/ATPweb.html) with texts and pictures, elucidating the effects of climate change for ecosystems and man. ATP had also taken the initiative for a comic strip and a book for children, focusing upon the Arctic and tipping points. In addition to short interviews, placed on the web, blogs at the ATP web site and popular texts in newspapers and journals for the general public ATP wishes to make the results better and easily accessible.

At the end of the 3rd ATP cruise the head of this EU project and its co-chair, Paul Wassmann and Carlos M. Duarte, wish to thank all the participants of the cruise as well as the crew for the productive and inspiring times. We add a few examples of the outreach products (drawing by Luis Felipe Resines, photograph by Joan Costa Garcia) which will be in greater detail presented at this web site in times to come.

Science at Ny Ålesund

RV Jan Mayen was welcomed by the director of Kings Bay, the company that runs the scientific settlement of Ny Ålesund, Roger Jacobsen. The settlement is the northernmost place with activity year-round. There are about 35 people that are permanently working at various institutions during the autumn, winter and spring period. And far more during a short and hectic summer. Essential measurements to study the development of the Words Arctic environment are carried out at the mountain Zeppelinfjellet.

After an orientation by Kings Bay AS about Ny Ålesund as a research platform, we visited the German-French research station (AWIPEV) and the Sverdrup Station of the Norwegian Polar Institute. We also visited the newly renovated Amundsen Villa. After lunch we visited the Ny Ålesund information centre and museum, followed a visit of the Kings Bay marine laboratory. One group was sent on an expedition to find running river water and this was difficult because of the cold nature of the weather. We left the late afternoon for still another visit of the magnificent Kongsbreen glacier that majestically breaks in the Kongsfjord by 50 m high ice cliff. We let a team of photographers and film makers enter a Zodiak to have a better view on the glacier front

We also succeeed to get hold of freshwater run-off from the Kongsbreen glacier. The effect of this water on the metabolism of plankton organism is a major goal of this cruise, which keeps the science team busy all day long, with the care that is needed! Due to the break of large fractions of ice the minimum distance to the front must be 4 times the height of the front.

The marginal ice zone of the Fram Strait and the Magdalena fjord

Ice!We crossed the Fram Strait and met the ice at about 79 degrees North and just west of the 0 meridian. Samples were taken from shallow and deep water of more then 2000 m depths. We work continuously with the metabolism of small planktonic organisms and how they react upon addition of runoff water from glaciers. In the Arctic Ocean the supply of run-off water is supposed to increase in decades to come. And changes in metabolism need to be incorporated into models that are used to predict how life will be affected in the future Arctic Ocean.

After sampling the water participants were given the opportunity to walk on the ice. With 3500 m below your feet on an ice floe that many be 50 cm thick: this is particular experience. The shades of white, grey, turquoise and the particular ice-blue were admired.

WalrusFrom there we crossed the Fram Strait again and in the early morning hours we entered the famous Magdalena fjord. This picturesque fjord with its high mountains, stiff cliffs and grand glaciers has been visited since the days of William Barents, the Dutch admiral who found and explored the Svalbard archipelago. Whalers used the fjord and there is a major burial site with 170 graves from the whaling period in the 17th century. Also early tourism, starting around 1850 has visited this fjord regularly. Even today tourist ships come here, but it is still early in the season. The graveyard is fenced and the governor has placed a hut with guards in the vicinity because too many tourists picked artefacts from the graveyard.

On our way out of Magdalena fjord we were in awe by the grandiose beauty of the glaciers front, which had portal close to the sea surface. It reminded us on the entrance to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. The front of this glacier became our transient Santiago de Magdalena.

Jan MayenFrom there we went through the narrow street of Sørgattet a historically most significant place, the former Dutch whaling settlement Smeerenburg (Fat City). Up to 200 people lived there, mostly during summer, from about 1610 to 1650. Three walruses, for the honour of our Spanish colleagues, had their siesta close to the beach. Opposite to Smeerenburg we visited Virgohamna, another historic place. From the Swede Andree made an ill-fated attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897. The crew of 3 failed at 82 degrees North and made their way to the island of Kvitøya. There they died and their remains and equipment was found 30 years later, including their note books and a camera which pictures were developed, providing visual evidence of the ill-fated expedition.

Russian settlements, Icelandic ash and transportation troubles

Soviet imagery still persists

Soviet imagery still persists

After the entire group arrived at Longyearbyen the first stop for the outreach group on board was the Svalbard Museum, winner of The Council of Europe Museum Prize 2008 (www.svalbardmuseum.no). It contains a significant and renowned exhibition of the culture, history, nature and science of Svalbard. The visit was followed by an introduction to the University Centre of Svalbard (UNIS, www.unis.no) introduced by its director and ARCTOS board member, Gunnar Sand. A security briefing on board of R/V Jan Mayen followed. In the evening a guided tour through Longyearbyen followed.

RV Jan Mayen departed after midnight and left for Billefjorden, one of the minor branches to the large Isfjorden. Our goal was the abandoned Russian settlement of Pyramiden. The place got its name from the dominating mountaintop that has the shape of a pyramid. The coalfield was claimed by a Swede in 1910 and was sold to Russia in 1931 and taken over by the state-owned company Trust Arktikugol. Coal was mined until 1941 when the settlement was evacuated to Russia due to WWII. In 1946 mining started again until it was abandoned in 1998 when about 700 men, 200 when and 70 children were given only a few days to pack the personal belongings and leave this ideal of a Soviet settlement. All was taken care by the state: housing, food, greenhouses, stables for pigs and cows, schools, sport facilities, health system, culture etc. One had only to work in the mine. When the people left everything belonged to the state and an entire settlement was left for itself. Lenin still looks over this suddenly abandoned community, which was left lifeless after decades of abundant life, aspirations, security and prosperity. To make the Russians feel at home even soil from Mother Russia was transported to Pyramiden and rumour will have it that even the grass is from Russia.

Lenin still looks over the abandoned community of Pyramiden

Lenin still looks over the abandoned community of Pyramiden

From Pyramiden we left for the Russian settlement of Barentsburg, which still has a population of a few hundred people, mostly miners from Ukraine. A Norwegian company started todays Barentsburg in 1912. Here Svalbards first child was born in 1913. In 1920 the place and its cola mine was sold to a Dutch company, which founded todays place and of course called it Barentsburg. In 1932 the settlement changed over to the Russian Trust Arktikugol and has been active since then, with an rather dramatic interruption caused by WWII. Over a staircase of more then 200 steps we reached the settlement, guided by the tourism manager Vitaly Shutko. We visisted the local museum, strolled the streets and made a stop at the local hotel where we were warmly welcomed. The buildings and fcailties of Barentsburg are not in a good shape, but improvements are under way. Several houses had got a new roof and were painted. With difficulties to take out coal the future of the settlement has been a matter of discussion. To use it in the future for science has been discussed for some time.

We arrived late in the evening because we had to go back to Longyearbyen to chase some equipment. A pallet with equipment had been lost by the freight company. In addition, the ash of an Icelandic volcano resulted in that the air space over Svalbard was closed and no freight could arrive. With the help of good friends at UNIS we were able to find replacement for the lost equipment. This little adventure resulted in a delay for our visit in Barentsburg. And the situation got even worse when we understood that Barentsburg does not run on Middle European Time, but on Moscow Time! It was 23:00 when we came there and 03:00 when we left! Thanks God time does not play a big role during the midnight sun period.

Last Arctic Tipping Points (ATP) outreach and research cruise to Svalbard and adjacent ice-covered waters

image01 Thanks to a Spanish government contribution in the form of an Acción Especial to Carlos M. Duarte and additional support from Faculty for Bioscience, Fisheries and Economy, Univ. Tromsø, ATP carries out an additional and final cruise to Svalbard and adjacent waters. The organisers are Paul Wassmann (coordinator of Arctic Tipping Points project, FP7 and ARCTOS network) and Carlos M. Duarte (outreach leader, Arctic Tipping Points project, FP7). The cruise is entitled “Arctic Tipping Points inspires Science, Communication and Artistic Creativity”. 26 persons (scientists, journalists, writers, artists, science management) participate on board of the ice-enforced research vessel Jan Mayen. The ship is not only equipped for oceanography work but has also meeting and lecture rooms.

Throughout the trip science staff will give lectures. Discussion rounds will be arranged. Science and outreach go side-by-side. Major excursions are planned and current and former settlements on western Spitsbergen are visited: the abandoned Russian settlement Pyramiden, the current Russian settlement of Barentsburg, the Polish Academy of Science station in Hornsund, the research settlement of Ny Ålesund, the Magdalena fjord and the Dutch Smeerenburg settlement from the 17th century.

The cruise consists on two legs. On Leg 1 (Longyearbyen – Longyearbyen) the scientists and technicians are:

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  • Paul Wassmann, ATP, Univ. Tromsø, Norway
  • Hans Dybvik, Univ. Tromsø, Norway
  • Christian Wexels Riser, Univ. Tromsø, Norway
  • Carlos Manuel Duarte Quesada, ATP, CSIC,
  • Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the Arctic

We are back in Longyearbyen for a week already, but it has been too busy until now to post anything to the blog. This year we will perform an experiment similar to those of last year but adding a new twist. We will not only look a the effect of warming on Arctic microbial communities, but also to “the other CO2 problem”, acidification. Again, our experiment will cover most of the microbial food web including phytoplankton, bacteria, protozoa and even viruses.

Collecting water on Viking Explorer. From left to right: the seawater sample (in the white carboys), John the skipper, Iñigo and Alexia.

Collecting water on Viking Explorer. From left to right: the seawater sample (in the white carboys), John the skipper, Iñigo and Alexia.

The experiment has grown so big that the start has been very demanding. A lot of problems that we could not foresee had to be solved during the setup in a very limited time. We have been connecting hundreds of meters of tubing for both cooling liquids and treatment gases and leaks and trouble were unavoidable. Matching the power-hungry experimental units to the cooling capacity of the UNIS facilities has been also problematic, requiring extra work and testing the patience of the logistics department at UNIS. Getting all the systems working properly required that almost all members of the team were up for almost twenty hours per day, everyday from Monday to Friday. Despite the strenuous schedule, the team has continued working with amazing energy until everything was working smoothly. By Wednesday, the basic temperature and lighting setup was up and running, allowing to collect the water samples and start the experiment. Setting up all the gas connections required two extra days but everything was fine on Saturday morning. Thank you all for your hard work!

More about the team in the next post…

The experimental setup in the making...

The experimental setup in the making...

Investigating the effect of ocean acidification on larval stages

While the team of IMEDEA (Spain) is investigating the effect of ocean acidification and warming on larval stages of bivalves, Norwegian ATP members look into processes even earlier into the life cycle of benthic bivalves: fertilisation.

It is hypothesized that early life-stages of benthic invertebrates, particularly those species building calcareous shells, may be particularly sensitive to ocean acidification, perhaps in combination with increased temperature. Motility of sperm can be one factor explaining reduced fertilisation success. Thus, motility will be measured under different experimental treatments using a microscope video camera (see the video), and speed of swimming sperm cells will be calculated using CellTrak 1.3 program. The proportions of moving and immobile sperm cells can also be determined from videos. This gives us an indication of sperm condition, which can then be related to fertilization rates.

End of 2010 ATP cruise

The mountain range to the east of Adventfjorden, outside Longyearbyen.  Photo: P. Wassmann

The mountain range to the east of Adventfjorden, outside Longyearbyen. Photo: P. Wassmann

After cruises around Svalbard, the Barents Sea and the west coast of Greenland in 2009 ATP had a new cruise in 2010, which has come to an end in the port of Longyearbyen. It had been a cruise in good weather and excellent working conditions. The atmosphere on board was enjoyable and calm, and the science team was strongly dedicated to the various investigations that were carried out. As usual, the science crew was highly international. They came from 12 nations and worked in 7 different countries. After a social gathering on Tuesday night the entire equipment was packed, stored or brought for further work to UNIS in Longyearbyen.

All in all it has been a very successful cruise where most plans could be accomplished. Some goals were quickly reached. While we last year had to use the zooplankton nets extensively and despite that we did not find sufficient animals of the right stage and sort, this time we had obtained all animals already after the third day! A relative short, but essential cruise for the ATP project has come the end.

The view from Longyearbyen.  Photo: P. Wassmann

The view from Longyearbyen. Photo: P. Wassmann

Finally, I wish to express my gratitude for the supportive spirit and good atmosphere on board. Outreach is an ever increasing activity of research project and the presence of the Spanish TV team was an important element in our endeavours to reach broader segments of people.
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Vist of the Hornsund Polish Polar Station

The Hansbreen glacier close to the Polish station.  Over the last 50 years it has shrunk significantly.  (Photo: P. Wassmann)

The Hansbreen glacier close to the Polish station. Over the last 50 years it has shrunk significantly. (Photo: P. Wassmann)

The scientists and crew of Jan Mayen were invited to visit the Polish station in Hornsund. Founded 50 years ago this station is an important one for many branches of science, in particular geophysical research. We were all warmly welcome and visited the station to pick up three polish colleagues that had done zooplankton research for ATP. After having been introduced to the history and activity of the station a guided tour was made to the nearby glacier Hansbreen. It was a meticulous day and indeed one of the best the author has experienced on Svalbard. What a fine present towards the end of the cruise!

The Hornsund Polish Polar Station is impressively situated on the northern banks of Hornsund. (Photo: P. Wassmann)

The Hornsund Polish Polar Station is impressively situated on the northern banks of Hornsund. (Photo: P. Wassmann)

After returning to the ship with out 3 additional polish passengers on board we made an excursion to the inner part of Hornsund. In addition the other members of the 8 overwintering Polish station joined us. They had hardly been on a research vessel and after 10 long months at the station they enjoyed to actually see the inner part of Hornsund. The landscape becomes more dramatic and wide. Two Polar Bears were seen. Gasping and photographing participants lines the bow and the bridge of Jan Mayen.

Dramatic mountains in the inner part of Hornsund. (Photo: P. Wassmann)

Dramatic mountains in the inner part of Hornsund. (Photo: P. Wassmann)

On the way back along the shelf we soon run into dense belts of ice floes, had to change plans and tackle delays. But the general impression from this ATP cruise is that it has been a very successful one. Science wise this EU project is in fine shape.

Glorious sunshine and vistas in the inner part of Hornsund.  Svalbard and the Arctic at its best!  Photo: P. Wassmann)

Glorious sunshine and vistas in the inner part of Hornsund. Svalbard and the Arctic at its best! Photo: P. Wassmann)

The Odyssey of Agatha Weydmann: all for ATP!

agata_weydman1Agatha Weydmann from IOPAS in Sopot, Poland, carried out successful experiments of the response of zooplankton to a warming climate in May 2010. The experiments were to be carried out at the Hornsund Polish Polar Station, Spitsbergen, Svalbard. This station, more then 50 years old, is situated in an extremely picturesque region on the southwestern part of Spitsbergen. Agatha and her two colleagues were supposed to fly to Tromsø and Longyearbyen and take a helicopter from there to the station. In comes the ash cloud of the Eyjafjallajøkul volcano and stops all flights to Norway. No chance to fly for many days. A decision is taken and with the ferry to Sweden and a car the IOPAS team drives to Tromsø, a more than 30 hours non-stop drive to the north. After arriving in Tromsø – by Gods mighty hand – the ash has disappeared and Agatha flies to Longyearbyen. By then the chance to take the helicopter is gone. Two snowmobiles are organised, but bad weather makes the 7 hours drive through a high Arctic landscape (mountain ridges, glaciers, ice-covered fjords etc.) impossible. Two days of wait and finally the weather improves and off Agatha drives. Then finally, after 7 days Odyssey Agatha and her team arrive at the Hornsund station. Ready to jump into a rubber boat to sample zooplankton and carry out the experiments. Business as normal…..

How to return from there to Poland? RV Jan Mayen, returning from the Barents Sea with another team of ATP scientists, makes her way through an ice belt into Hornsund and pick Agatha and her team up. Her experiments were stopped a few hours before the arrival of the ship and the equipment packed in a hurry. Jan Mayen brings her back to Longyearbyen and from there she can fly home, provided that there will be no ash in the air. Nobody knows what happens to a polish car parked in Tromsø…. Never work without a back up. Plan B would have bee that Jan Mayen would take the team back to Tromsø on a return trip, just 12 days later. 12 days. A piece of cake in the Arctic.

Dramatic mountains in the inner part of Hornsund

Dramatic mountains in the inner part of Hornsund

Research in the Arctic is not like research in a nearby laboratory in central Europe. Few readers of Agathas paper will have the slightest idea what it meant when she writes: “Zooplankton was sampled with a WP2 net at station x in Hornsund on day y”. And who else would have used 7 days of hardship with a big smile to be able to carry out an experiment? And without knowing when it would end? You and your team have earned the respect of the entire ATP team, Agatha! With such dedication ATP can never fail! A triple hurray for polish commitment to science!