Fantastic discoveries from the dead of night!

It is now all over, and we are all more or less back in normal routines. After some very hectic weeks in Ny-Ålesund, with more that 70 scientists, students and media representatives, it feels good to sit back and look through all the data, pictures and experiences we had. All in all, the campaign was fantastic; the course went really well and all students are currently in their final week preparing the science report and preparing for the exam, the scientists have left the island with their bags and computers filled with data and the media people have (hopefully) been inspired to write many stories from the “dark deeds” that we did during the campaign. I can only say that I am very much looking forward to see everything that is to come out of the campaigns we had through the two NFR projects Circa and Marine Night during the last two winters. But I also want to highlight a sensational discovery made by one of our polish partners – Piotr Balazy who joined us as part of the polish Marine Night project (http://iopan.gda.pl/projects/MarineNight/popularyzacja.html). Piotr’s camera have, as far as I can understand, for the first time in history actually captured a real mermaid! While occupied with taking pictures of the biggest lions mane (Cyanea capilata) we have ever seen on Svalbard before – 1m across – a mermaid was obviously watching as well, hidden in the dark. On the picture, you see only her breast, sticking out of the shadow. The rest of her is hidden in darkness. I guess she was also very surprised about the strength of the flash light on Piotr’s camera?

Photo: Piotr Balazy. (PS: the picture is not manipulated, it is in fact a part of the AWI installation we see in the background)

Photo: Piotr Balazy. (PS: the picture is not manipulated, it is in fact a part of the AWI installation we see in the background)

Time to go home now…more next winter!

Professor Jørgen Berge
chief scientist and Dark Lord

About science and friends

Krill bioluminescence - Photo: Jon Cohen

Krill bioluminescence – Photo: Jon Cohen

Having just said goodbye to our Russian colleagues Natalia and Dasha, to Malin and Daniel, and some days ago to the robotics course students and most of the Marine Night field team, it is pretty quiet around the Marine Lab. We are now down to four people. There are advantages to having just a few people around – for one, the morning coffee lasts longer. But, there are disadvantages. Most notably, when something new or interesting happens with your science and you want to share it, nobody is around! This happened to me the other night. My research during this field campaign is aimed at measuring light in the polar night, and measuring how temperature and background light level affects the ability of krill to see that light. To measure light, I have a fancy contraption that catches the photons coming from the sky and reflects them toward a sensor, which records the amount and color of the light. As I was making a measurement at midnight, with the moon glowing in the sky, I looked up to see an aurora getting more and more intense. I wondered if the light meter would be able to measure the aurora…maybe…that would be pretty cool. It was another day or so before I looked at the data, but sure enough, there was what seemed like light from the aurora quite clearly in the measurements. I was VERY excited…but a quick lap around the Marine Lab returned nobody with which to share in my scientific joy. The moral of this story? Scientific discoveries are best when shared with friends.

Light measurements at midnight. Photo: Jon Cohen

Light measurements at midnight. Photo: Jon Cohen

Getting ready to measure - all sky view

Getting ready to measure – all sky view. Photo: Jon Cohen

Text: Jonathan Cohen

The calm after the storm

Northern Lights dancing over Kongsfjorden. Photo: Malin Daase

Northern Lights dancing over Kongsfjorden. Photo: Malin Daase

We had some stormy days here in Ny-Ålesund- literally and figuratively. The rain last week came with some heavy wind and some challenges to conduct the fieldwork (or just to walk down to the marine lab). It became colder cover the weekend, but we kept warm partying with the locals and packing the tons of equipment an underwater-robotics course requires. The wind picked up again on Sunday and blew still strongly on Monday so the scheduled flight to bring everyone back to Longyearbyen was cancelled. While there a worst places to be stranded (I am looking at you Newark International Airport!) some people had connection flights to catch and since no plane had arrived since last Monday a bunch of people were already stranded here since last Thursday. When the wind was still blowing too strong for the plane to land on Tuesday morning, the helicopter was called in instead and people could finally be flown out. By afternoon conditions improved and the last group and a few tons (actually, in total we flew out 1550 kg) of equipment made it also back to Longyearbyen. Now there are eight Marine Night scientist left here enjoying the calm after the storm. The lights are back on in the Marine Lab, down by the harbour and on the sky. It is quite amazing to see how the light is slowly returning. Two weeks ago, when we were sampling from Helmer Hanssen at 81N we could barely make out the difference between day and night. Now the moon is out and the north lights have been dancing on the sky the past night and every day it becomes a little bit lighter around noon. Today we could almost call it “daylight”! Personally, I think this is the most beautiful time on Svalbard- when the lights comes back.

Text: Malin Daase

(update: this blog was written on the 28th, but because of a sudden rush of blog entries, the administrator decided to hold this one back until today)

On board Helmer Hanssen, looking south at noon from 81 N and from Krossfjorden. Photo: Malin Daase

On board Helmer Hanssen, looking south at noon from 81 N and from Krossfjorden. Photo: Malin Daase

View over Kongsfjorden towards east during our field campaign. Photo: Malin Daase

View over Kongsfjorden towards east during our field campaign. Photo: Malin Daase

 

Lights off and on in the Marine Lab. Photo: Malin Daase

Lights off and on in the Marine Lab. Photo: Malin Daase

King without a kindom – birdy nam-nam, part II (for part I, see the 2014 blog)

The King of the Alcs (literal translation of the Norwegian common name “Alkekonge” Alle alle), better known as Little Auk, was of particular interest for a long time during several projects in Svalbard. It also played a major role in the PhD thesis of the author of this random blog entry. During the Marine Night campaigns 2014 and 2015 we also focused on sea birds – most of which spend the dark winter time in more southern latitudes, for understandable reasons. Nevertheless, some of them stay. Now, the question is: Why? Did they just miss the departure time? Stayed at the party too long to realise they would miss the last flight South? Or do they actually stay on purpose, and if so: What could they possibly survive on during the long winter. After all, they are considered visual predators, how do they find prey if they can’t see (or maybe they can)?

To solve this mystery, we obtained permission to shoot 10 individuals of all common sea bird species – both for stomach analysis (what did they eat) but also a variety of other studies. Now, for reasons yet to be discussed, in 2015 we hardly saw any sea birds at all. In total, only 4 specimens were collected. Two of them were little auks. To our surprise, both of them had fairly full stomachs – one had been feeding on krill, the other one on a benthic amphipod. Apparently even during the Polar Night it is possible for sea birds to survive and actively feed. But why do we find so few of them, in particular this year? Well, we don’t know yet, but maybe some went on an expedition to unknown territories…

Little auk in the South

“Unusual guest in Drangedal” – “This is a little auk in winter coat. It was found in a dense forrest on 16 January, probably blown here by the strong winds. The bird is nesting on Svalbard, Jan Mayen and Greenland, among other places. It does not necessarily feel comfortable in Øystein Røsviks hand.” Drangedalsposten 22 January 2015. Drangedal is a small place in Telemark, southern Norway. News provided by Karen Lone.

Text: Daniel Vogedes

Waking up the dinos ….

Eva's gang

Eva’s gang

After completing last year’s mission impossible with surprisingly interesting results on photophysiology of marine microalgae in the surface water during the Polar night (for details, see http://mareincognitum.no/marinenight2014/?p=120), we decided to expand our research effort to study those who should not be capable of making a living out there without any light present. As more efforts require more (wo)man-power, a team was established (consisting of PI Eva Leu, AWI-postdoctoral researcher Clara Hoppe, FAABulous PhD student Zofia Smoła, and MSc student Ida Bernhardsson from Uppsala) – which was quickly named by project leader Jørgen Berge upon first encounter at the Longyearbyen airport: Eva’s gang.

The gang moved in on the 2nd level in the Marine Lab in Ny Ålesund, occupied most of the temperature-controlled rooms (and some labs), and established strict light regimes in there. The aim of this year’s stay was two-fold: a) to repeat and extend last year’s studies about the algae’s capability to resume photosynthetic activity rather quickly upon re-illumination in the middle of the Polar night – and b) trying to wake up stuff that is buried in the sediments at the ocean floor ….

Bottled algae.

Bottled algae.

The background for this new approach lies in the fact that several algae species are forming resting stages when growth conditions become unfavourable towards the end of a bloom. As these resting stages are very robust and almost completely inactive, they can survive in a dormant state for a long while, supposedly up to several years. They are supposed to play an important role during the initiation of the annual spring bloom, when strong winds cause an overturning of the entire water column and transport them to surface waters where they find again enough light and nutrients to start growing. However, very little is known about what the exact cues are that enable them to resume their growing process. Is it a critical light level they have to be exposed to? Or does the daylength play a role? From higher plants we know that some of them can only start to flower when daylength exceeds 12 hours – and something similar has been postulated for certain algae species as well. Hence, our approach was to get mud from the seafloor, add light, seawater as well as nutrients, and then vary both daylength and light intensity in an experimental setup to observe the developing algae communities. However, since mud is something that phytoplankton researchers normally fiercely try to avoid in their work, we first had a steep learning curve ahead of us when it came to handle incubation bottles that suddenly looked more like hot chocolate than transparent seawater after having been shaken. Luckily, Zosia had done her MSc in benthic ecology (muddy things), so she was not as afraid of the brown, dirty stuff as we were – and so we managed to set up the experiment in a good way in the end. And then the waiting started….

In the Ny-Ålesund red light district

In the Ny-Ålesund red light district

Among the groups of algae we would expect to appear there are diatoms and dino(flagellate)s. Impressively enough, we measured pronounced increases in photosynthetic activity already after 10 days – but it will still take a while before the algae in our murky bottles will reach densities in which we can see and study them properly.

Red light everywhere - so the algae can't see us when we are out there for sampling

Red light everywhere – so the algae can’t see us when we are out there for sampling

Text: Eva Leu

 

Politics

After the invasion has left the perimeter partly by unexpected means of transportation, and 100s of kilos of cargo were flown back yesterday, today was a day to relax – so I thought. But then, while sitting in the living room of the Polar Hotel after a nice mid-day walk, I listened to the ancient radio, and got reminded of todays’ strike. So in all haste (it was about 15:45 and the nation-wide strike should last from 14:00-16:00) I produced a protest sign and went to the Marine Lab with my personal news photographer, Malin, and lighting assistent, the multi-talented lab leader Seb, to show my support as a member of the “Forskerforbundet” union.

As most of the time, the road to the lab was deserted, so no one noticed my protest march from the hotel to the lab, nor did anyone notice my protest in front of the lab. But now, world, here it is: My contribution to todays’ demand to the Norwegian government – more permanent jobs instead of more temporary jobs, less overtime instead of more.

This is of course a completely personal statement (as someone who just started on his 40s and never had a permanent job), and in particular is not a statement supported by Kings Bay. I mean, who would seriously wish for a permanent job in Ny-Ålesund? A bit too far off from the real world…

Strike

Yes to permanent positions. The Marine Night technician’s contribution to todays nation-wide strike (on his day off). Photo: Malin Daase. Light: Sebastien Barrault.

Text: Daniel Vogedes

Final goodbye

There were 3 flights schedule for today (06:00, 09:30 and 17:30) but as the wind did not let on they were all cancelled. This would not only affect us (no pressure for us) but also the other Marine Night scientists, and most of our professors who had already lost their connections on Monday! That’s when Jørgen and Geir decided that the only way to get the scientists in Longyearbyen on time for their connecting flight was by helicopter. Hence, some people were prioritized and Sysselmannen’s Super Puma was on route to pick them up. There were 2 flights (11 and 12:45). Some of us were lucky enough to fly back with the helicopter at 12:45 and experience some truly magical views of Svalbard!

Some magical views of Svalbard seen from the helicopter. (Photo: Stefan Arenfeldt Vilsen)

Some magical views of Svalbard seen from the helicopter. (Photo: Stefan Arenfeldt Vilsen)

 

Happy students safely back in Longyearbyen! (Photo: Piotr Balazy)

Happy students safely back in Longyearbyen! (Photo: Piotr Balazy)

 

The remaining scientists and students arrived in the evening when winds calmed down a bit so the planes were able to fly, so by 19:00 all of the students in the course were safely back in Longyearbyen!

We would like to say a HUGE THANK YOU (!!!) to all of our professors who worked night and day (or through one hell of a night – 312 hours!!!) to ensure that the Marine Night field campaign as well as the Advanced Underwater Robotics field worked were running smoothly, efficient and fun. Thus, enabling us to make the most of this opportunity and have a once in a lifetime experience in, truly one of the best and most magical places on the planet – Ny-Ålesund!

We would also like to thank Kings Bay for impeccable services and for the round the clock open cantina where we were able to sample some of the best food in Svalbard for sure! We had a wonderful stay with you and hope to get back soon!

After 10 days of isolation, sitting in a car on our way from the airport to Longyearbyen it seemed like heading towards a metropolis and fears of coping with 2100 people started to arise. It all went away when we starting seeing familiar faces at UNIS and in the city!

Now that we are safe and sound back and soon off again back to the mainland it all seems so far away and like something taken right out of a Spielberg movie, except it was real! We are certain that underwater robotics, magical northern lights, bioluminescence and somehow the ever popular Super Trouper and Dancing Queen will be stuck on our brains/haunt us for many years to come. Hopefully we will see each other again in the breathtaking and magical scenery of Ny-Ålesund, and its remarkable inhabitants!

Thank you for everything!

Goodbye for now, Ny-Ålesund, it has truly been a blast ☺ (Photo: Øystein Varpe)

Goodbye for now, Ny-Ålesund, it has truly been a blast ☺ (Photo: Øystein Varpe)

Text: Mari C., Ingvild A., Ida V., Adrian P., and Marthe S.

More goodbye

We were all packed and ready to go in the morning but overnight winds became stronger (17-20 m/s) and all the flights to Longyearbyen were cancelled. Hence, we must stay another night in Ny-Ålesund! Kings Bay staff still welcomes us, and we have pretty much all that you could wish for in an environment as hostile as this one. So another windy but clear night don’t seem so bad after all considering the fact that we are spending it in the world’s northernmost community. We mostly stayed indoors processing the valuable data we had acquired, working on technical reports, playing foosball, cards, doing laundry, skyping and overall keeping our spirits up!

Things got even better during the evening when massive auroras lit up the sky alongside the almost ever-present LIDAR laser beam, which seemed to shoot straight in the aurora. The scenery was simply amazing! Hiking in such perfect settings seemed like the perfect way to end another full rich day in Ny Ålesund so leaving in the morning seemed such a drag, but we all knew we had to get back to Longyearbyen sometime this year!

Time to say goodbye

Now that we are done with the sampling it is time to write about all the cool stuff that we have done over the last two weeks. All of the students are working on the report and also getting ready for the return back to Longyearbyen. However, as the weather in Ny-Ålesund is becoming worse by the hour, returning back on Monday morning seems very unlikely.