Lights in the dark

Life is good in Ny-Ålesund!

The high north is famous for northern lights, something that the first few days in Ny-Ålesund showed us. We were lucky enough to enjoy clear skies, stars and spectacular northern lights ranging from red to green.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights. Photo: Geir Johnsen

Surprisingly this was not the only place we observed stunning lights.

« … When you strike the sea with a rod by night, and the water is seen to shine. » Aristotle 350 BC

If you take a stroll down the pier in Ny-Ålesund in complete darkness, and stirr the water with your hand you will see amazing glowing colors. Life in the sea during the polar night you ask? When you turn back on your headlamp, you can see all the living creatures, including those responsible for the glowing ocean.


Bioluminescence. Photo: Geir Johnsen

The water is so clear that we can actually identify several species of zooplankton. What strikes the eye is heaps of ctenophores (comb jellies). These are also the ones who contribute the most to the northern lights of the sea: bioluminescence.

Text : Eirik Kommedal and Lauris Boissonnot

Super Trouper

Fieldwork for the Underwater Robotics course in Ny-Ålesund is coming to an end and most of Saturday was spent packing. Luckily, during the afternoon, we got to play with the tiniest ROV a Homo sapiens has ever encountered. Nevertheless, it is probably worth something around 200 000 NOK. And yes Jørgen, it is still alive! The purpose of the ROV launching was to have a competition between the three student groups, in which the groups would try to spot and record (every scientist needs proof!) any fish that might hide around the pier. Group B and C saw a juvenile Black Guillemot, some krill and a single crab, but no fish. However, group A, also named the ROV killers, saw lots of polar cods and become the lucky winner of the ROV contest. They got two choices for the winner price; either a nice umbrella drink, or listen to a certain professor performing his version of ABBA “Super Trouper”. The choice was easy and definitely the most entertaining way to end, yet, another glories day in Ny-Ålesund!

Marthe ROV

Marthe S. has full control over the ROV. (Photo: Ingvild Andersson)

Timelapse video: A feast

Piotr Balazy, one of the Marine Night partners from the Polish IOPAS, deployed a time lapse camera for a short term test in the harbour in Ny Ålesund. Below you can see a result of 3 day deployment. After the successful test, he deployed four cameras of the same type for long term study of barnacles. All being well and the cameras holding the promise of the manufacturer, they will take pictures every 15 minutes for more than half a year from now on. You will find an example of the results on the Marine Night homepage in about half a year.

Time lapse video: Piotr Balazy

Text: Daniel Vogedes

Broken promises of nice weather

The AUV, sitting on the lab bench waiting for input

The AUV, sitting on the lab bench waiting for input. Photo: Marthe Austad

We embarked on this campaign in good spirit and were promised good meteorological conditions throughout the whole field work period. Foolishly, we believed our supervisor, the “bio-meteorologist”, little knowing that a storm would hit upon us on Wednesday. Wednesday started out calm as dead jelly (Scyphozoan) on the beach, giving the plankton group a chance to sample the daily snack for the microscope. As the day got older, the wind got stronger. The group working with light also got some of their measurements, enough to make a day out of it, together with data sorting. An AUV-mission was planned for the third group. Scheduled for launch around 11:00 am, local time. It was supposed to make a transect 2 km long and about 75 m deep, but the wind would not have it this way. Because of waves the Homo sapiens, dressed in the gorgeous emergency suits, had to abort the mission and head back to the marine lab to wash an AUV who had been in the water for 12 minutes. Needless to say, the third group felt that the weather was having favourites.

None the less, life in Ny-Ålesund goes on, and it’s still, like, pretty cool stuff, actually.

Text: Sverre Julian Hekmersen Håpnes, June Jakobsen, Sander Verbiest

Homo sapiens and the emergency suit

When doing underwater robotics and marine biology related field work, you have to expect to spend some time in a boat. The boat in question during this period of field work, is not the biggest boat you could have found on Svalbard. The boat we were using was a small, open boat, with room for seven organisms of the species Homo sapiens and some equipment. The individuals in question are not of a marine species, but rather a terrestrial one. This calls for some extra gear for survival if one would fall into the water. The extra gear used for increased hope of survival, is called an emergency suit. The suit itself, when not put on an individual, looks harmless enough. The orange colour is maybe not the colour Homo sapiens would wear to go out and look for a mate during Saturday evenings, but it is functional when it comes to spotting the individual who has fallen into the water – after which mating might still occur.

Survival suit gang

Ready to survive. Photo: Marthe Austad

Text: Sverre Julian Hekmersen Håpnes, June Jakobsen, Sander Verbiest


ROV pilots for one day!

After a day of counting zooplankton in microscopes, the technology students were looking forward to doing AUV surveys in Kongsfjorden outside Ny-Ålesund. Unfortunately, bad weather prevented running the AUV mission, so an alternative ROV training operation was performed inside the harbour basin.

The day started with planning security issues we carefully checked that the ROV was in good shape and good to go. That last part did take some time since there is a lot of cables o think about, and to many hands wanting to plug them, perhaps we were too enthusiastic.


Let us present: Our gadget of the day! Photo: Stefanie Liefmann

After an hour the vehicle was packed and off to the pier we went. Weather conditions were not the best, but moral and enthusiasm remained high, even after another long round of plugging cables.

The ROV was finally deployed at 15:18 UTC time, we experienced some power problems that where easily fixed. The sea was rough, and our driving was not all that good, thus we are not bothering putting any videos in here. Everybody in our group to drive the vehicle. As every inexperienced pilots we entangled the engine in sea weed which meant that our fun mission was over.

Not much actual research was done during the day, but the experience and the learning outcome were amazing.


Light day for our group, even though it was nowhere to be seen. The all sky camera was retrieved, and the pictures from previous days downloaded. The weather forecast was not very good thus we stayed inside analyzing pictures. After a few shuts it was evident that light pollution influenced our measurements , especially when the sky was covered. After taking a group picture the all sky camera was put back into position for another day of measurements.

At the end of the day we took inside the E-PAR sensor, which had been left on land to take some measurements, and prove the theory that it might be sensitive to the cold. As expected it had shut down after a few hours outside. On the bright side, we discovered with the few measurements it took , that the prototype is not as sensitive as we first expected it to be. Again not much data was retrieved, but a lot new information for our student brains.

The group, fish-eyed

The group, fish-eyed. Photo: Geir Johnsen

Text: Stefan Vilsen, and Stephanie Liefmann.

About the Brazilian-South African Svalbard transition

After absorbing the theory at UNIS, Longyearbyen and arriving safely at Ny-Ålesund on the 15th of January the chance finally arrived to use the knowledge and jump into action mode. Many things needed to be done: from the moving of equipment through to diving into the technical manuals to set the instrumentation before sampling.

Working in the unforgivable winter of Svalbard requires careful attention. From the small but not to be forgotten details such as clothing, head lamps and reflectors, rifles (when leaving the settlement, so to avoid to become a delicious polar bear meal) up to the problem solving of using the instrumentation in such harsh weather conditions. Everything takes longer in these conditions and replanning becomes no exemption.

These experiences are especially noticed by the two of us, both foreigners, one born and raised in Brazil and the other in South Africa. Even the simplest task becomes an issue such as using gloves and increasing the clumsiness or barely managing the tying of ones shoes: a lot of lessons to learn here.

The state of the art technology

As a student of aerospace engineering the preparation and usage of the robots is straight forward, with manuals full of pictures, like an adult Lego, yet the problem solving fried many a brain cell.

The polar night was never studied deeply, is a hard environment and never before (in our knowledge) one was able to work in such conditions as we do now. With autonomous underwater vehicles, remotely operated vehicles and different sensors with a level of sensitivity to measure light even in the darkest conditions. Polar night was previously thought as a dead or hibernated environment and we are on a mission to redefine this statement.

In remembrance of L. de Broglie

Sometimes science might be complicated even when answering mundane questions such as: which species live here? Where? How do they feed themselves?
It is important to keep track and consistency of the data. For every measurement, we need to guarantee that we have instrument characteristics controlled, so we can discriminate real values from noise.  Science needs precision in order to produce meaningful data. Sometimes this includes boring or monotonic work, but its quality is highly dependent on careful set up and testing.

Ny-Ålesund was not a random choice. The purpose was not to make the northernmost research in the world (LoL). Aiming for an undisturbed condition, the lack of human inhabitants here, allows us to have a gigantic lab, where we are able to control almost everything, from the quantity of light emission through to the activities around the harbor: ensuring that one does not measure human presence.

We daily face the cold with smiles and bearing in our minds that “the actual state of our knowledge is always provisional and … there must be, beyond what is actually known, immense new regions to discover” (Louis de Broglie, 1892 – 1987)

Written by: Fabienne Fichtner and Michel Klüger

Video by Fabienne Fichtner

We got MUD

We had an entire week to get ready, but today is the day. We finally got mud!

I guess benthic ecologists just never grew up and stayed young at heart… We do not say we are going to sample sediment; we say that we are going to play with some mud 🙂 This is probably one of the reasons why benthic ecologists are usually feared onboard scientific vessels: we really have fun! This plus the fact that we just get everything dirty everywhere we pass, sometimes even places where we did not pass…

In “regular” ships, in temperate latitudes, benthic sampling always takes place at the worst time of day, at night when all other scientific teams are resting between 2 and 6 am. But since we are working during the polar night, time does not matter and we sampled in the middle of the day – since it was night anyway.

During this cruise, we aim to sample 3 stations along a transect from the glacier to the open water. We came at other seasons, in spring, summer, and fall, and this data will complete the seasonal set in order to better understand seasonal changes (or not!) in benthic communities’ activities. In Arctic areas with abundant ice cover, benthic activities have been found to change as a function of seasons, with lower activities in the winter. However, in Kongsfjorden, where the ice has been declining so much, will the benthic communities change their activities?

To answer this question, we deployed a boxcorer, from which we subsampled individual sediment cores. Some of the cores will be sliced and frozen for future lab analyses of the characteristics of the sediment at that time (carbon and nitrogen contents, stable isotopes, pigments). The rest of the cores will be incubated in order to measure benthic activities: respiration, remineralisation of nutrients and bioturbation.

In order to stay young, benthic ecologists have a little secret that I will reveal exclusively here. You may wonder what we do with the rest of the mud from the boxcorer, and what is the link with staying young… Well, here is our secret, we use it as facial mask and therefore look younger! We call it the Arctic beauty. You may order it (20% to the first 200 people) contacting

Mud picture

A part of the Marine Night group testing the new mud facial. Contact email above for more info. Photo: Nathalie Morata

Text: Nathalie Morata