January 6th, 2015 on board of the RV Helmer Hanssen in direction of Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

I won’t deny the soporific effect of the smooth rocking of a boat on its way to the Arctic Ocean, yet here I go, throwing myself into blog redaction and event reporting. Some of us haven’t been feeling particularly fresh ever since the boat left Tromsø yesterday after-noon and the captain sheered us up today when he announced that the seas ahead were quieter. A few minutes later, the ship pitched enthusiastically (just to prove him wrong) causing all sorts of stuff to hurtle across the “instrument” room including some of us attempting desperately to avoid the flying objects.

As casual as some scientists try and make this type of field work sound, it seems to me that describing it as an expedition would be most appropriate. A few numbers of us, professors, students, assistants, and a wonderful ship crew have embarked aboard an adventure that will last two weeks and that will take us into the depth of the Arctic everlasting winter nights. We will explore the ocean depths of west Spitsbergen fjords from the Helmer Hanssen research vessel. Darkness is a difficult world to grasp and to study, especially when it creeps in frigid isolated oceans, yet it is far from being devoid of life and wonders. Here, we will attempt to understand how organisms and ecosystems function in an environment that appears most frequently pitch black to the human eye. Each of us are appointed to one or several tasks, some of which are related to personal research projects. The research crew is quite international with scientists coming from France, Germany, the USA, the UK, Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Norway. This trip falls under the umbrella of the Marine Night project who’s ambitious goal is to provide insight on food web structure and marine biodiversity during the poorly understood Arctic polar nights. Thus, we will study a wide range of organisms, from foraminifera to polar cods, and take a number of important hydrological measurements throughout the duration of the trip. We will report on the daily activities aboard the Helmer Hanssen and will describe our projects and the organisms we study.

I am part of what we naturally called “the fish group” and will both be working on my own Master’s thesis on polar cod’s diet but also on an ongoing project indexing all fish species caught in the Svalbard region during the polar night cruises. I will describe both of these projects and the organisms they involve further down the cruise.

Text: Marine Cusa

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