Saturday, September 19, 2015

Hard day's night

“It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night
I should be sleeping like a log”
- “Hard day’s night” by the Beatles

This post is actually a little delayed, since as you may imagine, I didn’t take the time to write a blog post while I was in the thick of my settlement plate analysis. I was swimming in settlement plates for a few days there, but oh, was it worth it.

My results for this experiment are going to rock. After my last post, settlement plates were successfully retrieved from Kvadehuken and Ny-Ålesund. In case you don’t remember, Kvadehuken was the location where no plates could be recovered last January because the dive mission was aborted. Kvadehuken is actually a pretty incredible place – it’s a cape at the mouth of Kongsfjorden, and the seafloor is exposed bedrock covered in calcareous red algae, anemones, and sea urchins. The cape has been the location for several studies on Arctic hard-bottom communities. I really expected to have a high diversity of species on my Kvadehuken settlement plates because there’s such high diversity and abundance of adult organisms, but that hasn’t been the case. I only found the two most common species of invertebrates – a spirorbid and a bryozoan – plus a bunch of algal detritus. One of the many findings of this project that makes me go “Hm.”

Kongsfjorden, seen from the ship. Ny-Ålesund is that
collection of  buildings on the shore.
Even before I was finished with the Kvadehuken plates, another set was recovered from the Ny-Ålesund pier. Ny-Ålesund is the tiny settlement where I spent some time last January, and it’s on the southern shore of Kongsfjorden. When the divers returned to the ship with my settlement plates, Jørgen, one of the leaders for my class, found me in the lab of the Helmer Hanssen and met my eyes with a serious expression.

“I have good news for you and bad news,” Jørgen said, “Which would you like first?”

I chose the bad news.

“You have a lot of work to do,” he continued, “but the good news is, the divers are back, and your plates are outside in the boat.”

I threw on a jacket and some rubber boots and headed outside. Actually, it wasn’t until I reached the upper deck, where the zodiac is stored, that I realized this was the first time I had been outside in two days (remember, this was the height of my settlement plate mania). Peter stood beside the zodiac in his wet diving suit, patiently rinsing his gear in freshwater.

One of my plates from Ny-Ålesund, looking
suspiciously like Cousin It.
I stopped short. Inside the zodiac was a black plastic bin, and in the black plastic bin were four racks of settlement plates, and on the plates were what I can only estimate are kilos and kilos of stringy black algae. Desmerestia aculeata, if I had to make a guess. So. Much. Algae.

Peter stepped up beside me, his suit still dripping wet. “I almost couldn’t find them,” he said. “They blended in with the dock, so I had to feel around to locate them.”

I shook my head and sighed. Those long, black strings would take a while to count. Peter picked up his dive knife, leaned in toward the boat, and motioned as if he was going to scrape off the algae. “You see, I could just make it a bit easier for you…” he began, but I launched myself toward his hand, babbling something about not ruining my hard-won samples. He laughed.

I started to fear the number of hours I would have to spend at the microscope to analyze the Ny-Ålesund plates, but now that I’m on the other side of the equation, I can tell you it wasn’t that bad. I found a very high diversity and abundance of organisms, which corresponds with my results from January. I obviously still have a lot more work to do before I fully understand the data, but I can tell you I’m excited to figure out what it all means. Onward!

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