Showing posts from 2015

The Light

"When you think all is forsaken Listen to me now You need never feel broken again Sometimes darkness can show you the light" - "The Light" by Disturbed Dear friends, it is December 18th, just days away from the darkest day of the year. I can't help but think of my friends at higher latitude in Europe and the Arctic, who have even less light than me right now. I think spending last winter in Norway has actually given me a bit of a different perspective - somehow, the days at 43 N don't seem so short this year. We're getting close to the winter solstice, but I'm finding ways to focus on the light. Christmas lights and a star from my friend in Germany adorn a doorway in my apartment. For starters, I received an early Christmas gift from a good friend in Germany this week. She sent me a string of lights and a paper lantern in the shape of a star, with a note saying "Friends are like stars - you don't always see them, but they're

The sound of silence

"In restless streets I walked alone Narrow streets of cobblestone 'Neath the halo of a street lamp I turned my collar to the cold and damp When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light That split the night And touched the sound of silence." - "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel The song quoted above has been on my mind for the past couple days, because it's shown up in my social media multiple times and in a few different forms. The lyrics themselves speak to the importance of music, and the haunting melody has a tendency to hang around in one's temporal lobes. If you're interested, I recommend the cover by Disturbed, found here . Besides just the song, I've been listening the sound of silence for much of the past few days. The Oregon coast is strangely quiet now that the torrential rains have stopped - no more raindrops pounding the window, no more wind shaking the walls. My fellow OIMBers are leaving campus one by


Ah, the life of the traveling scientist. What a crazy life it is. A couple months ago, my dear friend, Stefanie, announced to me that she had been accepted to present her research at a conference in San Francisco. Stefanie lives in the Netherlands, so the trip to San Francisco was already a long one, crossing an ocean and a whole continent. Since she was already flying halfway around the world for the conference, she decided to take advantage of the opportunity and hop across the Pacific to see Hawaii while she was at it. (Yes, this is how we crazy people think.) She started looking into plane tickets and asked if I wanted to meet up while she was on my side of the world. Um, yes. Stefanie and I on Waikiki Beach. I spent the last few days in Honolulu with Stefanie, and for the most part, we were proper tourists. We swam in the salty Pacific and dried out on the beach. We saw the Hawaii state capitol building, Iolani Palace, and Chinatown. We toured Pearl Harbor on the anniver


"Merciless though the wind takes hold with freezing cold Come, my friend, sit with me; take council in the warmth Torrents wash away everything Raindrops flowing all around" - "Torrents" by Asgeir I'm writing this post at my kitchen table in Coos Bay. I just finished editing a term paper for my brother (he's an undergrad), and I'm listening to the rain fall outside. Torrents of rain have been falling on the Oregon coast all week, turning my world into a dark, wet mess. An encrusting sponge on a dropstone I collected in 2012. This particular stone is about the size of the human hand. It's true what they say, you know: when it rains, it pours. As the world outside has tried to keep itself from drowning, I've been piled up with papers, projects, and plans. I set the shipwreck project aside for a while, mostly because I'm waiting on comments from my co-authors on my latest manuscript draft. In the meantime, I've turned my atten

Feels like home

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States, so I drove north to spend the holiday with friends. I've known the Hansens since they first moved to the coast and attended my church in Coos Bay, and they've since become my surrogate Oregon family. I spent the day alternating between adult conversation and playing with the kids - an intelligent but shy 8-year-old and a chatterbox toddler. We played violin duets. We played Monopoly . We played "Chase the Squealing Child and Pretend You're Too Slow to Catch Him." I wasn't the only Thanksgiving guest, so I also got to know some new friends. Another family that attends the Hansens' church, one of Lee's colleagues. Remarkably, we all fit around the same table, even the kids, and it was a great time to share food, share love, share our lives. I'm thankful for the Hansens and for the community they're at the center of. They make Oregon feel like home.

Not so bad after all

Laptop. Check. Notebook. Check. Sack lunch. Check. Stack of CDs. Check. Full tank of gas. Check. Standing next to my car, I ran through the list one last time to make sure I had everything. It was late morning, and I was driving up to UO's main campus in Eugene to meet with a professor. She's a member of my advisory committee, and even though she's not a biologist, she's a statistical wizard and a great teacher. I needed her help with analyzing some data, so we had agreed to meet today. Every time I'm on main campus, I have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I love college campuses, and UO has a particularly beautiful one. The brick buildings, the public bulletin boards, the throngs of students in rain boots and North Face - there's a certain energy that pervades the campus. What bugs me about main campus is largely circumstantial. I always have to drive there, so I end up navigating the narrow, one-way roads of the university district with a quickened pul

The encroaching darkness

Friends, the video above contains my latest musical composition, entitled "The encroaching darkness." It's meant to represent the shortening days during my last weeks in Svalbard in October, and it serves as the fifth movement in my "Arctic" violin concerto. To be honest, it's not really fair to call it a whole movement, because it's only a minute and a half long and is missing the solo violin part. I really meant it just as an interlude, a moment of pause for the soloist between the other athletic movements of the concerto. If the video above doesn't play for you, try this link . If you're interested in the other movements of the concerto, find them here: I. Longyearbyen             Blog link           YouTube link II. Molloy                       Blog link           YouTube link III. Midnight Sun           Blog link           YouTube link IV. Kongsfjorden           Blog link           YouTube link I'm still working on the l


Sitting at my desk, I could hear footsteps behind me. Someone was coming down the hall toward my desk, probably just one of the undergrads using our lab. I ignored it at first, but the footsteps kept coming, encroaching on my workspace. Then all of a sudden, they stopped. I turned around. There stood my adviser, Craig, wearing a damp rain jacket and holding two ancient-looking books.  "Do you recognize this?" He handed me one of the volumes.  I checked the spine. Bio-Ecology by Clements and Shelford, published in 1939. "Clements is one of the names you told me to look up," I told him.  Craig nodded. "Shelford was the other."  Reading material, Young lab style. I've been thinking a lot about succession in marine hard-bottom communities lately, so Craig has been giving me reading material. In case you don't know, succession is the process by which groups of organisms sequentially replace one other as a community develops. At first

Look at the stars

"I lie under starlit sky And the seasons change in the blink of an eye I watch as the planets turn And the old stars die and the young stars burn" - "Lonesome Dreams" by Lord Huron Well, here I am again, friends,  measuring time in goodbye parties . Tonight, I bid farewell to my good friend, Laurel. Sure, I've said goodbye to plenty of friends and acquaintances in Coos Bay, but this departure was not just standard procedure. It marked the end of an era.   My Coos Bay girls at a Napa Valley winery in June 2013; Laurel is on the right. One of the ankle bracelets I wear is for the community I shared with these women. Laurel was one of my first friends in Coos Bay. When I started at OIMB, she was the senior grad student, so she was one of the people I looked to for a definition of the institute. She introduced me to tidepooling and mushrooming and all the biodiversity in southern Oregon. More than that, though, Laurel became a close personal fr

Ecological Indicators

Friends, I'm happy to announce to you that another scientific paper has been published with my name on it. I'm far from the first author on this one but rather one of many co-authors. The paper pulls together a lot of information collected from the long-term ecological research station Hausgarten, in the eastern Fram Strait, at 78 ° N.  The Hausgarten has been sampled regularly by my colleagues at the  Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, since 1999, and their annual field campaigns have created a unique and valuable dataset for monitoring ecological changes in the Arctic. I had the opportunity to visit Hausgarten twice, in 2011 and 2012, while I was living in Germany and working at the AWI. Hausgarten data was the basis for my first two ecological publications (find them here and here ) and also provides the foundation for my dissertation on dropstone communities. For more information about the  Hausgarten, I recommend you check out this webpage .   The present

"I'm a marine biologist"

"I don't know if it was divine intervention or the kinship of all living things, but I tell you, Jerry, at that moment, I was a marine biologist." - the American comedy show Seinfeld The 90s sitcom Seinfeld is in my opinion the best thing to ever happen to American comedy. It's famous for being a show about nothing - the series profiles a group of young adults living in New York, and while there are mini-plots within each episode about the minutia of their lives, there is no long-term development of the story. Each episode spins on its own head, as two or three different scenarios are laid out and then pulled together in an hilarious crescendo. In one episode, George Costanza pretends to be a marine biologist in order to get an old college friend to notice him. Check out the clip  here . Marine mammal crime scene tape. It exists. I was actually reminded of this episode yesterday because I found myself face-to-face with a beached whale. That's right, frie

What a wreck

I suppose I should tell you what I'm working on now. Since I got back from Svalbard, my focus has been mainly on my shipwreck project, and if you don't remember what I'm talking about, refresh your memory here . Zoanthids, anemones, a crab, a sea star, and a fish  living  on the rusty hull of a sunken battleship. I've been working on the shipwreck data set for quite some time now, trying to understand what factors structure the invertebrate communities that live on them. I've looked at the size of each wreck; I've considered how they're oriented on the seafloor. I've looked up which type of ship made each wreck and what materials were used to construct them. I've considered elevation off the seafloor, complexity of the shipwreck surface, the extent of fishing gear entangled in each. And I'm finally making progress. When I met with Andrew in Stavanger a few weeks ago, he suggested I try a statistical technique that we used in the Svalba

The path before me

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose" - "Song of the Open Road" by Walt Whitman For some reason that I don't entirely understand, I started taking pictures of pathways in 2011. I just love the look of a long, straight road stretched out in front of me. I always take the photos standing on the path and staring straight down its midline. Sometimes, the paths go on for ever, pinching off in infinity, but others have a determined end with something interesting on it. I especially love breakwalls, jetties, and docks - pathways that lead into the water.  The breakwall at Presque Isle, Marquette, MI, photographed at sunrise, April 2011. It's actually kind of a game for me to find interesting pathways to photograph when I travel. I'm always on the look-out for nice, straight roads, and I take my time getting set up for the shots. In fact, I so

Dinner party

New life goal: live somewhere with a large enough kitchen and dining room that I can host dinner parties on a regular basis. Ever since the Atlantis cruise this summer , my fellow OIMBers that participated in the cruise have been talking about getting together for a post-cruise gathering. We grew to be friends while at sea and wanted to spend time together without the pressure of a Sentry sample hanging over our heads. Well, after the cruise, we all parted ways, so the first time we were all in town and able to get together was this week. I ended up hosting the gathering, since I'm one of the only cruise participants with her own apartment. It was a lot of work, but I really didn't mind - I love being a hostess. Whenever someone comes over to my place, I encourage them to look around. Absolutely every decoration in my apartment is meant to be a conversation starter, and many of them originated in the far corners of the world. I love it when guests ask me questions. Grante

American Girl

"Well, she was an American girl Raised on promises She couldn't help but thinkin' That there was a little more to life somewhere else After all it was a great big world With lots of places to run to" - "American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers It's October 25th. It is October 25th, but my brain refuses to accept it. I'm now in Oregon, and the outside temperature is the warmest I've encountered in 2 solid months. I'm wearing short sleeves and crop pants while everyone else pulls on thick socks and extra jackets. If it weren't for the cheesy blow-up Halloween decorations in people's front yards or the ubiquity of pumpkin spice latt é s, I would have no way of knowing that it was already mid-autumn. My world is covered in crunchy gold leaves, but my skin still thinks it's summer. Coming home is always hard, especially after long trips. The first time my jet-lagged body woke up in the early morning in my dark apartm

Last stop

I made one last stop on my friend-visiting tour, in the Netherlands. My friend, Stefanie, lives in Utrecht, so I spent a few days at her place on my way back to the U.S. We climbed the Domturm (Cathedral Tower) in Utrecht, then did day trips to Den Haag and Amersfoort. It was great to see her! View from the top of the Domturm, Utrecht Stefanie and I on top of the Domturm Seen in Amersfoort, the Netherlands Seen in Amersfoort, the Netherlands

No holds barred

Toward the end of my week in Stavanger, I spent time with my old housemates at Kirkebakken. One former housemate, who moved out to get her own place just before I left, was kind enough to let me stay with her, and I also spent plenty of time at the house itself. To be perfectly honest, not much had changed - a few people had moved out of the house, but they all remained in the Stavanger area. Actually, one of my favorite things about the Kirkebakken community is that even after moving out, housemates remain friends. There are even a number of new Kirkebakken couples, I discovered, each one involving one current and one former housemate. It made me smile. I spent most of Friday evening on the brown faux leather couch in the second-floor living room, surrounded by Kirkebakkeners. We shared chips and dip and clever quips, in a conversation where every topic was fair game. These people know each other far too well for their own good, but the no-holds-barred nature of the exchange just ma

Et hjem

Hello, friend. When I left Stavanger last February, my housemate, Kanjana, made me a keychain. On one side, it has a sketch of our house and the name of the street, Kirkebakken. On the other side, in front of a psychedelic orange patterned background, the words "et hjem," Norwegian for "at home." I stopped by Stavanger to visit on my way back from Svalbard, and I must say, dear friends, it still feels like home. Ingeborg picked me up at the airport, and except for new coat she was wearing, both of us looked exactly the same. It was like I had left Stavanger yesterday. I spent my first few days at her place, and it was great to spend time together again. We ate Thai food one night and Indian the next. We went to see an indie Italian movie about a mob family. I was reminded of all my favorite things about Ingeborg: her generosity, her adventurous spirit, her love of ethnic food, music, and art, her classy fashion sense that always makes me look like a hobo. It w

Four Long Years

I'm not sure if you know this, but Longyearbyen is actually named after an American. His name was John Munro Longyear, and he was a pioneer of the coal mining industry on Spitsbergen. Longyear and I have more than nationality and an affinity for the Arctic in common, though. We were both born in the same state, Michigan, in the American Midwest. Not only that, but John Longyear was a notable timber and mining developer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and he served as mayor of Marquette, Michigan in 1890-1891. Just 118 years later, I moved to Marquette, Michigan, to earn my Bachelor's degree at Northern Michigan University. There is a Longyear Avenue in Marquette, not far from Northern's campus, and while I was a student at NMU, one of my dear friends lived in Longyear Apartments. The Longyear connection is actually one of many examples of recurring names and numbers in the lives of myself and my family. I won't bore you with the other examples here, but every time


"Es heißt ja nicht umsonst Spitsbergen!" "They don't call the island 'Mountain Peaks' for no reason!" - Ingo Schewe, translation mine Aurora borealis behind barrack 11. Photo by Adrian Pop. Dear friends, when I last left you, I told you the course was over. Well, in reality, most of the Master's students took off last weekend, but the Ph.D. students had to stay on and write an additional report. (Higher degree, higher expectations.) I'm actually grateful for that report, because it kept me in Svalbard for an extra 7 days, and when you're in the most beautiful place on the planet, every second counts. I've spent most of my daytime hours this past week in the UNIS computer lab with the report, but in the evenings, I was free to just breathe deeply and be in love with Longyearbyen. There was the night we all sat on the barrack 11 roof and watched the northern lights. Then there was that time we had a dance party in the kitchen. Ther

A real Viking

When I lived in Stavanger and would bike to work, the IRIS secretary used to call me "a real Viking." I worked up a sweat biking to work, so I didn't wear as many layers as she thought I should. Plenty of times, even into the late autumn, I would show up at work in leggings and a T-shirt, flush in the face and breathing hard. I'd come into the front lobby holding my bike helmet, and she'd tell me, "Kirstin, you are a real Viking!" I'd smile, push the sweaty hair out of my face, and make my way downstairs to the locker room. Classmates gather for dinner at the Viking round table at Kroa Well, friends, last night, I again felt like a real Viking. For starters, the final exam for my course was Friday morning, so my classmates and I fought valiantly against each question with our pens. After a break in the afternoon, we met for dinner at a restaurant called Kroa, in the center of Longyearbyen. One of the classmates had reserved a round table for

If you give a biologist a sample

Paradody of If you give a mouse a cookie and similar books by Laura Numeroff If you give a biologist a sample She'll want a microscope to look at it. When she sees the beautiful polychaetes and bivalves, She'll ask you for a pair of forceps to pick them out. She'll probably need a petri dish for sorting And a jar with some ethanol to store the specimens. She'll start to wonder what the organisms are, So she'll ask you for a dichotomous key, And when she's finally finished identifying the species, She'll want to know why they live where they do. She'll want to go on an expedition And run experiments in the lab. She'll ask you for a ship and a crew. She'll go out to sea for weeks at a time, Taking measurements and collecting sediments And strange, wonderful creatures from the deep. When she returns home, she'll be exhausted And probably want to take a nap. She'll ask you for a blanket and a pillow. She'll crawl


The scene in the House of Benthos today.  I woke up this morning to find two classmates already in the barrack 11 kitchen, except that instead of eating breakfast, they were typing on their computers. In all honestly, I joined them just as soon as I had eaten, because we have a report due tomorrow. As the morning rolled on, more and more classmates made their way into the kitchen with their computers. We filled the long wooden table with laptops, water bottles, and notebooks. At any given time, at least two conversations were going on at the table - one work-related, one not. We talked amongst ourselves to coordinate what should go into the reports, then shouted across the room to make a joke. We spent several hours like this, clicking away at our computers, trading USB sticks and clever quips across the table. Eventually, we got hungry and distracted, so somebody turned on a Queen-Pink Floyd-Nirvana shuffle mix, and someone else started cooking a late lunch. The laptop crowd b

Sunday Night Live

It's Sunday evening, and I'm in my dorm room in Nybyen. Across the hall from me, a group of classmates is reviewing for our exam tomorrow. They've got someone's computer hooked up to the TV screen, and they're flashing up pictures of animals we collected on the cruise and trying to name them. It's like a strange game show - a biological Match Game - and I can only imagine what a group of comedians would make of this scenario. They'd look at our indiscernible blobs, the strange and alien forms of our specimens, and shout out terrible-sounding words in a made-up language, because that's what we sound like to them. I can picture the SNL skit already. Hey, at least the lab has a view! Anyway, it's been a long week, and I've spent most of it in the lab. Once we got back from the cruise, we had samples to sort through, exams to study for, and reports to write. My settlement plates are all analyzed and the data stored safely on my computer, so now

People of the world

The title for this post is something my classmate, Adriana, always says when she wants to get a group's attention. She walks into a room, loudly says "People of the world," and then starts in with an important message. Others in the course have now picked up the phrase too. It's great. As I look at my classmates now, I can tell we've changed since the beginning of the course. At first, we were just a group of hodge-podge strangers trying to figure each other out. Then it became clear who was the leader, who was the introvert, who was the caregiver, who was the adventurous one. On the cruise, we were thrown into the single most intense working environment I've ever experienced, but we handled it together. Granted, the fast pace, excess of work, and lack of sufficient sleep caused some conflict, but it also forged trust. We learned to rely on each other, to keep each other going, to get past our little annoyances and work effectively as a group. We have a lo


Friends, the opening of this post may surprise you, since I last wrote about Rijpfjorden but am now back on land. The end of the cruise was short and sweet, and I spent most of my time analyzing data in the shipboard lab. My classmates and I have now made it back to Longyearbyen, but I suppose I should fill you in. One of these things is not like the other one. First of all, my settlement plates were all recovered successfully. I had plates at 3 different dive sites and on 2 different moorings, and I got them all back. The results are very interesting, because I could see clear patterns in the data before even counting the organisms. The figure at right is a prime example: these settlement plates are from the Rijpfjorden mooring. One set was deployed at ~20 m below the surface, and the other set was deployed at the seafloor (~195 m deep). One set of plates had exactly two species on it, and the other had exactly none. Can you guess which is which? By the time I finished analy


If you look at a map and find all the places I've named so far on the route for this cruise, you'll notice we're traveling north and east. We started in Lonyearbyen, then hit up Kongsfjorden, Magdalene- and Smeerenburgfjorden, and finally Rijpfjorden, which is our turn-around point. Rijpfjorden is the northermost and easternmost fjord in the Svalbard archipelago, on the island of Nordauslandet. It's pretty different from the rest of the Svalbard fjords because it's primarily influenced by Arctic water coming down from the central Arctic basin. Along the west coast of Svalbard, the West Spitsbergen Current flows northward and brings with it heat, nutrients, and Atlantic organisms, so western fjords are much warmer and Atlantic-influenced. Rijpfjorden, by contrast, is a true Arctic fjord. Contents of our Rijpfjorden trawl. Photo by Adrian Pop. When I did my Svalbard image analysis last year, I found that stations in Rijpfjorden had the highest diversity of a