Showing posts from January, 2015

Top ten things I'll miss about Norway

Norwegian landscape and sky 10) The incredible landscapes. I didn't realize until I got here just how gorgeous of a country Norway is. There are mountains everywhere, and they slide right into the sea. 9)   The Norwegian sky.  Everywhere I look in this country, there are magnificent patterns in the sky - clouds, rainbows, sunrises. I've never been in a place that has such consistently beautiful skies. I feel as if I'm bounded in - under a ceiling, if you will - and it's actually kind of neat to have such a keen awareness of the 3-D space around me. 8) Smoked salmon on bread.  The Norwegians have a tendency to pile animal products on top of bread, and smoked salmon quickly became my favorite. I had it almost every day at lunch. 7) Waffle Wednesdays.  Okay, it's not really the waffles I'll miss but rather lunchtime with my IRIS colleagues. It's so important to have one designated time in the day when everyone sits together and chats. IRIS is quite a

To revise

Do any of you remember the paper I was working on during the fall? I called it my "Svalbard image analysis," and I spent a solid month or two just analyzing data for it. I submitted the paper for publication just before leaving on my Christmas break. Ring any bells? Well, earlier this week, I heard from the scientific journal where I had submitted the paper. I was actually surprised to hear back so soon. (I've waited up to 5 months for reviews on a paper before, but I suppose every journal is different.) The reviewers made thorough comments on my paper but asked for some revisions before it could be published. Basically, that means the study was well-done overall, but it's just not quite there yet. I still have some work to do. In case you're interested, I'll outline the scientific publication process. It's a unique system, and it's been the same for decades. When you submit a paper for publication, three things happen: 1) The paper is assigned

Forget about me: Part 2

“I think that's what our world is desperately in need of - lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about.” “Biological family is too small of a vision. Patriotism is far too myopic. A love for our own relatives and a love for the people of our own country are not bad things, but our love does not stop at the border.” - Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical I read The Irresistible Revolution in college, and it forever changed my worldview. In fact, I spent a significant fraction of 2010 about 2 steps away from dropping everything, moving to Philadelphia, and joining the Simple Way. I became obsessed with the idea of community - how to build one, how to sustain one, and what happens to you when you're in one.  Instead of Philadelphia, I moved to Germany in 2011, and a large part of my motivatio

Hair on fire

"I'm running around with my hair on fire!" - Sandra Brooke I met Sandra, the source of the quote above, on a research cruise in 2013. She was one of the chief scientists on board and therefore had a lot of things to take care of. She was constantly running around from place to place, solving problems, talking to people, making plans, and trying to process specimens at the same time. I always giggled when she got to the breaking point and declared her hair to be on fire - it was quite the image. Now that I'm back in Stavanger, I've got to admit, I feel a lot like Sandra must have on that cruise. I only have a short amount of time left in Norway before I move out and embark on another adventure. (For the record, I'm still "in Norway" until April 1, but in 2 weeks, "Norway" will be a research ship in the Pacific. Andrew invited me on the cruise, so it still counts as part of my fellowship experience. More details later.) Anyway, I've


Please find my latest musical composition, "Kongsfjorden" at this link:   Besides just analyzing my settlement plates, I managed to write some music this week. I find I tend to compose most when I'm in a place with my laptop where there are few other options of ways to spend my free time. I also write when I feel very strongly about something. Each of my compositions are tied to a specific place and a time where I experienced something new. As you can imagine, all of these factors mean I compose a lot in the Arctic. So far, my trips to Svalbard (four trips since 2011) have produced four movements for a violin concerto about the Arctic. The video above features the fourth movement, titled "Kongsfjorden," which I just finished. If you missed them, the previous three movements were posted on this blog in September. Find them here , here , and here . When I write music, I don't use any specific formula. I don't think about wh

Heading home

"Though the truth may vary this Ship will carry our Bodies safe to shore" - "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men Well, friends, I'm getting back on the Helmer Hanssen, and at least for me, the Marine Night campaign is over .  I'm riding the ship back to Longyearbyen, and from there I'll fly home to Stavanger. It's been an incredible experience. Even though I would have rather had my Kvadehuken samples, it was nice to have a free day yesterday. I spent time with the friends that I made on the ship and in Ny-Ålesund, and I even had a productive conversation with a scientist whose interests almost exactly match mine. I feel a collaboration coming on. Every time I leave the Arctic, I fear that I will never have the chance to return. This time, though, I know I will be back in September, so leaving is just a little bit easier. I count myself blessed to have seen this place, to have researched its mysteries, and to have become part of the Arctic

Sixty-seven percent

I checked the clock. 7:30 pm. Where are they? I thought, It's been hours! I paced along the long hallway in the lower floor of the marine lab. Peeking my head out the back door, I spotted someone with a head lamp working on the dock. Is that them? Where's the ship? Soon it was 8:00. Ok, it does not take 6 hours to drive to Kvadehuken, dive, and come back, I told myself. I had had enough. Maybe their radio broke. I marched downstairs to find someone who knew what was going on, but when I swung open the door to the dive locker, I stopped cold. Peter and Daniel were inside, wearing street clothes. "Umm..." I started. Daniel met my eyes. "We had to abort. We've been back for an hour. Didn't anyone tell you?" Well, no, they hadn't, but I guess I'd rather find out late than never. The dive to retrieve my settlement plates from Kvadehuken was aborted before my plates were retrieved. Apparently, the diving spot at Kvadehuken has been marked

Identification, please

After spending the better part of a day and a night at the microscope, I have counted all the recruits to my Ny-Ålesund settlement plates! They are turning out to be just as interesting as I had hoped. The first thing I noticed about the plates was that they were much more densely populated than their Longyearbyen counterparts. I found some of the same animals in both locations, but there were also a number of new morphotypes in Ny-Ålesund. I found a couple different bryozoans that I hadn't seen in Longyearbyen, so I was very pleased. Whenever I'm counting the organisms on my plates, I just separate them into morphotypes, which means I put them in categories with temporary names. Then later, I have to try and identify each morphotype. Sometimes, you can send specimens or pictures of your morphotypes to a taxonomic expert for help, but in this case, the taxonomic experts came to me. Yep, a number of scientists flew into Ny-Ålesund today, and among them were a bryozoan expert


"When I woke up this morning, it felt like the whole world was hugging me." - the TV show Suits It's amazing how much my mood can be improved by even a small success. Yes, friends, that means that my settlement plates have been recovered from the Ny-Ålesund dock. After breakfast today, I walked out onto the pier to see just how much the wind had calmed down. I could already tell in town that it had receded, but I wanted to feel out the conditions on the exposed pier just to be sure. To my cautious delight, the wind seemed manageable, and Peter and Daniel agreed. The dive was a go. Survival suit selfie We suited up and loaded the zodiac. Of course the two divers had to wear their thermal layers and thick drysuits, but this time, I had to wear specialized gear too: a survival suit, built to keep you warm and dry in even the coldest water. This is the Arctic, and we aren't taking any chances. I pulled on thermal leggings and an undershirt, a thick wool sweater

Of dominoes and curve balls

The radio sprang to life. "Marine lab, this is Helmer Hanssen . Marine lab, this is Helmer Hanssen ." I could hear someone pick up the radio downstairs. Not 30 seconds later, Daniel had risen from his work station and headed down the steps. I leaned over the railing to listen in.  "We have collected your samples..."  Ah, exactly the message we had been waiting for. Another researcher currently in Ny-Ålesund needed sediment from the fjord, and it appeared the ship had completed her mission. I breathed a sigh of relief, because with this sample collection out of the way, the dive to retrieve my settlement plates could move forward. Daniel had been designated to drive the zodiac out and pick up the precious mud, so we couldn't go diving until he had returned. Like a game of dominoes, it only took one successful box core deployment to set it all in motion. I settled back into the couch, satisfied that the dive would happen in the next few hours. Well,

The land without time

"Out there's a land that time don't command I wanna be the first to arrive" - "Ends of the earth" by Lord Huron This polar bear greets you in the Kings  Bay cafeteria. Before ever embarking on this Arctic adventure, I figured being in 24-hour darkness would mess with my body clock. That's just a given. I thought I would have uniformly high serotonin levels and have to constantly fight the urge to sleep, but it's actually turned out to be the exact opposite. As I write this blog, it's approaching midnight, and I find myself wondering why I should sleep. After all, it will be just as dark when I wake up tomorrow.  It's very easy to lose track of time when it's constantly dark outside. I find my only way to orient myself is by mealtimes. Food is only served during the day, and I know what time it is by what I'm eating. In case you're wondering, this isn't just true in the Arctic - it happens to me every time I'm on

End of the earth

“Out there’s a river that winds on forever I’m gonna see where it leads Out there’s a mountain that no man has mounted I’m gonna stand on the peak … To the ends of the earth, Would you follow me?” -“Ends of the earth” by Lord Huron The Helmer Hanssen at the dock in Ny- Ålesund At about 2 pm today, the Helmer Hanssen pulled up to the dock in Ny- Ålesund, the northernmost settlement in the world. No group of humans dwells closer to the North Pole than this.  Of course I've been further north than Ny- Ålesund before, but always on a ship. We actually pushed it to about 81 ° on the Hanssen earlier this week. As I walk between the houses of this tiny little place, I can't help but marvel at the select few that persist year-round at 79 ° N. Most people in Ny- Ålesund are just visitors - scientists who come for a field season, tourists who just stop in for the day (yes, cruise ships dock here) - but there are a few support staff who stay for up to 4 years. The


After about a 2-day steam north, we arrived last night in the port of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. When we first arrived, we were unable to dock for a few minutes because reportedly two SCUBA divers were underwater near the dock. Can anybody guess who the divers might have been? Yep, that’s right – it was Peter and Daniel, and they were picking up my settlement plates from the Longyearbyen city pier. They had apparently waited until the very last minute to complete the dive and were just finishing as we pulled in, even though the ship was 6 hours late. I wanted so badly to roll my eyes at their incredible procrastination, but to be honest, I have no right to complain. The settlement plates got to the ship in time. No harm; no foul. Furthermore, Daniel and Peter are helping me out on a volunteer basis, even though they have their own projects to worry about. I owe those guys so much beer. When the dive leader handed me the plates, he warned me not to get my hopes up. “We thought about j

Into the darkness

The first few days of an expedition are always the hardest for me. I’ve actually spent most of the last two days in my bunk as a result of jet lag, exhaustion, and seasickness. Don’t ever let anyone tell you marine biologists don’t get seasick – it happens to the best of us. When I woke up today, I could feel the motion of the ship had changed. We were no longer racing along and rocking from side to side. The ship had slowed down, and I could hear ice scraping against the hull. Every once in a while, we’ll hit an ice floe and get a good jolt to one side or the other. Sea ice, as seen off the bow of the Helmer Hanssen . I headed to the bridge to see if I could get a glimpse of the ice. Of course it’s pitch black outside, but I was able to see some of the ice floes thanks to giant flood lights shining off the bow. Ice floes are transported around the southern tip of Svalbard from the Barents Sea, so the ice we’re experiencing now is advected from elsewhere. We’ll actually ge

Almost familiar

“But if you close your eyes Does it almost feel like Nothing changed at all? And if you close your eyes Does it almost feel like You’ve been here before?” --  “Pompeii” by Bastille Friends, I come to you now from the research vessel Helmer Hanssen , currently underway in the waters surrounding Tromsø, Norway. In the past 24 hours, I landed in Stavanger after a trans-Atlantic flight, unpacked a suitcase, packed another suitcase, jetted north to Tromsø, and boarded a ship. I snagged a few hours of sleep along the way, but to be perfectly frank, I am exhausted. Tromsø, Norway, as seen from the ship I passed through Tromsø briefly in 2011 and 2012, each time at the end of a polar expedition aboard the German icebreaker Polarstern . In 2011, my colleagues and I had enough time to walk around downtown, but that’s the extent of my experience with the city. I actually know the fjord much better. In fact, Tromsø is my favorite port city in the world for this reason alo

Forget about me

Well, friends, I’ve been out of touch for a while. I returned to the United States to visit family and friends over Christmas and New Year’s. It was an incredible time with a wedding, snowboarding, visits from old friends and neighbors, and seeing my brother’s university. As I sit here in Detroit Metro Airport and reflect on the past two weeks, I think about how incredibly blessed I am. My life nowadays is split almost equally between the U.S. and Europe, and I am grateful to have a network of friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic. I think a lot of people in my situation would lament their lack of a home base, but whenever I travel, I am reminded how many home bases I actually have. It’s so comforting to return to places that I know and be received by people that love me. I have my house in Norway and my university back in Oregon, but I also have my previous home in Germany, my close friends scattered across the Midwestern United States and northern Europe, my parents w