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Showing posts from September, 2015

Koselig

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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

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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

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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

Patterns

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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

Torskevannet

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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

Fat city

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Like dutiful little soldiers, we filed up to the bridge. Jørgen had called a meeting, forcing us to leave our microscopes for a minute. We expected some sort of lesson or exercise, but instead we were greeted by an incredible view. We were in Magdalenefjorden, on the northwest corner of Spitsbergen.  Glacier in Smeerenburgfjorden Magdalenefjorden has actually been voted the best place on Svalbard, and I have no trouble understanding why. It’s a short fjord, and it has steep sides dotted by glaciers. The glacier at the head of the fjord had a dramatic, high wall that was bright blue and jagged. Paul, the course leader, told us that if we just watched it for a few minutes, we were bound to see a piece break off. We didn’t spend much time in Magdalenefjorden – just enough to take some sediment samples, enjoy the view, and move on. I would have happily stayed much longer, but alas, we had work to do. Our next stop was Smeerenburgfjorden, which is named after the now-defunc

Hard day's night

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“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 re

Break time

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Right now, I am sitting on the black leather couch in the lounge of the Helmer Hanssen . It's just past midnight, and even though I was planning to stay up much later, my night has been cut short by a power outage. We blew a fuse in the main lab (too many microscope lights plugged in at once), and the crew is working to fix it. Looks like I’ll have to rest until morning. To be honest, rest is a very welcome thing right now, since I've been working at breakneck pace all cruise. We’ve only been at sea for five days, but it feels like it’s been a decade. My days have been full of coursework – sampling for class projects, sorting and identifying animals, analyzing data – leaving me to analyze my settlement plates in any remaining spare moment.  Truth be told, I really shouldn’t be complaining, because I've gotten 4 sets of plates back successfully in as many days, which is impressive and encouraging. At a certain, point, though, I do start to wear down. One of the

So there I was

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So there I was, riding on the bow of an orange zodiac, holding onto the side with all my might, racing toward the mountainous shore of a fjord. I was wearing a drysuit, but the sea still managed to sting my face with frigid saltwater every few minutes. I was happy. My group landed on a pebble-covered beach between two rocky hills. Above the high tide line, chunks of ice the size of milk crates were haphazardly strewn about. We were surrounded by steep terrain, so after emptying the boat of all our gear, we half-loaded the polar bear rifle. Just in case. I threw a metal quadrat frame over my shoulder, adjusted the neckline of my drysuit, and followed the group leader up and over one of the cliffs. Sampling in the Kongsfjorden intertidal. Photo by Adrian Pop. So there I was, making my way down a marble knoll, watching the waves and trying to gauge the texture of the ground through my neoprene booties. We needed one person to brace themselves in the knee-high water and hold t

Have sample, will travel

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I sat cross-legged on the break room couch, my computer on my lap, engrossed in a scientific paper. Piotr, sitting in a lounge chair next to me, scrolled through e-mails on his phone. Piotr looked up. "Well, there he is!" he called, breaking into a smile. I too looked up from my computer screen and peered down the hall. Sure enough, Peter was coming towards us, his jacket unzipped, a heavy duffel bag slung over his shoulder. "Did you walk?" Piotr joked. Peter nodded. I rolled my eyes. Leave it to Peter to walk himself into town from the airport. I closed my laptop and stood up, just as he encircled me in a hug. It was good to see him again. It was a busy day at Longyearbyen Bykaia. With Peter's arrival, the cast of characters for the upcoming research cruise was complete. More importantly for me, his arrival made it possible to retrieve my settlement plates, since a team of 3 is required for scientific dives, and I don't count. We spent a few minutes

Søndagstur

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Question: What are a group of biology students to do with a Sunday off? Answer: Go on a hike!  We went up the mountain right behind Nybyen, called Sarcofagen. To get there, we had to climb on the Longyearbreen glacier and zig-zag our way up the mountainside. Sarcofagen also has a long ridge down the middle, so we walked out to the tip for a spectacular view of Longyearbyen below. We came down the valley on the other side of the mountain, skirting another glacier, and ended back in Nybyen. It was a great hike! The ridge on Sarcofagen. Longyearbreen is on the right, and another glacier is off the picture on the left. This mailbox, at the tip of Sarcofagen, had a guest book inside. The idea is to sign your name once you've reached the point. This is as far was could safely walk on the ridge.  View to Longyearbyen below.

Russian heaven

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In one giant, chatty, amoeba-shaped crowd, we made our way down to the Longyearbyen pier. It was Friday afternoon, and the last lecture of the week was behind us. The sun still shone brightly, even though it tilted toward the horizon, and large red jellyfish littered the surface of the fjord. One by one, we boarded a small tourist ship and set sail for Barentsburg. Seen on the way to Barentsburg. Barentsburg is a small Russian mining town near the mouth of Isfjorden. There's not much traffic between it and Longyearbyen; in fact, I know very few people who have ever been there before. There's really no reason for a scientist to go to Barentsburg, since the town is entirely industry-based and doesn't have a research station. It's actually unique in that way, as far as modern Svalbard settlements go. Still, I've always been curious about Barentsburg, so as soon as another UNIS student suggested we go explore it, I was game. There were about 100 of us from UNIS on

House of benthos

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Barrack 11, just about as high up the valley as you can get without having to carry a rifle. My third full day of coursework in Longyearbyen is complete, and it's been pretty laid-back so far. We've had introductory lectures from a few different professors, and several pages in my notebook have already filled with notes. We actually had a short day today, so I used most of my afternoon to read. We have 450 pages of scientific papers to make it through in 5 weeks, so I definitely have to stay on top of my reading! You might be wondering where students live in Longyearbyen, since the town is so small and remote. Well, thankfully, UNIS has student housing, and everyone is guaranteed a spot. Most of the student housing is at Nybyen, a cluster of dormitories and hotels at the head of the valley where Longyearbyen sits. There's also one dorm right next to UNIS. I stayed in Nybyen when I was up here last fall, and even though it's 3 km away from UNIS, I don't mind t