Showing posts from 2023


Bivalve veligers (baby clams). The top individual was starved, and the  bottom individual was fed for 48 hr. Photos by Kharis Schrage. Friends, your vocabulary word for the day is "quiescence." It refers to a state of inactivity or dormancy. There are actually several types of dormancy in biology, each with their own physiological definition. Quiescence occurs during unfavorable environmental conditions, and an animal can resume activity after the environmental conditions improve.  So are larvae in the polar night quiescent? I wouldn't blame them if they were. I mean, it's pitch black outside, and there's no food. Why not just go dormant until the spring bloom?  One of the main goals Kharis and I had for this trip is to figure out whether larvae in the polar night are quiescent, patiently waiting until the sun comes back and there's food available. Quiescent larvae wouldn't do much - just kind of drift around. They wouldn't eat, and they certainly woul

Northernmost community

Everywhere around Ny-Ålesund, you will see the phrase "the world's northernmost community." It's true - the research station is the closest you can possibly live to the North Pole year-round. There are some temporary ice camps, and of course ships travel into the central Arctic, but as far as permanent settlements go, Ny-Ålesund is the farthest north.  You could call  Ny-Ålesund the world's northernmost town, settlement, or research station - all of those descriptors would be accurate. But I find "community" to be the most appropriate. Because up here, there's a very strong sense that we rely on one another.  When you go into the mess hall for meals, you sit at whatever table has available seats. If you don't know the person across from you, you introduce yourself. That's happened to me many times. In one case, I struck up a conversation with an Italian researcher who was passionate about invertebrates. She told me about a project she had don

Dark Knight: part 2

Sorting plankton with Kharis. Photo by Alexa Elliott, Changing Seas/South Florida PBS. Kharis and I sat shoulder to shoulder at the microscopes in our lab. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her pipet moving back and forth between the dish under her scope and the collection well next to her every few seconds. Back and forth, back and forth - she must have a lot of larvae in her dish. I had plenty myself, actually. One by one, I picked tiny clam after tiny clam from my dish. My eyes wandered to the remainder of the sample, sitting in a tall beaker on the bench between us. It was mostly full. Over a liter and a half to go. How were we ever going to get through it?  When it rains, it pours, right? Larvae are super patchy, so you can catch almost nothing for days on end and then be swarmed with the little buggers. If you just dip your net in the right place in the ocean at the right time, you can end up with more larvae than you ever wanted. That's what happened to us.  We had ta

Polar night research in photos: part 2

There's a green laser on one of the research buildings that's used to make measurements of different parameters in the atmosphere. It shoots straight up and can be seen from anywhere in town. Photo by Kharis Schrage. Aurora borealis! Photo by Kharis Schrage. This photo was taken with a long exposure, so it's actually lighter than what you see in life. Nevertheless, it's a nice view of the harbor and out across the fjord. Photo by Kharis Schrage. We found this cool scale worm on the dock! Photo by Kharis Schrage. This embryo is pretty big and looks exactly like some that I found in 2020. Photo by Kharis Schrage. This little worm is one of our most common species. So cute! Photo by Kharis Schrage. This embryo is interesting because it looks like a donut. Photo by Kharis Schrage. This little snail larvae is super common. Photo by Kharis Schrage.  This larva will grow up to be an anemone that lives in a tube. Photo by Kharis Schrage. 

Changing Seas

Every field trip is different. My career so far has included all sorts of field work - 6 weeks on a global-class ship in international waters, short day-trips in state waters , stints at land-based field stations , SCUBA trips , tidepooling , and pretty much everything in between. Each time, I get to know a new team , try new techniques , and flex my skills as a leader . No two field trips are the same. And this one is different from all of them. Sure, I've been to Ny- Ålesund twice before. I've worked in the Arctic  for over 10 years, including during the polar night . I've traveled with my PhD student, Kharis , twice already and am very familiar with her working style. So what makes this trip different? Well, we have a film crew. David Diez films me preserving a sediment sample. Photo by Alexa Elliott, Changing Seas/South Florida PBS. That's right, Kharis and I have been shadowed by a producer and two videographers during part of our trip. They are from the South Flo


Checking all the parts of CATAIN in the lab. Photo by Alexa Elliott, Changing Seas/South Florida PBS. Imagine that you are a camera system. You were invented in Woods Hole, Massachusetts by a group of scientists and engineers with a mission to study the ocean. You were designed to photograph settlers , they told you, so they named you CATAIN. They deployed you beneath the pier in Woods Hole for tests, then to collect data over the course of a year. You were submerged in winter , in summer , and alongside other panels for comparison. You dreamed of the day that you would fulfill your true purpose - not recording photos of settlers in Woods Hole where the scientists could check on you, but truly going where no settlement study has gone before. You yearned to see the remote environments you were designed for. You strove to earn the trust of your inventors so they would someday send you off on a solo mission. Where would you imagine going? Somewhere offshore, a polar environment, the de

Dog and turtle

Our dirty sieving station - this process involves a lot of mud and even more muddy water. "Kharis, what are your two favorite words?" I asked. "Dog and turtle," she responded right away.  I looked at her quizzically. She looked back at me, even more confused. I showed her the empty white bucket I was holding.  "Oh, empty bucket!" Kharis laughed as she realized what I had really asked. I was trying to tell her we had finished another sample, but she had given me an off-the-cuff honest answer instead. To be fair, I had been throwing seemingly random questions at her over the last hour or so. "Where were you in 2010?" "What would you rather be doing at 12:45 in the morning?" These were my attempts to keep conversation flowing as we worked side-by-side for hours. I suppose a question about her favorite words would not have been out of order. If you can't tell by now, it was late, and we were getting loopy.  The past two days have had pe

Empty bucket

Sieving sediment with Kharis. Photo by Alexa Elliott,  Changing Seas/South Florida PBS. "Empty bucket!" I crooned.  "Empty bucket!" Kharis echoed.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the lab bench, both of us diligently washed sediment through our sieves. Reaching the bottom of a bucket meant that we had almost finished a sample. This small event was enough cause for celebration and levity.  One of the chapters Kharis designed for her thesis involves looking at juvenile clams and snails on the Arctic ocean floor. In the Arctic, ice scours the seafloor, and this impacts the animals that live there. Ice floes bang against the coast; icebergs bash into the seafloor; and in the intertidal zone, the sediment freezes solid. Ice makes it very dangerous to live in shallow water, so there's a cline in biodiversity with depth. More individuals and more species live deeper, because the deeper you go, the less likely you are to be brutally murdered by frozen water.  Kharis is

Polar night research in photos

This is the lightest it gets each day - around noon, you can just see the outline of the mountains. Photo by Kharis Schrage.   Aurora borealis! This photo is pretty close to how it looked in life. Photo by Kharis Schrage. View back to the marine lab from across the harbor, where we collect our larvae. The tiny light at the very top of the picture is the Zeppelin Observatory, a small atmospheric sampling station at the top of the mountain. Photo by Kharis Schrage. Cool animals we found on kelp: Lichenopora sp. (a bryozoan, top left), and Circeis sp. (tube worms). Photo by Kharis Schrage.  The clam Hiatella arctica on a kelp holdfast. Photo by Kharis Schrage.  Look at this cute nudibranch we found on the kelp! Photo by Kharis Schrage. This beautiful pink embryo was in one of our samples. Photographed at 100x magnification by Kharis Schrage. This is possibly my favorite specimen, both because it's cute and because it's orange. I got similar ones in 2020 . This is a juvenile sea


After discovering that the larval community in Kongsfjorden was skewed toward diversity , Kharis and I came up with a different strategy to find hundreds of larvae of the same species. If we collected reproductive adults, they might spawn in the lab and give us the monolithic cohort we were looking for. So we headed to the dock with buckets in hand to look for reproductive adults.  We weren't sure what - or rather, who - we were going to find. Our experiments will work with any species, as long as the larvae are planktotrophic (i.e., rely on external food sources rather than yolk from their mothers). Clams, snails, sea slugs, or bryozoans could have fit the bill. We just needed someone who was ready to release their young.  Belly Biology in the polar night. Photo by Kharis Schrage. If you lay on your belly and peer over the edge of most docks, you will find an environment teeming with life. We called it Belly Biology when I was in grad school, and it's a great activity to do wi

Dark Knight

"You merely adopted adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see the light until I was already a man." - the movie Dark Knight Rises Our first scientific task in Ny-Ålesund was to collect larvae. We headed down to the pier right outside the marine lab with a plankton net, two buckets to hold our samples, and a radio for safety. It was pitch black outside except for the glow from the windows of the marine lab across the harbor. My student, Kharis, drove our two buckets into the snow for safe-keeping while I tied the plankton net to a cleat. We've collected plenty of plankton samples together before. This was a routine operation - except for the 20 mph wind, of course. After dragging the plankton net back and forth in the water several times, we emptied the collector at the end of our net into one of the buckets and headed up the stairs to the other side of the pier. Here, it was less sheltered, and the waves made a standard operation difficult. Instea

Orientation day

The first day of any research trip is jam-packed, and our first day in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, was no different. We arrived at the remote research station on a 14-seat airplane powered by two external propellers (a Dornier 228, for any aviation nerds out there). I originally thought we might be the only ones on the plane, but as it turns out, another research group was headed up to Ny-Ålesund the same day. It was actually nice to get to know them as we waited - we'll be seeing a lot of each other on station.  The flight from Longyearbyen to Ny-Ålesund is part of the Arctic experience, so I have to describe it to you. First, you arrive at Longyearbyen airport about 30 minutes before your flight. When there are 9 passengers, there's really no rush to come hours in advance. You enter through a side door in a building adjacent to the main terminal and find yourself in an airplane hangar. There's no security check because this is a private flight. All your luggage gets weighed, a

On the way up

Every time I go to the Arctic, I retrace my own steps. I have to fly through Germany to Norway and work my way north, covering territory that I know well. Sometimes I stop to see friends along the way, and every time I do, I get to visit old versions of myself , too. This trip, the retracing started by chance, when I spotted two colleagues from AWI  in Frankfurt Airport. It was "more than a coincidence," to quote my colleague, Thomas. Once I got to Oslo, I stayed with my friend, Kristina , and got to visit her workplace at NIVA (Norwegian Institute for Water Research). In another strange coincidence, one of Kristina's NIVA colleagues remembered me from 2019, when I gave a seminar at the University of Oslo. Friends, the world is small, and Norway is tiny.  It was lovely to connect with Kristina. She and I were postdocs and dive buddies at WHOI a few years ago. She's moved on to her own permanent position, a house, a dog, and a baby. We had a lot to catch up on, and

Coral taxonomy

 If Maikani had a catchphrase, it would be "I gotchu." She says it all the time. Ask her to hand you something - "I gotchu." Ask her what time it is - "I gotchu." Assign her a task, and she listens carefully, then finishes with "I gotchu."   You can imagine my surprise when I finished explaining to Maikani my expectations for her coral project,  and she turned silently to her computer screen. No "I gotchu" at all. With one hand, she maneuvered the mouse to open a photo, and with the other hand, she flipped to a page in the ID book I had given her. She even had the Corals of the World website open before I could say anything. It was like she had gone into auto-pilot. She knew exactly what she was doing.  Maikani knows corals not just because of her previous research experience. Corals are part of her identity. You see, she grew up in Palau, an island nation in the tropical Pacific that has become a world leader in ocean conservation. I&#