It’s been a busy few weeks at the research station and I write this as I am travelling home to sunny Wales after a hard, but thoroughly enjoyable, field season in the Swedish Arctic. After finishing sampling the snow melt experiment I have also been collecting samples across a spatial gradient in the heathland to investigate the relationship between distance and microbial community composition. The environment of the soil is strongly heterogeneous and each gram of soil houses a complex and diverse microbial community. Fine scale local variations in soil properties mean that the microbial community characterised in this single gram of soil could be vastly different to that of one just centimetres away, whereas a single square centimetre of soil a kilometres away could be just as similar. Therefore, any experiment situated on one small portion of the Arctic being representative of a whole heathland ecosystem is an unlikely claim!
Understanding the spatial variation of this region will be an important step in trying to characterise the structure and function of the microbial community of the elevated CO2 x UV-B plots. This unique experiment has been running for 20 years at Abisko and this week I have been assisting Alan Jones and Dylan Gwynn-Jones from Aberystwyth getting the site fully operational for the summer. During the summer growing season, the vegetation here will be exposed to approximately three months of elevated CO2 at 600 ppm and enhanced UV-B radiation simulating a 15 % depletion in the ozone layer. Climate change research here has attracted much interest from around the globe as the Arctic remains one of the last unanswered questions in terms of elevated CO2 and carbon cycling. Indeed, following the visit of US Sec. State John Kerry to nearby Kiruna, meeting with the Arctic Council, several US deputy officials and ambassadors were keen to visit the field site at Abisko. Alan and I were very pleased to see the enthusiasm and interest that they showed in the work done by Aberystwyth in the Arctic, but we recognised that our role as scientists goes beyond research and academia, but also being able to communicate our findings effectively with policy makers and the general public.