Following the beautiful train journey from Oslo, our University of Leeds team arrive at Finse. Having hauled our suitcase of equipment (fondly named the ‘lab in a bag’) down the dirt track to the alpine research station, we catch our first view of the Hardangerjoklen Ice Cap. The station make us welcome and we set out to explore…
Our first full day in the field is spent walking a loop across the Hardangervidda plateau, visiting river sites between the station and Blåisen glacier. Our aim is to sample along a gradient of glacial influence and we selected our sites before arriving at Finse, using the percentage cover of ice within watersheds to create a space-for-time substitution for deglaciation. We are lucky with the weather and visit five sites.
At each site, we sample the microbial communities of benthic river sediments and cobbles and adopt the age old (if not slightly eccentric) approach of scrubbing rocks with toothbrushes to detach biofilm samples. To draw further suspicious looks from passing hikers, we tie cotton strips to large rocks and place them onto the river bed.
Alongside temperature loggers, these assays follow the Celldex Protocol (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281243407_CELLDEX_Protocol_Part_1 ) and will be used to measure benthic decomposition rates along our gradient. They will be incubated here until we return to Finse in early September to retrieve them. Once back in Leeds, their tensile strength loss will be determined, as a proxy for cellulose decomposition. Every effort is made to secure the cotton strips, as they need to survive the high, turbid flows and potential bed movement. GPS points are taken to help re-locate them – fingers crossed!
Days 2 and 3 are spent visiting a further seven sites, appreciating the beauty of the place, looking out for lemmings, questioning the nutritional value of cucumber and being grateful for the station drying room. This brings our total to 12 sites, spanning 0 – 85% glacial cover.