Back on Earth

So.. On the 6th of September, we have landed safely in Amsterdam. Home again after an amazing fieldwork. The trip from Greenland back to the Netherlands, with a nights stay in Copenhagen, was relatively tiring, maybe because of the tension release of all the excitement. From Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I went directly to Utrecht University to put our samples in the cooling cell.

In the coming months I will process the samples in the lab. I can not wait to see what secrets they will reveal about the changing of the growing season in the Arctic over the last couple of thousand years, in relation to present climate change.

I will keep you updated on the further development of the project at some point in the future. In the mean while, feel free to contact me for information, to share ideas or to collaborate! I am very interested in your opinions and views.

e-mail: f.e.z.ercan@uu.nl

-FabianIMG-20170908-WA0007

 

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Back to the start

I’d heard whisperings from afar that snow had fallen on Tarfala.

Of course, there was little that I could do about it, but the anticipation of what I would return to was never far from my mind.

Roped up, trekking up a snowy Storeglaciären, I was beginning to wonder whether Mike and I should have brought a couple of shovels. But as the glacier’s angle eased, it started to look like everything was all going to be just fine.

Re-finding the site was easy, despite the snow; I’d left a huge pile of Rock-Socks, which had become a local sigh-seeing feature over the summer. Mike and I quickly got to work against the ever growing icy blasts of air. This was no place to hang around in.

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Radioing in from site Rock-Socks

Our mission for the week was to sample and process late season microbial communities as much as possible in the little time that we had. Fortunately, strong winds, lashing rain and mild(ish) temperatures were soon to be on our side for assisting snow melt. I’d also managed to streamline our sampling regime so that we could be done and dusted at the glacial site in under an hour, to avoid the perils of freezing fingers and numb toes.

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Storeglaciären freezing-up for the year.

As the week went on, the loss of snow assisted with our sampling, but it still felt like Tarfala had given up on summer for the year. Now that I’ve returned home, the weather forecasts keep showing the research station with sub-zero temperatures and snow; so I’m more than pleased that we managed to catch this end of season window.

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Calm after the storm(s): Glad for a wind-free day.

Finally, all that was left to do was to clear up and pack out; which is where Mike really came into his own, with the dismantling of the Rock-Socks and helping to carry out all our kit.

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The evolution of Mike as he tows Rock-Socks away
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Autumn beneath our feet.

All in all, it’s been a funny sampling year for me. The research station even announced that Storeglaciären actually gained weight this year; something we don’t tend to expect these days. The staff at the station were fantastic, and I’m more that grateful to INTERACCESS for funding this trip. Here’s hoping that some great results follow suit. Cheers Tarfala!

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31st of August: Field-work and evening hike

At half past six the alarm got me awake. After a quick breakfast, Zofia and I went to sample Mountain pines at the first field-site., i.e. a Southeast facing slope at 1700 m elevation. The sampling itself was quite cumbersome, since Mountain pine forms relatively dense patches which were hard to access. By early afternoon we had managed to measure and harvest ten stems. First ring-counts in the field suggested the shrubs to be at least 60 to 70 years.

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Morning-view from my room in Kłapa research station.

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A beautiful morning in the Tatra Mountains – perfect conditions for field-work.

Left: Mountain pine stem after the sampling (diameter round-about 8 cm), age roughly estimated at 50 years by counting the rings. Right: Mountain Pine forms dense thickets which are not easily accessible.

Since by then half of the field-work was accomplished and the weather was forecasted sunny for tomorrow, we decided to leave the remaining work for the next day. Instead I used the free time to repeat a photography taken in the 1960ies which was exposed in the research station and combine this with an evening hike to a close-by mountain. It turned out that the repeat photography could not be taken in perfect match, since the spruce forest had significantly extended since the 1960ies. Nevertheless I tried to match the perspective of the two pictures, whose comparison clearly indicates an upward movement of the tree-line as well as an increasing Mountain pine abundance in the area. The subsequent hike to the Black lake (Czorny Staw) and Karb mountain pass gave me a very nice impression of the High Tatra Mountains.

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Attempting repeat photography to compare the extent of the tree-line between 1960 and today. The exactly same angle was not possible to obtain since today Norway spruce covers the perspective from the 1960ies.

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Evening panoramic view on the study-area from 2000 m elevation. The area above the tree-line is largely covered with Mountain pine (e.g. dark-green patches on the west-facing slope in the centre of the image and around the lakes in the valley).

In the late evening, Prof. Stanisław Kędzia – as Zofia also from PAN IGiPZ in Krakow – arrived at the station. He should accompany me to the second field-site next day, since Zofia had to return to Krakow because of pending work-duties.

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30th of August: Reaching the station and inspecting the sample sites

Today I hiked from Zakopane to Hala Gąsienicowa, where Kłapa research station is located. Although the difference in elevation was only about 600 m, the hike was tiring, since I was carrying a 20 kg heavy backpack containing food, tools for field-work, rags, and my laptop. After four hours I reached a relatively old and cosy wooden hut – Kłapa research station which provides scientists with a well-equipped base-camp for studies. Moreover the station has recorded meteorological observations since 1917. Prof. Zofia Raczkovska – the station manager from the Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow (PAN IGiPZ) – gave me a warm welcome. After a short break and a cup of tea, we started discussing field-work and identified potential field-sites which were inspected in the afternoon. The general idea was to sample each ten Mountain pine (Pinus mugo ssp. mugo) specimens at two different micro-sites for dendroecological analyses. Thankfully, the local conditions were very supportive to this approach and we finally decided to investigate the effect of opposing slope exposition (SE vs. NW) on the growth of Mountain Pine. Alternatively we could have studied the effect of differing elevation but from my personal, ecological point of view the effect of exposition appeared more interesting.

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First view on Hala Gąsienicowa.

In the field, Zofia provided me with some background information about the history of the study area: the valley experienced heavy timber logging in the 19th century to support an ironwork in Zakopane, then was reforested but continuously grazed by sheep until the 1970ies. In 1954 the High Tatra Mountains were declared a national park to conserve its unique nature. Nowadays, the area experiences a high pressure from massive touriusm (2-3 million visitors a year) and climate change, of which the latter visualizes in the prominent die-back of Norway spruce in course of drought and bark-beetle attacks.

I really enjoyed these first impressions from the field-site due to wonderful weather conditions and the magnificent view on the mountain tops surrounding Hala Gąsienicowa. Also, since the intended sampling design seemed to work out (you never know for sure what to expect before you’ve seen a particular field-site) and the weather forecast was good, I was quite confident about my research stay at Kłapa. After a long day I went outside the research station to watch the stars of a clear sky to finally fall asleep in curious expectation of the field-work next day.

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Pinus mugo – the species under investigation – in front of the Hala Gąsienicowa mountain tops.

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29th of August – travelling from Munich to Zakopane

The first day of my INTERACT TA to Kłapa research station in the High Tatra Mountains, Poland, was – compared to my earlier INTERACT trips to Finse, Norway, and Kobbefjord, Greenland – quite unspectacular: I rode by car from Freising, Germany, to Zakopane, Poland, which took me round about 12 hours including several breaks and some traffic jams. However, the trip included my first visit to Slovakia where I spotted several interesting castles along the highway as well as my first view on the Carpathians which I to date had been unfamiliar with.

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One of several Slovakian castles north of Bratislava along the way to Zakopane.

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Up, up and away

The last few days we have been capturing drone footage in the lower part of the valley that we have been studying. This footage will give us very detailed aerial images of the study area, at a level of detail that we cannot gain from walking around the field site, or from conventional satellite images.

Inside the church in Qeqertarsuaq

 

On Sunday morning we went to church with Laura, one of the Danish researchers at the base. The service was conducted in Greenlandic, but we had the help of a hymn book to navigate the hymns. The church is a small wooden building, and very pretty inside. It was great to be able to take a look inside and enjoy the service while the snow and wind whirled around outside.

Note taking – and checking our samples are in good shape to send home

In between drone filming, we have also copied up our notes and spent the last few evenings cooking dinner with the other researchers at the station – Laura, Lena, and Anders, and the station manager Regin. Today it was time to pack the crate ready for its return shipment to Britain. The Arctic Line manager at the port is a staunch Arsenal fan. So, knowing that we are from Manchester and Liverpool – both rival teams of Arsenal – means that the crate may never return…

Samples are raring to go. Next stop…the lab!

We are now just about ready to head to Ilulisat on the ferry to begin our journey home. We are looking forward to seeing the Isfjord! It’s been a very fun and productive field season at Arctic Station, and we have met some great researchers. We hope the come back soon to continue the research!

Little crate hitching a ride to the port

Worth it

Just imagine: your commute to your office includes a one hour drive, followed by a six kilometer hike with a 600 meter elevation increase. Two hours of consecutive hiking, if you follow a decent pace. And then your office day still has to start. And after 8 hours you still have to head back.

Heavy? No doubt, but imagine now that this would be the view from your office:

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Then it does not matter anymore how long the hike, how high the climb, how hard the work, this view is worth it all.

This was exactly what we got on the last day of our second 10-day-fieldtrip to Northern Scandinavia this summer. We had had some disappointments along the way: closed road barriers, whole valleys shut down due to a broken truck on the only access road, hours of rain… All of these disappointments added up to us having to include a pretty hard day at the very end of our trip.

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Luckily, weather was (finally truly) on our side that day, offering us a morning with the brightest, nicest, sunniest Arctic summer weather one could imagine. If that doesn’t make your day, nothing will.

With morning unfolding around you, slowly hiking up towards and above the treeline, and seeiing the beauty of the northernmost Norwegian mountains unfold around you; it is those things that make you fall in love with the mountain ecology everyday.

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As soon as we reached the top, we spend the rest of our day monitoring plants up there, overlooking fjord Rombaken and the wild mountains surrounding it.

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Fieldwork with a view over fjord Rombaken in northern Norway

I have to apologise to you now: this story is not building up to any kind of punchline. Even worse, you might have read the best of it already; it just serves as an opportunity to share the beauty of our workspace with you. After this, the story will only go down again. As we did. Down the road to the valley in the evening, following the setting sun and admiring the changing colors.

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Evening in the mountains

It was definitely a day to remember, this last day of our 2017 field campaign in the north, thanks to the mountains and weather playing together to set up an incredible show. Probably just to make sure I’ll be back next summer.

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Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) overlooking fjord Rombaken

Sediment sampling complete! Time for a celebratory cinnamon swirl

Today we completed our sampling of river sediment – meaning that we have a transect of samples all the way from the ice cap to the ocean, covering a distance of around 15 km. This will allow us to look at changes in the sediment characteristics as we move downstream away from the ice. When we get back to our universities we will measure things like carbon and minerals within the sandy, silty samples.

Making sediment burritos

All of our samples are wrapped in foil and plastic sample bags, and we now need to get them ready to transport back to the UK. The trowel can finally have a day off.

Sand and silt from the ice cap has travelled many kilometres in the Blaesedalen river, and eventually gets washed out to sea with the icebergs

This afternoon the weather started to close in, and the icebergs in the bay started to move and break up. While we were out sampling near the coast we heard one of them crack (it sounds a bit like a gunshot) and break up, and we saw another one start to roll over. The strong winds made for some large waves battering the bergs. We were glad to have finished our day’s fieldwork before the wind and rain set in. By teatime the weather turned very bad with thick clouds, strong wind, and heavy rain. We were all glad to be inside for the evening. With the supermarket closed for the day, that cinnamon swirl will have to wait until tomorrow….

Icebergs holding their own against the waves

Flapjack, the oaty fieldwork snack of champions

After a rest day we were back in our boots and heading into the field to continue our sampling campaign along the Blaesedalen River. We had to start from our camping site and head downstream. It was going to be a long day of sampling but it was a beautiful day in Blaesedalen with a warm sun shining on the yellow and red vegetation – there was a great sense of Autumn in the air!

Taking a flapjack break in the sunshine

We were also armed with some flapjack that we had baked (and taught some of our Danish and Austrian colleagues about this oaty, sugary treat. They all seemed to enjoy it!).

 

We managed to complete the sampling quite quickly – the river levels were quite low today, after a period of dry weather, and so it was easy to reach our sampling locations. As we headed back towards Arctic Station we saw a helicopter arrive at the helipad, which isn’t too far from the station. There’s always something especially exciting about seeing a helicopter!

Sediment sampling. Wrapping the sediment in foil prevents contamination. It’s like rolling many tiny burritos.

We even managed to arrive back at the Station in time for dinner with the other scientists. Today is Lena’s Birthday – she is a Masters student from Copenhagen. Our sweet colleague Michele had made a giant lasagne. A real treat eating lasagne expertly crafted by an Italian person!

Air Greenland helicopter flying high over the bay

After dinner we watched a video about Sirius Patrol, which brought back excellent memories of our BBQ with Sirius in Zackenberg, East Greenland last year. It also made us all want to come back to the Arctic in the winter when the snow is thick!

 

We are looking forward to taking the final few samples tomorrow!

Full House

The University of Leeds has returned to the Finse Alpine Research Station, Norway. We are met by wetter, colder and windier conditions than during our July stay, and persistent mist and fog has joined us. Autumn has arrived here and during patches of improved visibility, the mosses and dwarf shrubs are a show of colour. We set out across the plateau to visit our 15 river sites and retrieve the cotton strips which have been submerged for the past six weeks, to measure cellulose decomposition.

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The Hardangervidda Plateau: Our clearest view

Good news – they have all survived!! Despite potential flood events, high turbidity and movement of bed substrates, our cotton strips have persisted at all sites – incredible! This is a huge relief as it provides us with data across a gradient of glacial influence. A small portion of each was removed and preserved for microbial analysis. The remaining strips were placed in ethanol to halt any further decomposition on transit back to Leeds. Here there tensile strength will be determined as a proxy for cellulose decomposition. We hope to identify the response of river cellulose decomposition to glacier retreat.

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Happy to see the cotton strips from site 12 have survived

During this stay, we have also re-run the incubation experiments performed in July to measure benthic respiration rates across a glaciality gradient. We have repeated this for 12 sites and although data is very preliminary at this stage, rates appear to be slower than in July, potentially indicating a seasonal influence upon cobble respiration. Biofilm scrubs will be taken and the surface area of each cobble calculated to determine benthic respiration rates in response to deglaciation. Collection of cobbles and stream water from across the plateau gave us opportunity to see some of the spectacular wildlife at Finse.

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Norwegian Lemming (Lemmus lemmus)
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Sedum Villosum

We would like to thank Interact, the station and particularly Erika Leslie, for making us so welcome in Finse. We have been incredibly lucky to get our samples and have really enjoyed our time here.