Heatwave

It turns out it’s pretty hellish trying to pack for the Arctic during the UK’s hottest June day since 1976… not to mentioning in an office that lacks opening windows or air-con!

Nevertheless, after several hours of to-ing and fro-ing around the buildings of Aberystwyth University, an ensemble of ideas of what to pack finally materialized into four large hold bags and my hand luggage. With thoughts of woolly socks and Primaloft jackets still making me wince, it was time to cram it all into my car and start my journey (north-) east.

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Packed up and ready to go…. excepting the plants (sadly)

Tonight, I travel to Sheffield where I’ll be spending a few days working before meeting with PhD student Aliyah Debbonaire (@Gnarliyah) at Manchester Airport on Thursday and making our way towards Tarfala Research Station.

News from Torbjörn who manages the station is that they have been having “snow-mixed rain” with no signs of summer yet and there are “snowpatches are meter thick with bare ground between”. I’m hoping that summer kicks in fast over the next week or so, so that the Storglaciären’s surface becomes exposed and we can gain access to the biological life that survives on it soon. Fingers crossed!!

 

ps just seen Tarfala Research Station‘s latest Facebook post and it looks like the snow melt might be on our side after all. Here is a snap from 2 days ago. While all of Storglaciären’s surface seems snow covered still (unlike the area circled in red on the neighboring glacier), I’d say we’re on track for exposed surfaces soon… I’m still keeping those fingers crossed though!

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Road effects

5 years later, we are getting ready for a re-survey of our longterm observational plots along the roads in the Norwegian mountains. The perfect moment to summarize for a second what we learned from our first trip.

Roadsides host more plant species than the natural vegetation. That is the conclusion I drew in my previous post. While this difference is clear on low elevations, it vanishes as we get higher in the mountains, ending in similar species richness in the alpine zone above the tree line. Surprisingly, as can be seen on the graph, this pattern is the result of a higher diversity of alpine species (dashed grey line, white dots, versus the black line and dots representing the roadside) in the natural vegetation.

Graph native species richness

The alpine zone is a rocky, barren place without trees. That sounds as a bad thing for plants, but it also results in a higher availability of open places. The dominance of mosses and dwarf shrubs (like the crowberries mentioned in the previous post), is less intense here. More open spots, less competition, more diverse habitats, all kinds of factors that could explain the higher plant diversity as revealed by the graph. All of this explains the higher species richness on high elevations. But why don’t we have the additional higher species richness in roadsides here as well, as we saw in the lowland roadsides?

Alpine vegetation

Here is why: the higher amount of species in lowland roadsides comes from a bunch of typical roadside species, mostly highly competitive weeds (e.g. willowweed, Epilobium angustifolium, see picture). They do not belong in such numbers in the ‘traditional’ undisturbed subarctic mountain vegetation, but typically follow humans, agriculture and the availability of rich soils and mild conditions. Such culture followers form an important part of the lowland roadside vegetation. These species are added on top of the baseline species richness of typical subarctic mountain vegetation. Therefore: higher roadside diversity.

Hairy willowweed, a typical competitive weed

These competitive weeds are rare in the roadsides on high elevations, where conditions are a lot harsher. The roadsides there serve more as a refuge for stress-tolerant alpine species, because the difference in environmental conditions with the surrounding undisturbed areas is much smaller: both contain open, low vegetation, with a lot of bare rock, exposed to the harsh climate. Ideal circumstances for stress-tolerant plants (like Saxifraga stellaris, see picture), yet a disaster for the competitive kind.

Saxifraga, a typical stress-tolerant alpine species

Conclusion: the subarctic mountain road has a much smaller effect on native plants than its lowland counterpart. Lowland roadsides suffer from the invading pressure of competitive weeds, while they serve on high elevations more as a refuge for a wide diversity of alpine species.

Roadside vegetation

You want to know the exact scientific story? Here it is!

More? Visit my website at lembrechtsjonas.wordpress.com.

Access goes remote

Last week, we opened our very first continuous call in the history of INTERACT. The call is for a new modality of Transnational Access called Remote Access.  The idea of Remote Access is that the user group does not physically visit the station(s) themselves, but the experienced station staff instead conducts the study and collects the samples for the user group according to their research plan. This provides cost-efficiency, especially in comparative studies taking place at many stations, because there are no travel costs. The logistic costs and the staff-time required to conduct the study are included into the granted Remote Access.

The RA call information can be found from the INTERACT website, and the applications are submitted on-line in the INTERACCESS system. The call and evaluation procedure, as well as the project reporting, are the same as in the regular Transnational Access.

Altogether 17 stations offer Remote Access (RA) in INTERACT. Detailed information about the facilities available at each station can be found from the INTERACT Field Sites descriptions.

The call for Remote Access is continuous, so it’s open around the year and applications with subsequent RA decisions are evaluated four times per year.

We hope to receive many good applications for this new modality of Transnational Access, and look forward to see with interest what kind of ideas and innovations for Remote Access projects the scientific community will come up with!

Until the next time,

-Hannele

Tallenna

What is hiding in mountain roadsides?

5 years later, we are getting ready for a re-survey of our longterm observational plots along the roads in the Norwegian mountains. The perfect moment to summarize for a second what we learned from our first trip.

View on the valley of the Abiskojokka
Autumn in the Arctic mountains, the setting for our research. All pictures from the previous campaign in 2012.

Mountains are increasingly important islands of pristine nature in our rapidly changing world. They contain some of the most diverse biodiversity hotspots in the world, have a high aesthetic value and their conservation is important even from an economic viewpoint.

Mountains

For now, alpine ecosystems are among the least disturbed ecosystems in the world. However, climate change and increasing levels of human influence are rapidly changing the face of our mountain nature. A clear example of this human influence is given by the building of roads in mountains, which does not only physically disturb the alpine vegetation, yet also initiates an avalanche of consecutive effects on the mountain ecosystem.

View on Abisko village

With our long-term observational project, we study the reaction of the alpine vegetation to such mountain roads. One lonely road to the top often marks the beginning of an intensive process of disturbance, as it creates access for both tourists and industry. It is well known that roadsides change the ecosystem in all its facets and that they cut the core of undisturbed vegetation in smaller, devaluated pieces.

 Roads

Perhaps surprisingly, roadsides in the subarctic mountain system host a HIGHER plant diversity, as can be seen on the following graph. A counter-intuitive result, at first sight, as you might not have expected any positive effect of such a radical disturbance on nature.

 Graph native richness

However, before we all start celebrating this positive outcome, we should have a closer look at the processes that explain this higher species richness. I already highlighted the completely different growing conditions in roadsides. Apparently, these conditions are ideal for a lot of species that normally do not get a chance in the natural system.

In our system, this sudden opportunity for so many species results from the clear negative effect of the roads on the most important plant species in the Scandinavian mountains: mosses and crowberries. Together with a few other berry species, they create an  uninterrupted, dense understory. This dense mattress effectively blocks all germination chances for virtually all other species. The crowberries use an even more vicious trick: they produce chemical compounds that actively limit germination chances of their competitors for space. Consequently, the normal, undisturbed ‘climax’ vegetation in the subarctic mountains often hosts only a meager ten species, the others are all efficiently outcompeted.

Crowberry - Empetrum nigrum

 

When humans start building roads in these systems, the dense cover of mosses and berries is destroyed. The natural vegetation disappears and the remaining bare soil creates magnificent opportunities for new seedlings of so many species that would otherwise stand no chance at all.

Road in the autumn

So, the loss of the insuperable bully leaves the playground free for all other plants to flourish. This gives a higher diversity, although the resulting vegetation is completely different from the one occurring naturally in the mountains.

But there will be more. It is not only the basic species richness that changes in the roadsides, but the disturbance causes a whole sequence of other effects. More about those in a next post.

More? Visit my website at lembrechtsjonas.wordpress.com.

5 years later

Summer 2012. I was a young masters student, spending my first month of many above the polar circle. I joined a global consortium called MIREN, the Mountain Invasion Research Network, that surveyed plant invasions along roads in mountain regions scattered across the globe.

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Eriophorum vaginatum – pictures from our 2012 campaign

With 3 roads in the north of Norway, close to Narvik, we added the northernmost sample sites to this expanding network. With its short summers, freezing winters, yet surprisingly versatile plant species, the Northern Scandes promised to be very interesting.

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One of our Norwegian roads in early summer

The unfortunately cold Nordic summer of 2012 was spent surveying these roads, monitoring all plant species that grew in the roadside or the adjacent natural vegetation, with the aim to initiate a long-term monitoring project of the movement of the plant species.

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The study area in northern Norway

We are now in the year 2017, five years after this memorable first survey. Time to bring a new team together, with one ambitious goal: return to exactly the same plots that were first surveyed in the summer of 2012, and investigate in detail what happens to the species on the move. A challenge made possible thanks to the INTERACT Transnational Access program.

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Midnight sun above lake Torneträsk, Sweden

In a series of posts, we will first cover what came out of the first survey, followed by the fieldwork adventures we encounter on our new mission. Stay tuned, because this will be our most exciting summer of the century (or, well, at least the last 5 years of it…).

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More on this and many other topics covered in my PhD on my personal website.

INTERACT at EGU2017

Yet another work trip took place last week, when I represented INTERACT at the EGU2017 meeting in Vienna. The meeting was by far the biggest science event I’ve ever been to, below you can find some impressive statistics about the event, obtained from the congress webpages:

The meeting had 14 496 attendants from 107 countries with 4849 oral and 11 312 poster and 1238 PICO presentations. The programme of the week consisted from 649 scientific sessions, 88 short courses and 322 side events. No wonder a person like me from a small northern community was feeling a bit overwhelmed at times from the sheer magnitude of the event.

Once I got over my astonishment on the first day of the event, I greatly enjoyed working at the ENVRI+ booth, where INTERACT was represented as one of the infrastructures, and meeting hundreds and hundreds of people to whom tell about our project and the possibilities related to Transnational Access.

INTERACT_Booth_EGU2017

In addition, we had our very first face-to-face TA User Community meeting as a side event of the congress. We did not perhaps have the biggest amount of people attending the meeting, but however had a great atmosphere at the meeting, sharing information on each other’s work and developing new ideas and collaborations. Also, many of our TA Users came to say hello to me at the booth -it was absolutely fantastic to finally meet the people with whom I’ve been exchanging numerous e-mails and but never met in real life!

The place of our next TA User Community meeting is yet to be decided. As I feel that our Community members should have a say in which event it would be best to meet, there’s likely going to be a poll arranged to vote for the most popular option. Stay tuned and join our INTERACT TA Users FB group that will be launched next week to cast your vote!

Until the next time,

-Hannele

Start of the TA User Community

Today afternoon and next week will see the birth of a brand new activity in INTERACT, the Transnational Access User Community. The idea is to bring together our old, new and potential TA Users to facilitate collaboration and exchange of information and knowledge. So far, we have already had more than 500 scientists visiting the INTERACT stations with the support from Transnational Access, and there will be more than 100 scientists only this summer. This means that the new community is not a small one, and it will have a lot of potential for networking and sharing ideas among the scientists. The community can also serve as a forum for knowledge exchange across scientific domains and disciplines and between the stations and scientists interested in conducting research at them.

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The planned activities include several TA Community meetings -both face-to-face and on-line- workshops and webinars, a Facebook group for TA Users and stations, and continuation of the Arctic Research Blogs. Other activities can of course be included -ideas and feedback are warmly welcome from the TA Users!

The launch of the TA User Community takes place today, when we hold our very first webinar to the scientists who will have support from Transnational Access during the next summer and winter field seasons. Actually the webinar has been so popular, that we had to divide it into two parts not to exceed the capacity of our on-line meeting system –it’s fantastic to have such interest from our TA Users for these gatherings, and hopefully they prove to be very useful ones!

Next week, the TA User Community events continue at one of the major science conferences, EGU2017, that takes place in Vienna on 23-28 April. INTERACT will attend the congress with two activities: a stand jointly with ENVRI+ project for the whole week (places 2&3 of the exhibition area), and a TA User Community meeting on 25th April at 10:30-12:00 in room 0.16.

The TA User Community meeting on the 25th April will provide information on INTERACT and Transnational Access in general, present selected stations available for TA, and highlight some of our previous and new TA User Projects.

If you are attending EGU2017, come and meet us by the booth or at the TA User Community meeting. Looking forward to meeting many of you in Vienna!

-Hannele

The Arctic goes central Europe

In this case it went to Prague in Czech Republic for the Arctic Science Summit Week 2017. The whole week was devoted to meetings of different arctic-focused science organizations and initiatives, followed by a four-day scientific congress.

INTERACT was represented by several people at different occasions during the week. Our Coordinator Margareta Johansson gave an excellent presentation about INTERACT at the EU-PolarNet General Assembly that gathered together a full room of people interested in arctic research and projects. My to-do-list during the week included a presentation about Transnational Access at the APECS young scientists’ workshop, and presentations about SAON Committee on Observations and Networks (SAON CON) and GEO Cold Regions Initiative (GEOCRI) -in which I represent INTERACT- at various meetings. I also attended the meeting of the European Polar Board (EPB) as the alternate representative of my home university, University of Oulu.

The highlight of the week took place on the first day of the scientific program, when the Science Coordinator of INTERACT, prof. Terry Callaghan, received the IASC Medal for his outstanding contribution to arctic science and collaboration. The award statement described: “Many scientists realize the value of networking, but it takes a fiery spirit like Prof. Callaghan’s to make it happen”.  I could not agree more with this statement, as I have huge respect to Terry’s scientific career extending over 50 years, and to his fantastic achievements and leadership in arctic research.

  Another highlight for us northerners was the central European weather. When we arrived to Prague it was well above +20 degrees Celcius, the grass was green and leaves were bursting out on the trees. For us it felt like summer! We of course love our arctic environment and climate, but leaving home from temperatures of -14 degrees and snow piles everywhere, it was a pleasant surprise to get a kick-start to summer!

Now I am already back at my office at Oulu, feeling still a bit exhausted after the intensive week in Prague. New travels and INTERACT events are waiting just around the corner during the last week of April, when I’ll attend the EGU2017 in Vienna! More about that next time!

-Hannele

Beginning of a new era

The second phase of INTERACT started in Iceland with our kick-off meeting in the end of January. The participants were plenty and it was wonderful to greet many of the old INTERACT friends and to welcome many new ones, now that the size of the consortium has doubled in comparison to our previous funding period.    wp_20170125_003

Iceland was an ideal place for the meeting due to its location half-way between North-America and Eurasia. Despite the long days at the meeting, we also got to see a bit of this magnificent island during a half-day excursion around the Reykjanes peninsula. We also got a change to learn more about our host institution, the Sudurnes Science and Learning Centre that offers excellent facilities for research in ornithology and marine biology.

wp_20170126_004Another activity that has started with the new funding period is of course transnational access. Our TA call that was open at the end of last year attracted a record number of applications that are now being evaluated by the TA Selection Board. The access decisions are out by the first week of March, and after that we are ready to kick-off the field season of 2017 –hopefully also with many new arctic research blogs.

We also have some brand new activities starting up in March and in April… more about those in the next blog posting!

Until the next time,

Hannele

The second phase of INTERACT

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It has been ages since I wrote here last time, but now I am glad to say that we are back: the second phase of INTERACT received funding from EU H2020 and we are back at many levels and with several different activities. More about those later on.

In this post, I wanted to highlight that we have now again opened for the super-popular Transnational Access call. The call is open until 18th December, and it is for projects taking place between March 2017 and April 2018, so it includes both summer season and the winter season after that. This time, 43 terrestrial research stations located in the arctic, northern alpine and forest areas in Europe, Russia and North-America offer Transnational Access. The sites represent a variety of glacier, mountain, tundra, boreal forest, peatland and freshwater ecosystems, providing opportunities for researchers from natural sciences to human dimension.

The access available to the stations in the call includes two modalities -physical access and remote access.The traditional physical Transnational Access means, that the scientists can go and conduct their study at the station free of charge, including the use of station facilities, and travel and logistic costs related to the study. What a fantastic opportunity! The Remote Access means that the researcher does not visit the station by himself, but instead the station staff helps in conducting the study according to the research plan. In the current call, it’s possible to apply both physical and remote access, and some stations offer both.

We hope for many good and scientifically high-quality applications for access from scientists around the world. To find out more about the call visit the TA Call webpages, learn more about the station facilities and register to the on-line application system.

Seize the opportunity and apply for INTERACT Transnational Access to conduct studies at the coolest places on the Earth!

More next time,

Hannele

Tallenna