Yellow alert for extreme weather – April visit at Sudurnes and Reykjanes Geopark, Iceland

Figure of yellow alert for weather in Iceland by the Icelandic Met Office.
It is now the third storm in a row, told my EU-Interact-BLACK project host Hanna María Kristjánsdóttir, Director of the Sudurnes Science and Learning Center (SSLC) in Iceland.
Sudurnes Science and Learning Center director Hanna María Kristjánsdóttir.
But this is unusual April weather. Today we have yellow alert for extreme weather in many (most) parts of Iceland. People are adviced to stay indoors.
In addition to the national weather forecast at https://en.vedur.is it is wise to check info for safe travel at https://safetravel.is/ and road conditions and weather at http://www.road.is.

Sandgerdi pond at the Reykjanes peninsula

Photo. Sangerdi pond life as presented in the Sudurnes Science and Learning Center exhibition.

Before the storm started I sampled two nearby ponds. There are several ponds in the northern coastline of the Reykjanes peninsula. They are due to ground water river and its springs, i.e., water bursting to the surface from below ground. As they originate from ground water source, they can provide some information on BC in groundwater, too. Of course the water contains deposited BC, too. Due to the hard winds during the recent storms we can assume the water to be well mixed at the time of sampling.

Sea water and drinking water at Sudurnes

The Sudurnes SSLC (location: blue circle in the map above) is located in the coast of the Reykjanes peninsula.

SSLC provided me with sea water and drinking water samples, too. For drinking water, I really do not expect any BC to be found. Actually I have previously analyzed Reykjavik drinking water and it had no BC. The tab water here in Iceland tastes so good, too. For sea water we shall see! It is an open question. You will find that information later here, after the samples have been analyzed in the laboratory, in Finland.

Hence, despite the storm, I could sample and filter a lot of various types of water samples!

One of the scientists at SSLC, Joana Micael, told that she has studied Ciona intestinalis (also known as vase tunicate) as an invasive species capable to grow in the harsh Icelandic climate conditions. Amazingly tough! Unfortunately they are harmful to Iceland’s ecology.

Reykjanes geopark

Reykjanes Peninsula is an UNESCO Global Geopark. It is said that there the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rises above sea level, but I have not seen that place, at least not yet. If the weather permits, lake water and hot spring samples would be the next goal. More information about the Geopark is here: http://www.reykjanesgeopark.is/en

The aim was to sample snow and water in February during cold season and water in April after snow melt season to study their Black Carbon contents. If we find BC in our winter samples of snow, we are interested in knowing where BC can be detected after snow melt.

Photos: Outi Meinander, Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finland

Extremes of Iceland – Preparing for field work in February by burning filters at 800 degrees Celsius

Photo: The filtration system ready for laboratory work at the Sudurnes Science and Learning Center, Iceland, after field sampling.

It is just amazing how much preparations are needed right before the field work can take place! Iceland will be the first place for us to start this winter-season’s field work. But, we did start a new measurement setup for BC deposition in snow here in Helsinki Kumpula this week, too, at the SMEARIII station, https://www.atm.helsinki.fi/SMEAR/index.php/smear-iii, and it was by a fortunate co-incidence that I started talking with my colleaque Mika Vestenius in the lunch table and thanks to him here we are!

This week, one week before going to field and working on the  impurities on snow and water, preparing for field work means pre-burning sample filters, collecting together all the laboratory stuff needed, and planning more detailed about the sampling and the program during the visit… and there will be a lot of going on during the visit, but about that you can read more later in my separate BLACK-blog’s posting on Iceland visit.

So, this week I have pre-burned filters at 800 degrees Celsius for 4 hours! From that, I took an image to show you what it means in practice. Here you go:

Photo: The filters are preburned in an oven at temperature of 800 degrees Celsius for 4 hours at a time.

In addition, here in Finland many Finns have been occupied with snow and ice although not related to field work preparations. We really have a lot of snow in the capital area of Helsinki this year! And many of us have enjoyed skiing, and clearing snow, too… but now back to sampling…

Why do we need filters in the field work?

Filters are needed after the snow or water sample has been collected and snow melted, the water sample is filtered using a filtration system. The filters  look like this:

Photo: These are the pre-burned filters, one with a sample filtered through and the other, white ones, waiting the action to start in Iceland.

How to prepare to Iceland in February?

My Icelandic host Hanna María Kristjánsdóttir,Director of  the Sudurnes Science and Learning Center, Iceland, has warmly welcomed me and confirmed the stay. Many thanks! Can not wait to meet you all there in Iceland!

In Iceland, the winter weather can be very windy and snowy, depending on the location you are. And it can even happen in Reykjavik, as it was the case on 26 Feb. 2017.

About the new record of 51 cm of snow in Reykjavik on 26 Febr 2017

It really was a fortunate co-incident in 2017, that I was part of an international snow measurement campaign (planned way in advance!) in Reykjavik at the time of this record event. The new February snow depth record measured for Reyjavik was 51 cm. This caused a lot of trouble for the traffic. For us it meant that we had excellent conditions for our international comparison of snow depth and snow water equivalent measurement devices. We were researchers from 10 European countries and USA.

Unexpected wintertime packing list includes a swimming suit for Iceland in February

Nevertheless, after the snowy and windy winter-time field work you will have use for a bathing suit to visit an outdoor hot spring or a swimming pool! An amazing thing to do on a winter day, and possible also in February! It is a must at least once during one winter time snowy field work period!

Photos: Outi Meinander, Finnish Meteorological Institute.

 

SoilTemp: towards a global map and database of soil temperature and climate

Short: we are looking for soil temperature data from the Arctic and all over the world for inclusion in our global database. This post was published first on lembrechtsjonas.wordpress.com

Many questions in ecology revolve around climate: what climatic requirements do organisms have, how do they survive in extreme climatic conditions, and – increasingly relevant – how do they deal with the rapid changes in climate we are experiencing?

Despite climate thus being a crucial component of today’s ecological research, we are still very much limited in the climatic data we have to our disposal to actually answer these questions, especially at the global scale. Most of the data we do have comes from weather stations (or interpolations based on those): coarse-grained data measured at two meter above the ground.

SoilTemp - soil temperature and climate
Climate and temperatures are and have always been a crucial factor in ecological research

For many organisms, however, these free-air climatic averages are far from relevant: many species operate at much smaller spatial or temporal scales, for example. Free-air temperature and climate patterns also differ significantly from what happens at the soil surface, or a few centimeters below it. For many organisms in the soil and close to the surface (soil micro-organisms, ground beetles, herbs, forbs, mosses or tree seedlings, for example) there is thus a large mismatch between the climatic data we have, and the climate they actually experience.

Soil temperature forest understory
For forest understory species, free-air temperature is meaningless, as temperatures at the forest floor will differ several degrees from what happens above the forest canopy

However, while the quality and resolution of free-air and surface temperature data at the global scale is rapidly improving thanks to elaborated networks of weather stations and satellite data, the availability of soil temperature datasets is still largely limited. That is the rationale behind our launch of SoilTemp, a global effort to develop a database of soil temperature data and build global maps of soil climate that answer to the pressing needs of modern ecologists.

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For alpine species, temperatures close to the surface are what matters, especially in winter, when they can hide from the frost under a protective snow cover

Yet for such a global effort, we will need your help! If you feel one or more of the following statements apply to you, please e-mail jonas.lembrechts [at] uantwerpen.be for more information:

1) You have georeferenced soil temperature data (0 till 10 cm below the surface) for a period of at least 1 year with maximum a 4-hour interval, and would like it to be part of this open access global database/map.
2) You have associated species (plants or other taxa) composition or trait data from the same location.
3) You know other possible partners with interesting soil temperature datasets, or working on similar topics, who might be interested in collaborating.
4) You are interested to be involved in this project in any other way.
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Small and cheap temperature loggers (like these iButtons) have recently made such a global-scale endeavour as ‘SoilTemp’ possible

Taking the pulse of natural Arctic climate change using Iceland lake sediments

All field equipment has been assembled, strapped onto pallets and shipped out. In other words, preparations for our upcoming INTERACT TA adventure in northern Iceland are in full swing. High time for a quick introduction of the GLACTIC team and our field plans.

Where and why

It is no secret that the Arctic is one of the most climatically sensitive parts of our planet, heating up twice as fast as the global average. As ice shrivels away and temperatures soar, this dramatic region response to global warming regularly grab headlines. Less well known is the fact that this amplified response is an intrinsinc feature of the region`s climate system, and thus also enhances the impact of natural variations – including cooling phases. There is ample evidence that the Atlantic Arctic was hit by a series of cold spells over the past 10 000 years. The last of these was called “Little Ice Age” for a reason, and severely impacted societies trying to make ends meet in this already harsh region. It was during this time that the Vikings dissapeared from Greenland.

Similar centennial-scale events are bound to happen again. As they modulate the impact of anthropogenic warming, they need to be taken into account in the projections of future climate that underpin policies and adaptation strategies. And that when things get a bit problematic as the fundamental causes of these Arctic North Atlantic climate excursions remain debated. One major challenge complicates things for researchers that try to answer this important question: records of past climate remain sparse and scarce in this remote region – hindering efforts to assess patterns of change in space and time.

GLACTIC will rise to this challenge by providing an important piece to the Arctic North Atlantic`s climate puzzle. For this purpose, we will rely on lake sediment sequences from norhtern Iceland. This area sits near the interface of key components of the regional climate system – the sea-ice margin, the polar front and the meeting of Arctic with Atlantic waters – and therefore sensitively responds to change. The physical, chemical and biological properties of lake sediments capture and record such changes through time, layer by layer over thousands of years. The GLACTIC team wants to unlock this past climate potential by retrieving sediments from the icy depths of lake Skeiðsvatn.

Figure 1. At the frontline of Arctic climate change – northern Iceland and Skeiðsvatn Iceland maps

To extract as much information from our precious lake sediments, as well as approach research questions from multiple angles, GLACTIC brings together climate researchers from different disciplines:

  • Rick Hennekam from the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, an expert in high-resolution sediment core scanning techniques
  • Timothy Lane from John Moores University in Liverpool, who studies landscape development in glacial environments like Greenland and Iceland
  • Kathryn Adamson from Manchester Metropolitan University, who specializes in in the use of sedimentary records as indicators of environmental change
  • Iestyn Barr from Manchester Metropolitan University, who applies remote-sensing techniques to investigate environmental change in mountainous areas
  • Jostein Bakke from the University of Bergen in Norway, who uses glacier-fed lake sediment records to reconstruct past glacier change
  • Willem van der Bilt from the University of Bergen in Norway, who applies new biogeochemical, sedimentological and chronological tools on polar lake sediments
Why will GLACTIC target Skeiðsvatn – what sets this lake apart from others? And how exactly do you extract sediments from the bottom of an Arctic lake? Stay tuned for our next blog! 

 

 

Here’s why and how we plan to find BLACK particles (H2020 EU-Interact-BLACK-project)

Snow that appears white-to-eye can actually contain tiny black particles in amounts that can be important to climate change. This we have learned from our work on aerosols in snow and ice.  We have found that small  amounts of such particles can induce snow and ice melt, but we have also shown that very large amounts can prevent snow and ice from melting.

This is how it works in smaller amounts: When light-absorbing aerosols, including soot (black carbon, BC), ash, wind-blown dust, and the so called brown-carbon fraction of organic carbon (OC), deposit on snow and ice, they reduce surface reflectivity (albedo) and induce melt of darker surface, which again lowers the albedo and increases melt via a feedback mechanism.  Albedo feedback is one of the mechanisms causing Arctic amplification (AA). Meaning stronger climate change in the polar regions. Pithan and Mauritsen (2014) say in their Nature paper that surface albedo feedback is the second main contributor to AA, right after increased downwelling longwave radiation.

Our BLACK project (2018-2019) focuses on Arctic climate change and investigates BC, OC and dust in the cryosphere and natural water, and drinking water of the three EU H2020 INTERACT stations visited. The collected snow, ice and water samples will be filtered during the visits and we will analyze the filters in the laboratory at my home institute FMI, Finland.

BLACK team will be conducting fieldwork on and around the stations of Faroe Islands Nature Investigation FINI, Iceland’s Sudurnes Science and Learning Center, and UK Environmental Change Network’s ECN Cairngorms, Scotland, in season 2018-2019. ‘Three islands’ thus refers to Streymoy (Strømø) of the Faroes, Iceland, and Great Britain.

BLACK aims at filling geographical gaps in the current BC data collection concerning cold climate regions at high altitudes and high Arctic latitudes, and fulfilling some of the Finland’s chairmanship program goals for the Arctic Council 2017-2019.  BLACK contributes also to an ongoing Academy of Finland NABCEA–consortium project of “Novel Assessment of Black Carbon in the Eurasian Arctic, From Historical Concentrations and Sources to Future Climate Impacts (2016 – 2020)” (https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/iasoa/node/206).

This Arctic Research Blog tells about the H2020 EU-Interact-BLACK Project (Grant Agreement No. 730938, PI Outi Meinander, Finnish Meteorological Institute).

One week before the adventure starts.

In one week, we will depart to Greenland. First, we will conduct fieldwork at Disko Island, followed by fieldwork around the Kangerlussuaq area.  We are all very excited to go and we are very busy with sorting and gathering of our gear.

Fully related to present day climate change, word of large wildfires burning in West-Greenland reached worldwide news.  These fires have been burning the last weeks in an area right between the two destinations of our fieldwork trip. I wonder if we could see any of the burned areas along the way.

This reminded me that people from outside of the scientific community sometimes ask me “Is your research-topic not depressing?”..

My first reaction often is to be surprised by the question; why would I be depressed by such a topic so relevant and honorable?

My second thought, however, is less positive. It then strikes me that climate change is a frightening scenario, and a very real one indeed. As a scientist, I am busy with numbers, graphs and papers. Sometimes the occasional cool field trip too. But the reality of a changing planet is not an every-day concern to me in the sense of fear. In a over-simplified one-liner one could state that the scientist only observes and concludes, passing this knowledge along. As a natural scientist I could even say that change is natural, even if it is caused by an intelligent species. But as a human, I should be scared by this change of environment. Not only for the well being of our species, but for our moral obligation towards planet Earth.

The depressing part is that we probably won’t be able to ‘fix things’. We probably can not rid all oceans from plastics, save all rain-forests, preserve all endangered species and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to zero at the same time..  Scientists like us can probably only make efforts to limit the damage, and to learn from humanities mistakes. This is exactly where hope emerges, we can make a difference. And this fuels me.

I hope that my journey to Greenland will inspire me further to fight for the cause. I am afraid that observing the changes will also scare me a bit too…

 

-Fabian Ercan

About us and CarbFlux

Dr.’s Emily Stevenson (University of Cambridge) and Mel Murphy (University of Oxford) are both early career researchers in Earth Sciences, and this summer they will be undertaking hydrological sampling of the Zackenberg River and surrounding tributaries for their INTERACT project ‘CarbFlux’. Em and Mel are both accomplished isotope geochemists and specialise in the precise and accurate measurements of elemental and isotopic compositions of Arctic river waters (and sediments).

Chemical weathering of continental rocks is a fundamental process in the carbon cycle and controlling climate stability. In a rapidly warming Arctic, it is critical to constrain the role of weathering processes in controlling global biogeochemical cycles and to quantify the contribution to global chemical weathering fluxes and CO2 drawdown. Together, they will utilise a multi-proxy approach to investigate links between the chemical compositions of the riverine dissolved load and suspended sediments with silicate, carbonate and sulfate weathering processes.

This project will utilise measurements of stable lithium and strontium isotopes, stable isotopes of sulfate and major elemental abundances of river water and sediments to: (i) better understand how rocks are dissolved and the effect glacial ice and permafrost have on accelerating (or decelerating) these processes; (ii) link such processes to the fluxes of CO2 through large Arctic river systems, and ultimately (iii) compare rates of CO2 uptake and release in this region.

A season of change

Well it has been just less than a week since I arrived in Abisko and already the signs of spring change are here. The snow is receding and the lake will soon be ice free. So far I have been busy preparing and monitoring my plots, studying the effects of early snow melt on the snow and soil microbial community. The snow cover here is extremely patchy and variable but deeper areas still exist. A sudden warm spell about two weeks prior to my arrival kicked off the snow melt phase, and if climate change is to bring warmer spring temperatures then this may be occurring earlier in times to come.

Laying out the heat absorbent and snow insulating plots to speed up/slow down melt rate
Laying out the heat absorbent and snow insulating plots to speed up/slow down melt rate

My experiment here involves  covering regions with dark, heat absorbent material, making the snow cover melt sooner than in other parts. After a week of snow melt I will collect soil samples over a number of days in order to study the microbial community during this dynamic phase, comparing microbial diversity under different thicknesses of snow cover. I will also investigate some of the interesting questions that arise when studying the complex       properties of the snow structure, such as the effects of different snow depths and melt-water on soil properties.

It's not just scientists who visit the research station!
It’s not just scientists who visit the research station!

The station may be very quiet at this time of year, but there is still lots to do. As well as daily snow depth measurements I have been assisting Dylan Gwynn-Jones of Aberystwyth  as we prepare and install the UV-B/CO2 plots in time for the summer growth season. Some repair work will have to be done as we make sure everything is looking in top condition for the visit of the Swedish king in a little under a fortnights time! And after all of this it is nice to be able to kick back with a cold beer and a relaxing sauna by the lake in this stunning landscape!

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