Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last Post from Norway

For fun the last week, a few of us went kayaking across the fjord, and we saw a ptarmigan with 9 youngsters.(click here to learn more about ptarmigans, and click here to hear their call!)

Then we had a exam... not very exciting. After that, it has been just packing up and a lovely hike yesterday. (I sent my camera-computer cable home, so no downloads) .

I am off to Tromso now, and then some traveling in the Lofoten Islands!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Norwegian cruise

Well, the 3rd week offered us something different! Our course contracted a small ship, the M/S Stockholm out of Gotenburg Sweden, for three days to take us to different places.

The first place, Alkhornet (above), had incredible cliffs full of nesting auks and guillemots.
(Click here to learn more about guillemots, and click here to hear their call!)

We measured nitrogen fixing by cyanobacteria in small chambers using acetylene gas as a proxy.

The next day we went to Sassen Valley (right) and did similar measurements, then cruised past a huge glacier (left) and saw a ringed seal, hauled out on a small iceberg.
(Click here to learn more about ringed seals.)

We also saw a great number of puffins.
(Click here to learn more about puffins, and click here to hear their call!)

The 3rd day we headed off to a abandoned Russian coal mining town, Pyramiden (below).
It's very strange to see the building still in good condition with belongings still in the rooms and dead plants hanging in the windows. It was abandoned in 1998, when the coal ran out, and most of the people were moved to Barentsburg.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Norwegian animals

There are many tourist ships, and people come here to see glaciers and ice and the many beautiful flowers and mosses, the large numbers of birds, and they hope for a glimpse of the few land animals- polar bears, reindeer, and arctic foxes. There are also sea animals like whales and seals that are sometimes sighted.

Here are some photos of the animals that have been spotted by Elizabeth so far. Click on the animal name to learn more information about them!

Arctic tern:
(Click here, then click "play" to hear an Arctic Tern call!)

Barnacle geese:
(Click here, then click "play" to hear a barnacle goose call!)

Auks nesting:

Arctic fox:

No encounters with a polar bear yet!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

About Svalbard, Norway

I have been giving the news, but thought a bit of background might be helpful.

Svalbard became Norwegian territory in 1925, though the Russians and others have kept mineral rights here and continue to mine coal. Svalbard is an archipelago of islands: three major ones, and lots of smaller ones and is the furthest northern settled land. The largest community is Longyearbyen, where I am at the University in Svalbard, but the town was named for an American who started the first coal mine here: John Longyear.

The latitude of the islands runs from 74 to 81 degrees N, and Longyearbyen is at 78 degrees. They do a small bit of coal mining here but all the coal is used to run the power plant for town, and it is the only coal-fired plant in Norway. Like our research area in Antarctica, there are about 4 months of continuous darkness in winter and 4 months of continuous daylight in summer. The temperature is a bit warmer due to the Gulf Stream, particularly on the west coast: the summer average is 40 deg F (5 deg C) and the winter is 10 deg F (-12 deg C).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ET's continuing adventures with Norwegian soil microbiology

Here's photographic evidence that Elizabeth is working hard in Norway with her Arctic soil microbiology course!She says:
Week 2 was a full one with both science and recreation playing a big part.

We went to two different valleys (Bjorndalen and Adventdalen) and took soil samples from 2 different plant communities in each valley and then did a series of measurements on them in the lab. We measured pH, % water content, and Nitrogen content in NH4 (ammonium) and NO3 (nitrate) forms (which are the forms of nitrogen that organisms living in the soil can use - learn more about the nitrogen cycle with the basic info or a more involved description).

My class of students put together a Friday night group dinner of pizza, with homemade dough, directed by the Italians. We took two really wonderful hikes, one was to the highest peak around the area-- Nordenskioldfjellet. And I did some swimming in the very nice, 25 m, pool here.

Then, I got to meet former President Jimmy Carter. He was here with some climate change scientists discussing what was happening locally and globally and cruising around on the National Geographic (ship) Endeavour. He came to the local museum, which is next door to the school, so I and another student walked up to the Secret Service and asked if we could meet him. He was very nice, looking a bit old, but still sprightly and cordial. He also visited the Global Seed Vault.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Norway Report

Elizabeth is now up in Svalbard, Norway! She says:
There are 13 students from all over Europe, several from Norway, and only me from the US. We have lectures in the morning and lab in the afternoon. We toured the German icebreaker-research vessel, Polarstern, on Friday. Next week will have some field excursions to nearby valleys and will do a couple days of cruising as well later on. We are looking at both marine and terrestrial/aquatic microorganisms with PCR and various digestion methods.
The group of students have taken a couple great local hikes, after we got access to rifles with which to protect us from polar bears. On our first day we had to do target practice and safety instructions with the rifles and then swimming in immersion suits in the harbor. However, the bears are protected so you have to demonstrate afterwards that your life was in danger otherwise you are fined for shooting and killing a bear. On the other hand, the reindeer are very tame and wander through town in ones and twos. They don't really have any predators so they are not afraid. The scenery here is spectacular, steep mountains, glaciers, braided rivers in flatbottomed valleys, the fjord right here. And the town is very pretty in some ways. Since there is no green grass it always looks like early spring with barren soil and mining debris. But the houses are very nice.

From one Pole to the Other

Our research in Antarctica is conducted during December through February. That's our winter, but the Antarctic summer. This is the best time to go to Antarctica, because the days are long, temperatures are at their highest, the weather is the least dangerous. But, while we were down at the bottom of the southern hemisphere bathed in 24-hours of daylight, the Arctic (the top of the northern hemisphere) was in the middle of its harsh winter, with no daylight at all!
Now, in July, it's summer for us here in the northern hemisphere. But, in Antarctica, it's the middle of winter! It's too dark, cold, and dangerous for us to be working down there now. Even though we can't be in Antarctica right now doing our research, we still keep working and learning. We just have to go to the other end of the Earth to do it! Right now, Elizabeth is in Norway, way up north towards the Arctic. She is learning about Arctic microbiology, so that she can see how it relates to what we find in Antarctica. Elizabeth will be keeping us posted on what she learns, sees, and experiences up in Norway. So stay tuned for her posts!