Thursday, June 21, 2018

From Kilpisjärvi to Tromsø

While we were at Kilpisjärvi, we got to enjoy a bit of the local culture and cuisine. The kitchen staff made us a huge batch of pancake batter, that you traditionally make over a fire. We did it in the replica Sami goahti hut that is at the station. Put a little cloudberry jam on it, and mm mm mm!
Brooke and Tiff got good at flipping the pancakes, and even took requests for pancake shape.

Also, on our last night at the station, the cook made us a delicious dinner of local fish. It's hard to find a store here that sells fresh fish, because most people just go catch the fish themselves. (So who would buy it, when it's so easy to get it yourself?) The cook asked her friend to go fishing for us. So our last dinner at Kilpisjärvi was white fish straight out of Kilpisjärvi!

It was a great stay at the research station. Students have done a very good job on their BioArt research and communication projects. And not only that, but throughout the week, we got to learn a lot from local scientists and artists who work in the BioArts. They helped demonstrate just how successfully the sciences and arts can be intertwined. For example, Leena Valkeapää showed us a project at the Pikku-Malla nature reserve where she (an artist) and a scientist are testing the use of two native plant species to re-vegetate damaged soil. The design of the experiment tests whether the two species successfully revegetate the soil, and also whether the geographic origin of the individual plants matters for its success. Leena, the artist, worked with the scientist to design a layout that is both scientific to test the hypotheses, but also visually aesthetic (...once the plants start growing! They are still very small right now.)
Leena shows the students the marking system for the pattern of crowberry and ligonberry plants used in the revegetation experiment.

We left Kilpisjärvi yesterday morning and drove to Tromsø, Norway which is the point of departure for the program. We took the same bus that brought us to the station at the beginning of the program. You can compare this photo to the one from that early trip. The students who are awake are still smiling, but there are a few more sleeping students on this trip. We wore them out!

While we are here in Tromsø, though, we might as well keep learning and experiencing science and art! One of the places we went to is Polaria, an aquarium to learn a bit about marine science, which is not something we got to see up in the mountains. When it was getting close to the time to leave, I didn't see any of our students walking around anymore, so I had to search a bit for them. Of COURSE I found a cluster of them in a corner peppering the seal handler with questions:

We had a good day in Tromsø (though a bit wet and cold... it's been rainy), and ended with a group dinner at a restaurant on the fjord. Now, the students are all on their airplanes headed home. They still have work to do to wrap up their projects, which will be exhibited at the gallery on campus in September. Stay tuned for updates on that!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Take a likin' to a lichen

One of the types of organisms that can survive well in the harsh Arctic climate is lichen. There is quite a lot of it growing all around, on rocks, trees, and just about anything sitting still. A lot of the students on the program have enjoyed inspecting the lichen close up. Ezra and Manny chose to study it for their independent project.

Manny and Ezra measured the abundance and diversity of lichen growing on different sizes of rocks as you go up in elevation on Saana. They want to know how the climate difference with elevation influences lichen communities, but also whether the size of their habitat changes how elevation influences the communities. They hiked up the trail at Saana, and stopped at regular intervals to investigate the lichen on rocks. At each point, they randomly chose 3 small, medium, and large rocks.
Manny measuring the size category of a lichen-covered rock.
Ezra and Manny photographed the community growing on the rock within a 25 cm x 25 cm grid. Back at the station, they are using the images to measure the percent of the area covered by different types of lichen. It is very difficult to identify many lichens to species, often requiring molecular sequencing of the DNA, which is not possible in our short stay. So they are categorizing them by color and growth form to estimate diversity.
Ezra photographing the lichen community inside the grid.
They have completed their field work, with 10 intervals over the elevation photographed. They have a looooot of photos to sort through and count before they can determine how the communities change with elevation, and whether the size of their habitat surface matters over elevation.

When their results are complete, they plan to communicate the diversity of these communities through an art installation, where they will create a room-sized replica of Saana, with rocks and water and lichen, so that the viewer can see, hear, and feel like they are standing there with us in the Arctic, learning about the lichen and their habitat.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reindeer food in Lapland

Reindeer are a common sight here in northern Finland. They are a domesticated livestock that are a well-known part of the livelihood of the Sami people, a native culture here in Lapland. The reindeer are owned and herded by particular families, but are allowed to wander in their designated areas. We see them around the state forest lands here around the research station, and even on the road in town!

Andrew shared this photo of a reindeer he met while doing his field work.
Diego and Stephanie are interested in the plants that provide food for these reindeer. They eat a lot during summer when there is plenty of vegetation available, including quite a lot of the species here around the research station. Stephanie and Diego learned from Rauni, the station's resident plant expert, which species are eaten by the reindeer, and chose to focus on the birch and willow species. They then surveyed the forests around the station to measure the actual abundance of these plants. They measured the abundance using belt transects:
Diego in the distance measuring one of the replicate belt transects.

Diego and Stephanie ran many transects all around the station, to calculate the abundance of birch and willow in all directions from the station. The number of plants in each transect can be used to calculate the abundance per square meter of forest.
Stephanie measuring another one of the replicate transects!

They are most interested in how the abundance of these plants might change in the future, with projected warming from climate change. Would there be more or less of these plants available to feed the reindeer? We don't have enough time at the station to test this ourselves, because it takes years to understand how a species will change with a warming climate. Instead, they are spending a LOT of time looking at published research from other scientists who have already conducted these types of studies. This means a lot of computer time using the library resources!

Stephanie and Diego in the common room, reading and discussing.
Diego and Stephanie are using the data they find to make mathematical projections into the future. They are finding published results of the magnitude of changes in birch and willow species in warming experiments conducted here in the Arctic. Then, they can apply these changes to the abundances that they measured during their field work, to predict what amount of these plants might be available as reindeer food far into the future.

They will communicate their results through a creative mixed-media project. They plan to use aerial photographs of their study region, repeated in a line to represent a timeline from now into the climate future, one for every decade of their projection. They will project colors onto the photographs that represent the species they studied, and the colors will become more or less abundant as you move forward in the timeline.

Phytoplankton bonanza!

One of our student teams, Kylie and Gina, have been studying the phytoplankton that live in the lake next to the station. ("Järvi" means "lake", so Kilpisjärvi is the name of the lake as well as the town.)  They want to know how abundant plankton are in the lake, and how they will respond to warmer temperatures. It is generally known that many types of phytoplankton reproduce more when water is warmer, but this is mostly studied in nutritious waters in warmer regions. Nobody has looked at how plankton will respond in this particular lake. Actually, Gina and Kylie couldn't find any information about plankton in this lake at all!
Some of the phytoplankton that Kylie has photographed. You can see several different types.

To conduct their experiment, they took water samples from the lake in jars.
Gina collecting one of the jars of lake water.
They calculated the abundance of phytoplankton in the bottles from a small subsample, then put the bottles into little greenhouses that they built on the shore of the lake. They built three greenhouses. One was covered and not vented at all, to make the temperature around the bottles a few degrees warmer than it currently is. Another greenhouse had some holes poked in the sides to cool off a bit, and create temperature is only a little bit warmer than it currently is.  The other one was very highly vented, to essentially be the same temperature as the current outside air. (They didn't want to just leave those bottles uncovered, because it's possible that the greenhouse itself interrupts light coming in for photosynthesis. So, it is receiving the same amount of sunlight as the other green houses, but not staying warmer.) They have thermometers in each greenhouse measuring the air temperature.

After a couple days in the greenhouses, Kylie and Gina are busy counting their phytoplankton from each one. If their hypothesis is supported, they will count more plankton in the jars that were sitting in the warmer greenhouse. This takes quite a lot of work, because neither Gina nor Kylie were plankton experts when they got here. They have learned how to recognize the different types of plankton and how to use the big inverted microscope.

Kylie and Gina will be communicating their project through photography. They will be creating what is called a "composite image". The main focus of the image will be a photograph of the phytoplankton they collected, but the background will have other images layered in that represent the environment the phytoplankton were living in. If that doesn't quite make sense, don't worry. I had a hard time picturing it from the description, too, until Kylie showed me an example. It looks cool! That means that they are doing a lot of computer editing of images, along with their microscope work.

Temperature was their initial variable that they studied. Now, they have also acidified the water, to simulate potential impacts of CO2 dissolving in water (which dissolves into carbonic acid and acidifies water) and other forms of pollution. They will again count their plankton at those temperatures to see if they are impacted by both temperature and acidification. They will be microscope pros by the end of the course!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Birds galore

Today I helped one of the student teams with their research project. Andrew, Brooke, and Christina (the ABC, as we call them), are looking at how bird behavior might be impacted by human activity in Kilpisjärvi.

Kilpisjärvi is actually a fairly new town, only about 10 years old. We also have a fairly main road running by the station, the E8 that goes into Norway. Of course, the traffic on a "main road" in Lapland is very different from a "main road" in Phoenix! But many cars and trucks, and their associated noise, are a factor here. Brooke, Christina, and Andrew wonder how that impacts the birds who live in the otherwise undisturbed habitat here around the research station.

For the past several days, they are counting birds at regular intervals from the E8 road to see whether birds avoid being near the road. They also then create disturbances at each of those regular distance intervals to see if the birds near the road deal with disturbance better than birds further from the road.

To count the birds, all three of them spread out along the road, then walk to their first 50-meter stopping point. I was one of the three counters today. We sat still at our marked spot to let the birds forget we're there, then created a disturbance using the horn sound on our phones. We then counted how long it took for birds to come back, and how many of them we saw of different species. Then, we moved to the next spot and repeated the process.

Because the three counters are spread out, they are able to count the birds over a fairly large area. I was on the end, at transect "C". Here, you can just barely see Brooke on transect "B", beyond the end of my finger. And you will maybe notice the blue flagging, marking my spot to stop and count.
I enjoyed helping, because it meant I could sit quietly and observe. I saw a bluethroat, pied flycatchers, and house sparrows. I also happened to see a vole and some bees!

Christina, Andrew, and Brooke are also working on collages that will communicate what they learn about how birds react to the human disturbances. They have been collecting natural materials that they will use and making castings of bird sculptures. Andrew will be making his collage in video format, which is his favorite format. You can find him around the station in the evenings getting his recordings. Near the bird feeder is a great place to record the redpolls and bramblings!

So, students today have continued to work a bit on their projects, even though technically they had the day off from classes. (They just work THAT hard!) We did plan one activity for them today, which was to go to the "3-Country Cairn". It's the point that marks the corner where Finland, Norway, and Sweden meet. It represents how the borders have fluctuated  over history when Finland was ruled by the Russians, the Swedes, and fought for their independence. At the end of WWII, they celebrated the departure of the Nazis by raising a flag over this cairn. Since we've learned a bit about WWII history as we walked along or by remnants during our field work, it was interesting to visit this historic location built in 1926 (to replace the one built in 1897 that eroded). So, we're learning a little history, along with our BioArt!
Guillermo, Christina, Manny, Diego, and Gina waaay over in Sweden, taken from waaaay over here in Finland!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Soil microarthropods of Kilpisjärvi

Now I will start telling you a bit about the research projects being conducted by our students.

The first science+art team I'll talk about are Tiffany and Guillermo. They are investigating the soil microarthropod communities of Saana, the fell that we climbed early in our visit. They are interested in what communities live in and beneath moss as you increase in elevation up Saana. If you have read my past blog posts, you will now all about soil microarthropods! If you are new to the blog, you can brush up with this post, this post, or this post. (Of course, those posts are about the communities of the other polar region: Antarctica. But the same concepts apply to the Arctic!)

Yesterday, Guillermo and Tiff hiked up Saana, taking soil samples from low, middle, and high elevation. To extract the microarthropods, they crafted a portable version of the Tullgren funnels that I have used in Antarctica for my research. These extractors use heat (created by lightbulbs) to convince the microarthropods to leave the soil and drop into a funnel into our sample container.
Tiff and Guillermo put samples on their home-made Tullgren funnels
Tiff and Guillermo put their samples on the funnels yesterday, and they will gradually turn up the dimmer switch on the lights over the next few days, then use microscopes to look at the microarthropods they collect on Monday.

They will also measure the pH, salinity, and temperature of the soil, to understand how the microarthropods' soil habitat changes with elevation. This will be pretty interesting, because nobody has looked at the soil organisms around this research station before!

What kind of critters will they find? Here is a video Guillermo made from a test sample we extracted overnight. You see a variety of different species of soil mites and springtails:

They have also come up with a very creative way of communicating this research project. They have made their own clay, which they are using to sculpt microarthropods. They will show how interesting these organisms are, using material from the organisms' habitat!
Tiff photo-documented the process to make their clay.
So, Guillermo and Tiff are making great progress on both their science and communication. Stay tuned to future posts to learn what the other students are doing!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Birds and radio waves

Today we had a warmer, sunny day... for a little while at least! Students have continued working on their research projects, but we also had two small activities during the day for students to learn about research happening around the station.

We were lucky enough to go again with Antero, this time to visit his "bird boxes". There are about 200 of these bird houses in this valley, used by several of the species native to the area. For many years, Antero has recorded the number and size of eggs and chicks born in these bird boxes, to track the health of the bird populations in this area.

Can you guess what Antero has in his hand that the students are so eagerly gathered around and photographing?
It's newborn chicks of the species of bird called the "great tit"!

We also visited KAIRA, which stands for Kilpisjarvi Atmospheric Imaging Receiver Array. It is an array of radio receivers that detect low and high frequency radio waves from space. That allows them to measure things like meteors, space trash, planets and stars "twinkling", and the aurora borealis. KAIRA is just down the road from us, so their scientists often stay here when they're working on the array. Derek gave us a tour. On the left of the photo are the low-frequency antennae on poles, and the structures in the center house the high-frequency antennae, held above the ground by the wooden structures.
Interestingly, the wooden structures were made out of the pallets used to ship the equipment. The entire project was designed to create very little waste and reuse even the shipping materials.

We even got to crawl under the high-frequency receivers, which are raised off the ground to increase the ability of the wind to blow snow off of the antennae, which are placed in foam beneath the black plastic. It was nice, because it got us out of the cold wind that came back this afternoon! The shorter of our students could juuuust stand up under them, but the taller students had a harder time:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reindeer traffic jam

Students have been busily working today on their independent research projects. They are working in teams of 2: one art major and one science major. The teams are designing their own research project about some aspect of this Arctic ecosystem. The topics of their projects range all over different topics: How different species of birds respond to human disturbance, how substrate availability impact lichen communities over elevation, how the lake plankton respond to warmer temperatures, how plants important to the herbivores in this ecosystem will change with future permafrost melt, and soil invertebrate communities living on Saana. They are also at the same time working on how they will communicate this science to the public. They are working with clay they collect from the soil, collages of natural materials, recording bird songs, among other things. We'll keep you posted on their progress.
Kylie and Gina are excited about starting their independent research! They are investigating the lake plankton.

On another note, we had a bit of a traffic jam on the way home from the market the other day:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Field trip with Antero

Today we got to go on a hike with Antero, who is the director of the research station. He has been working here for over 45 years, since he was a graduate student working on his PhD, so we learned a lot of information from him!

Kilpisjärvi is in the northwestern "arm" of Finland, sandwiched between Norway and Sweden. Borders with both countries are very close. To get to the hike, we had to cross into Norway. We stopped for a photo op at the border stone:

From the left: Tiff, Brooke, Manny, Christina, Antero (our host), Ezra, and Diego are in Norway. Gina, Guillermo, Andrew, Becky, Stephanie, and Richard are in Finland.

As you can see, we had genuine Arctic weather today! It was snowing and below freezing when we set out. But we are tough! We were mostly walking along an old road that was built during WWII. Finland at that time was aligned with Germany, allowing German occupation of Lapland to fight the USSR (which Finland had to do to maintain its independence). The road was built through the German army with labor of Russian prisoners of war.

The fence on the left side of the photo is a reindeer fence. Sami reindeer herders used to be able to move around the entire region, but now there is a fence dividing the Finnish and Norwegian reindeer herds. While walking on the road, we would frequently stop to hear information shared by Antero about the plants, animals, and people of this area.

It was a nice hike for exploration, but tomorrow we get down to business! Over the first couple of days here, students have had a chance to see the region while finalizing the plans for their independent research projects. Tomorrow, they start their own research!

Monday, June 11, 2018

A couple of days of exploration

This is our second full day at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. Here we are, excited to be in the Arctic at the main building of the research station!

Over the past couple of days, we've taken a couple of field trips to local ecosystems. Yesterday, we visited the Pikku-Malla strict nature reserve (which is a highly protected type of reserve in Finland).
Pikku-Malla strict nature reserve
We had a very leisurely walk, stopping quite frequently because the theme of the walk was "observation". And there was quite a lot to observe! There were a lot of midges swarming. One landed on Tiff's coat, so Stephanie got a closer look using a miniature field microscope:
The rocks also host quite a lot of diversity. There are also a lot of very interesting lichens of all shapes and colors to capture our attention. We see shades of green, but also yellow, orange, and black.

Today we climbed Saana, which is a mountain fell in the Scandinavian Mountains. We observed the change in plant communities as you increase in elevation. At the bottom, there are stands of short silver birch:
Then, we were above the tree line, looking down at the lake, Kilpisjärvi. There are no more birch at this elevation, only plants that live close to the ground, like moss and crowberry, with the occasional willow shrub.
By the time we got to the top, at about 1,000 meters in elevation, we had true Arctic weather! It was chilly, windy, and snowing! Lichen and grass (and crazy ASU students) are the only ones who flourish at this elevation. The lichen were great to observe again, since the theme for today's lecture and hike was "color", and they come in so many fabulous colors.
Ezra, Stephanie, and Diego... so bundled up that you can hardly recognize them!
Because the weather was turning bad, we returned to the station. On the way down, these Sonoran Desert dweller ASU students got to play in some snow. (And how DARE they take aim at their professor?!?!)
Manny, Guillermo, Brooke, Gina, and Diego throwing snowballs
The hike wore everyone out, so they have the evening off. Tomorrow morning we continue with our coursework and field work.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Arrival in Kilpisjärvi

This morning we flew from Helsinki up to the northern town of Kittilä, then drove three and a half hours to Kilpisjärvi.

As the airplane was landing, we got our first views of beautiful Arctic Finland.

The town of Kittalä has a pretty small little airport, and from there we crammed ourselves and all of our luggage into a bus. It was a tight squeeze for 3.5 hours! We had a very quick stop for lunch of reindeer sandwiches, but otherwise we were squeezed in like this:
We arrived at the research station around 6 pm, where we were met by the director Antero, and the very kind and wonderful cook who kept dinner warm for us. We were very hungry, and it was a wonderful welcome!

It's overcast and chilly here. It was about 6°C when we pulled into the station. That's about 42°F, which is a far cry from the 110°F Phoenix weather we are coming from! Antero promises warmer weather next week, and asks if we brought our bathing suits. (Hahaha!)

After dinner we settled into our rooms, and walked around a little bit. Here is some scenery that we get to enjoy during our stay here:
"Järvi" in Finnish means lake. So Kilpisjärvi is Kilpis Lake. Here it is!
Tiff, Richard, Guillermo, Manny, and Gina check out the lake with Saana "mountain" in the background. The little blue flag in the middle flies at the main station buildings.
Tomorrow, we resume the students' coursework. No rest for them! But, for now, it's bed time after a long day of traveling.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Day in Helsinki

All of the students made it into Helsinki yesterday, and after a shower, a good night's sleep, and some coffee, we were ready for a day of learning in Helsinki!

Our day started at the University of Helsinki's Viiki Campus, which is where their environmental and sustainability programs are located. Here we are at the entrance to the Biocenter (or Biokeskus, in Finnish) for Helsingin Yliopisto (Finnish for Helsinki University), bright eyed and bushy tailed despite our jetlag!
Left-to-right: Diego, Guillermo, Stephanie, Kylie, Manny, Ezra, Gina, Richard, Tiff, Brooke, Christina, Andrew, and me
We started the morning hearing from the Senior Economic Officer with the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki about Arctic issues. Finland is now the chairing country of the Arctic Council, which is made up of all eight nations that fall within the Arctic and indigenous groups native to the Arctic to promote cooperation in important issues like environment, climate, economics, and people. We were particularly interested to hear about the work of the Council and their goal of promoting decisions based on science, and to think about how science can better be communicated to politicians and the public. (And it was cool to hear about careers with the Embassy!) We were so interested, that we continued talking about what we heard after Jay, our visiting officer, had to leave!

Then, we got to tour the Biocenter facilities and learn about some of the cool science being done by ecologists at the University. We learned about everything from viruses (and some very creative origami viruses!), to microfossil moss leaves used to understand past climate change from before humans were around, to how growing plants respond to changes in their climate. I think the favorite part for everyone was the greenhouses and experimental fields outside, because we love our sunshine and foliage! (We lucked out and had some beautiful weather today.)
And that was all before lunch! After lunch we took the city bus to the Finnish Museum of Natural History (or, Luonnontieteellinen Keskusmuseo). Students were assigned to tour the museum, and identify their favorite exhibits that do a good job using artistic elements to communicate complex scientific concepts. I think my favorite was a hallway where it showed animals and plants that live in mountains, going from high elevation at the beginning of the hallway down to low elevation as you walk though. The left side showed that gradient in the Rocky Mountains in the U.S., and on the right it showed the gradient in the Alps in Europe. I thought it was cool, because it showed you that, no matter where you are, things change in a similar way as you go from high to low on a mountain. While the species might be different between Europe and the U.S., they are often related, and they have a similar niche. (Unfortunately, it's hard to take a photo of both sides of a hallway... so I can't show you.)

We ended the evening with a group dinner, and a quick visit to a sound space art exhibit. (That's an art installation where you enter a room and listen to the sounds being projected, with carefully chosen frequencies and rhythms.) Here we are at dinner, still awake despite the jetlag!
Now we are back at our hotel. Tomorrow morning we get up early and head back to the airport, because we fly north to Kilpis! We are excited to get north of the Arctic Circle and begin our research projects!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Onward... to the other side of the planet!

I mostly post about our research on the polar soils of the southern hemisphere in Antarctica. However, I have just begun a journey to the opposite side of the planet, this time heading north above the Arctic Circle. Our group from Arizona State University will be spending the next couple of weeks at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in northern Finland. 

Kilpisjärvi is in the northwestern tip of Finland, near the point where Finland, Norway, and Sweden meet. At 69°N, it is north of the Arctic Circle, so at this time of year we'll be enjoying 24 hours of daylight and some chilly temperatures that give us a much-needed break from June in Phoenix, AZ! You can learn more about Kilpisjärvi on their website here.

Our team this year is interdisciplinary. We are two professors and 11 students. Half of us are scientists, and the other half are artists. The students on the project will be working in scientist+artist teams to conduct independent research projects in Arctic ecology, as well as communicate that research to the public through a creative work. So often science and art are thought of as entirely different fields, when in fact they share the same core set of skills: observation, interpretation, creativity, and communication. The stereotype of a scientist is someone analytical and boring, with no creativity or inspiration. But scientists can't design exciting new research without being creative! They need to be able to observe their surroundings from different viewpoints and think outside the box, just like an artist is trained to do. Artists also need to be analytical and take risks like scientists do, and shouldn't be deterred from getting involved and understanding science. So we hope that the students will leave the program as better scientists and better artists as a result of practicing both fields through their research projects. Plus, we'll introduce a cohort of students to the Arctic who have never been here before and convey what they learn to the public, through hands-on research experiences. Already they are coming up with some pretty cool ideas of what they'd like to work on!

Our trip begins in Helsinki, Finland. The two professors (Richard and I) arrived in Helsinki today. Tomorrow, the students join us. We'll spend a couple of days here meeting with the US Embassy, scientists and artists from the University of Helsinki, and visiting museums before flying up north to Kilpisjärvi on Saturday. Stay tuned!