Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Research wrap-up

We are at the end of our stay at Kilpisjärvi Biological Station. Students have been collecting their last bits of data. Yesterday, they presented drafts of their projects. They of course still have work to do once we get back to the US, but they were able to report on their rationale, hypotheses, methods, results so far, and clips and drafts of their art projects.

For example, here’s Alex and Elisabeth presenting their project on diatoms. They collected water from a variety of different bodies of water around the station, from lakes to ponds to streams to snow. Using a powerful microscope, they’re looking at the diatom community to see if the different types of water bodies house distinct diatom communities. They want to know whether you can tell if something came from a particular type of water source based on the diatom community you find on it. Since their water bodies focus around Saana and Kilpisjärvi, their art project will be a drawing of the Saana landscape, with certain areas expanded to show the diatoms that are unique to those areas.
Here is one of my photos of Saana (the mountain fell in the background).
Now we are almost all packed up. In a few moments, we’ll be getting on our bus to drive to Tromsø, Norway. We will spend the rest of the day there visiting science and art museums to cap our trip the way it began in Helsinki.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Student projects

We have been at the research station for over a week now, and we only have a couple more days left before it's time for us to leave. The students have been making good progress on their research projects, and here's a bit about what some of the teams are working on:

Deauna and Jeremy are studying the impacts of human foot traffic on soil water and therefore the organisms that live in the soil. There has been increasing tourism in this area, which means more hikers and more traffic on trails (and new trails being created by people going off-trail). All of those human feet can compress soil and squeeze out the air spaces, which can make it harder for the soil to let water in, provide habitat for organisms, and support plant life. Even after the foot traffic goes away, the soil will not immediately recover. Jeremy and Deauna are comparing high, medium, and low traffic areas to see how much damage is too much damage.
Jeremy puts our make-shift "infiltrometer" into a medium-traffic path to test how quickly water trickles into the soil. Deauna is ready to run the timer and record the data.
Their art project to communicate the results is very neat. They have collected various plants and soil, and are using a hammer to pound them into cloth to create colors and textures on textile that represent human feet trampling the plants and soil.
Jeremy hammering his textiles on the left, and some in-the-works plant smashing on the right.
Xavier and Jose are studying pollen, and whether it could be used to solve crimes. They have placed a bunch of their clothes around the station, both inside the buildings and outside scattered in the birch forest and fields. Their clothes are simulating a human who may have committed a crime, or been a victim of one. They are then identifying any pollen that may have collected on the clothes to determine whether they can match the "crime" to nearby plants. If they are able to collect pollen from the clothes that is tied to nearby plants, they can suggest that pollen evidence can be used to tie a person to a particular location in the Arctic. However, if pollen on the clothes is not able to be associated with nearby plants, that would suggest that it's not a good source of evidence.
Jose and Xavier use tape to collect pollen off of their test clothing.
Once they collect the pollen, they look at it under a microscope to identify it. They have spent a lot of time collecting pollen from all of the flowering plants around the station to create a pollen bank of what each plant's pollen looks like. That way, as they look at their clothing samples, they can identify the plants on the clothes. The microscope has a camera attached, so one of them can operate the microscope while the other watches from the laptop. Here, Jose is on the laptop capturing still images and video to use in their artwork.
Jose and Xavier viewing their pollen from mock crime scene underwear.
Ana and Kristian have been simulating a warmer Arctic climate to see how that impacts the activity of soil microbes. Soil microbes perform a LOT of important functions in ecosystems, so knowing how they respond to climate is important. Kristian and Ana collected soil and placed it into incubation vessels. Half of their vessels are outside in normal temperatures, and half are inside a little greenhouse that they made out of parts they could find at the station and market. In each of those temperatures, half of the vessels received extra water to simulate ice melting under a warmer climate. They've incubated their vessels for over a week with the extra water and/or warmer temperature, and every couple of days they collect gas samples to see how much the soil microbes are respiring.
More CO2 produced from respiration means more active microbes.
Ana collecting a gas sample from one of her sample vials, next to their home-made greenhouse.
They have also been recording a lot of video and sound of water and wind to represent the melt and the respiration. It will become part of a musical composition with accompanying video. Anywhere we go for a hike, Kristian ends up dropping onto the ground and sticking his camera and sound recorder just above the water to collect the clips for their work.
You can juuust make out the tiny Kristian in the lower right, collecting sound clips from the base of the waterfall at Leenanlampi last week.

I'll tell you about the other projects another day, because the weather has been beautiful and now I'd like to go outside and enjoy some sunshine!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Station tour

Want to see where we've been living and working for the past week? Here's a short video tour of the main station building where we have our classes, eat our meals, sleep, and work in the lab:

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Beautiful Day to be in Norway

We took a break today from working on research projects to go for a hike just over the border in Norway. We stopped for a quick photo op at the border. The group is split between Norway and Finland:

Antero, the research station director, was our guide for this hike since it’s a spot he found and knows well. Most of the trip involved walking along a road built during WWII by Russian prisoners of war. (Because Finland had at that time only recently declared independence from Russian rule, they initially allied with the Germans after Russia invaded at the start of WWII to defend their own independence. So it was German soldiers that made the POWs build the road, though later Finland and Russia would work together to remove the Germans before the war ended.) Here we are stopped on the road hearing an ecology lesson from Antero:

Once we got to Antero’s favorite spot, we rested on the banks of the pond, ate the lunches we packed, and enjoyed ourselves exploring and observing. It was a warm day, so we saw a lot of birds, bees, even some frogs at their northernmost range limit! Unfortunately we also saw some mosquitoes, but they’re not too bad, especially compared to most places in the Arctic.

Tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone working on research projects. I also think there will be a lot of sound and film editing, because students captured a lot of footage for their art/communication projects on the past couple of hikes we’ve done.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The science begins

Yesterday was a good Arctic summer day. It snowed! It's a big difference from our home in Phoenix, AZ where it was over 100 degrees Farenheit. We woke up in the morning to a dusting of snow on the ground, which made Saana (the mountain fell in the background) very pretty. We will be hiking on Saana this afternoon.
The class poses for a photo in the snow, with a snow-covered Saana in the background.
Since the weather wasn't great for outside field work, we have been making good use of our time indoors. Yesterday the station director, Antero, talked to us about the history of the station and some of the local ecology. Antero has worked here for more than 40 years, so he has a lot of knowledge he can share with us!
Students have also put their research plans into action! Some students have spent the morning out in the birch forest around the station collecting their first samples. Others have spent time in the lab setting up their experiments and processing their samples.
Ana, Kristian, Jeremy, and Deauna working on their soil samples in the lab.
This afternoon we will have a nice hike. It's not snowing, but still fairly cold, though I'm sure the exercise will keep us warm as we go uphill!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Welcome to Kilpisjärvi

Yesterday, we traveled from Helsinki up to Kilpisjärvi to the research station where we'll be living and working for the rest of the trip. First, we fly from Helsinki to a very small airport in the town of Kittilä.
Helsinki to Kittilä by plane. Kittilä to Kilpisjärvi by bus.
Kittilä is a small town north of the Arctic Circle with a population of about 6,000 people. That is very different compared to Phoenix where we're from, which has a population of almost two million people! It's also very different from Phoenix because this is the entire airport in Kittilä:
Kittilä airport, as seen from the plane when we landed
 Here's what the low-Arctic of northern Finland looks like as we are about to land in Kittilä:
Of course, relative to where we are at the station, Kittilä is a bustling metropolis, because we are three hours away to the northwest. It was still pretty warm in Kittilä (like Helsinki), and it was a hot 3-hour bus ride up to the station. But here, it is much cooler, because the hot snap is over. Today, it's been about 7°C (that's 44°F). From Kittilä, we got in a minibus and drove about 3 hours northwest to Kilpisjärvi. In Finnish, "järvi" means "lake", so we are at a research station on Lake Kilpis. It is very close to the border with Norway and Sweden.

The wonderful cook at the station had a late dinner waiting for us when we arrived, and afterwards we had a lecture from our friend Leena, a local artist, about Sami art and insights from reindeer herding and their relationship with the environment. Her husband is a relative of the famous Sami artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. It was great for students to be able to see a bit from his perspective, now that they are in the place where he is from.

Today, we spent the morning finalizing students' research and art plans, then in the afternoon took our first excursion out into the local ecosystem. We hiked at Pikku Malla, a "strict nature reserve" (meaning, it is managed with the strictest of regulations). We saw a lot of reindeer while we were hiking, and even a bit of snow!
Xavier, Alex, Jose, me, Robin, and Elisabeth on the trail next to Siiläsjarvi
The Arizonan students ask "What is this white stuff?"
We had a nice time exploring the ecosystem with binoculars and field microscopes, but tomorrow it's back to the grindstone with getting students' research projects up and running!

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Day in Helsinki

Today we had our first whole day together in Helsinki. We did a LOT of walking downtown to take in the culture that urban Finland has to offer. We visited the natural history museum where the students had to think about the role of art in communicating scientific concepts. Unfortunately there were a ton of elementary school field trips there too, so we had to wade through small children in order to learn about the natural history of Finland.

After lunch, we went to Kiasma, the contemporary art museum to see a couple of exhibits in BioArt. My favorite of those was the work of Alma Heikkilä, who depicts the coexistence of life forms at a microscopic scale. Two of her pieces depicted the community of organisms in soil (so of course I’m biased, being a soil biogeochemist).
Jose and Alex get close up with the painting representing lichens and fungi interacting with minerals in the soil.

Robin checks out the insects in decaying wood . This piece is rich with small detail that you don’t notice until you’re as close as Robin is.
The whole group checks out a naturally-lit representation of pollutants and microorganisms in our lungs

It is unusually hot in Helsinki for our arrival. It’s been over 80 degrees Fahrenheit!! There’s not a lot of air conditioning here, because it’s not a common need. So we have been sweaty today, but we’ve seen a lot. We even had some down time to explore the city before our group dinner where we introduced the students to some delicious Finnish foods: mackerel tartare and beef tongue.

Tomorrow we head back to the airport in the morning and fly north to the Arctic Circle!

Thursday, June 6, 2019


We have arrived in Helsinki! I have been here since yesterday, and the students arrived just a few moments ago. We have one more student coming in tonight, and then our group will be complete. Today the students will be very tired, since they flew from Phoenix overnight into a time zone 10 hours ahead of what they're used to. Tomorrow, we explore Helsinki and visit some museums!
The students sent me a selfie from the airport. That was before the 10 hour flight!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Here we go!

I am on my way today to Finland! I get to spend the next 9 hours on a plane to arrive in Helsinki tomorrow morning.

The students leave tomorrow to arrive in Finland the day after me, ready to learn about the Arctic and do some BioArt! We will spend a couple days in Helsinki and then head up to the Arctic Circle. They already have ideas for their research projects that we will be refining over the next few days as we make our way to the research station. There will be some great science happening!

If all goes according to plan, my next post will be from Finland!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Return to the Arctic

Our next group of BioArt students are preparing for their field season in the Arctic! We have 10 students traveling with us again this year, half science majors and half art majors. They will be working together to conduct independent research in Arctic ecosystems and communicate their research through bio-art. We are looking forward to doing that again from Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in northern Finland, our home away from home!

Right now, we are still at Arizona State University getting ready for the trip. We've started by discussing the similarities between science and art, and thinking about the skills that are similar to both fields. We've been using our skills in observation, interpretation, analysis, and creativity to think about both science and art. We've been practicing those skills in the Sonoran Desert with a little bit of field work... which in May is hot enough to make us really appreciate the fact that we'll soon be in the Arctic!
We've also been in the classroom learning some basics of Arctic ecology, so that students can start to plan their research projects and how they will communicate them creatively through art. Even though we're in the Sonoran Desert in the early summer, we've pretended that we're already in the Arctic to learn go over some field safety that we'll use in Finland. We can now successfully use signal mirrors in case we get lost and treat our teammates for hypothermia!
Learning to use signal mirrors... and how to use our cell phones as signal mirrors.
Practicing hypothermia wraps so that we can save Jeremy!
We have another week of class here at ASU, and then we pack up and leave for Finland!