Archive for the ‘Helen Findlay’ Category


Follow up…

September 8, 2009

You may be wondering what’s happened since the end of our Arctic trip, so I thought I’d write a short post to keep you updated.

The short story is that many of us are still analysing data and writing up our results. Once scientists get back to “the real world”, like everyone, we have lots of other things to deal with. It is a bit of a shock to the system coming home after a long field trip or a research cruise. Not only do we have to integrate ourselves back into normal society but we have to get back into the routine of working, cooking, cleaning and attending to family needs. We have been a bit spoilt being in the Arctic, because we are taken care of – all our cleaning and cooking is done for us, so we can just spend all the time focussing on enjoying the science.

I would like to update this blog with some of the interesting results that will hopefully come out of this trip. The information should start coming out soon, so as soon as it does, we will get the information out to you. Watch this space…

We had the first EPOCA annual meeting in Plymouth at the beginning of July and it was a good opportunity to catch up with everyone from the trip. This was quite a mixed meeting, with lots of session dealing with project management and how everyone was getting on with their individual role in EPOCA. But there were a few snippets of science data as well. The concern over the Arctic ocean was one of the most relevant – cruise and model data suggesting that continued emissions of CO2 will result in the Arctic becoming undersaturated with respect to aragonite (the mineral pteropods and other shelled organisms use to form their shells) by the year 2030. Steeve Comeau’s work on pteropods from last summer in the Arctic showed that pteropods seem to be affected by these changes in aragonite conditions, so that doesn’t look good for them. Other work is showing that the double whamy of temperature and ocean acidifcation are going to cause complicated interacting impacts. And although ocean acidifcation is no doubt important, we should not forget the multitude of other stresses that humans are forcing on our fragile environment.


Going home

June 1, 2009

We have had an eventful last few days in the lab. The sediment experiment finished on Thursday, so Bonnie and Lara spent a long day in the lab slicing sediment cores up so that they could take home samples for analysis. On Saturday the urchin experiment finished so Hannah, Bonnie and I (with help for Lara, thanks!) spent a good number of hours taking more samples from the last set of urchins. Axinja and Sandra moved their experimental tanks over to the small experiment room, where the nutrient experiments had been; and by dinner we had completely cleared the large experiment room ready for packing and tidying the next day.

Nearly empty lab!

Empty experiment lab. Photo Helen Findlay

We had a bit of free time on Friday to relax in between all the experiments, so Lara, Bonnie and I took a walk down the fjord to visit Corbel. Corbel is an extension of the AWIPEV base – a few small huts grouped together about 6 km down the fjord from the main village. At the moment there are about 5 or 6 French scientists working there. They work on a mix of different topics, ranging from glaciology to ornithology (studying birds – there is a large cliff nearby where many of the gulls and terns nest). They started to build the huts last September and are now adding a few more solar panals and testing out a wind generator so that they are completely self sufficient for energy. The idea is that the scientists are a lot closer to the things that they study, and save time and energy travelling back and forth between study sites.


Corbel field base. Photo Helen Findlay

Lara and Bonnie having a Tea break on the walk back from Corbel

Lara and Bonnie having a tea break on the walk back from Corbel. Photo Helen Findlay

Ornithologists at work

Ornithologists at work by the bird cliff. Photo Helen Findlay

Sunday and Monday have been our packing days. Steeve, Axinja and Sandra are staying some extra time so that laboratory is not too empty but it feels strange having an empty experiment room again. Our last day is filled with beautiful sunshine so once we have packed we are going to go enjoy our last afternoon in the snow and sun.


Search for the sea butterflies…

May 25, 2009

This last week has been a very routine week in the lab. Most of our time has spent taking samples of the water conditions in our experimental containers, sampling the urchin blood (see Hannah’s blog), measuring turnover rates (see blog) and carrying out fertilisation experiments (again, see Hannah’s blog but also check out the study 10 page for a video and update). So this weekend we were very organised and managed to get all our main sampling done so that we could have a bit more time to see the area around the base while we are here. It seems a shame to come all the way to the Arctic to then spend all the time inside a laboratory!

 Bonnie and Helen kitting up for a boat trip

Bonnie and Helen kit up in survival suits for our boat trip. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

On Saturday we joined Steeve on his search for Pteropods. Steeve has not been having much luck in getting these tiny floating snails so far (they look a bit like butterflies because they use their foot a bit like wings). Last week he managed to take the boat a little bit further out of the fjord and found an area where he collected around 80 or so of these creatures; so on Saturday we went back to the spot to find some more. This involved taking out two small boats and driving about 15 km from the base out of the fjord. It was an extremely calm day but our early start meant that the mist was still covering the fjord and although the water was as flat as a mirror it was a little spooky speeding out into the mist in our boats. As the mist lifted we were treated to amazing views of the bright blue glaciers creeping up to the waters edge surrounded by dark mountains.

 Speeding into the mist

Speeding into the mist on the way out to the site. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

Boating past the glaciers as the mist clears

Heading home past the glaciers and dark mountains. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

Once we arrived at the site, we switched off our engine and let the boat drift around (we were the support team in case anything went wrong) while Steeve and his crew got on with sorting out the plankton net and buckets. Collecting pteropods is a bit of a fine art, they are quite small and delicate so the plankton net was lowered gently down about 50 m in the water and then slowly bought back up again. Steeve retrieved the large container from the end of the net and carefully plucked out any pteropods.

 Steeve looking for pteropods in the container at the end of the plankton net

Steeve checking for pteropods in the container at the end of the plankton net. Photo: Bonnie Laverock

After about 5 or 6 plankton tows Steeve had collected over 40 pteropods, which is still not enough for his experiment but our time was running out – every time we leave the base we have to take a radio, a rifle and a flare gun, as well as inform someone on base what time we will be back and where we will be going – so we headed back to base. Snow was still falling as we returned, even though the mist had lifted but there were still no waves and just the wind from the boat keeping us cold. We saw quite a few birds, lots of fulmars, some skuas and even some puffins. I’ve got a video to put up soon and they will feature in that.

 Bonnies view - watching Helen watch the other boat

Bonnies view – watching Helen watch the other boat. Photo Bonnie Laverock

The weather has turned again now. The sun came out on Sunday for the first time in about 5 days and we had a beautiful but bitterly cold day. The wind picked up throughout Sunday afternoon and by the evening it was snowing again. This morning we woke up to more snow and strong winds, it is now minus 7 ºC but with wind chill it is down to minus 22 ºC, which is the coldest it has been since we arrived. The divers cannot go out and Steeve has to wait another day to continue his search for the sea butterflies…


Urchin behaviour experiments

May 12, 2009

The urchin experiments continue with behaviour experiments… see the experiment update here where there is a cool video!


Living in the Village

May 10, 2009

Hannah and I spent the other night making a video about Ny Alesund and some of the aspects of life on a research base…. its a little bit random but shows the main buildings in the village, the rooms we sleep in, the Huskies, the mess where we go to eat and some other bits and pieces…


Ice is nice but wetter is better…

May 9, 2009

Sea ice is very dynamic, it is constantly changing, and is very quick to change. You’ll have noticed that when we first arrived in Ny Alesund the fjord was completely full of sea ice – very nice for photos but not a good start for trying to collect animals and sediment…

Frozen fjord

At the end of the first week the ice breaker had come in and broken up the ice. Luckily  this was followed by an easterly strom-force wind, which blew the broken ice out the fjord – maybe we’ll get some experiments going after all…

Fjord opening up during the storm

This was good news because we were able to launch to the dive boat. However storms don’t last forever and there was still a lot of ice in the fjord. The last few days we have had very nice sunny weather but this has made everything quite cold again – its been between -2 oC and -5 oC. We woke the other morning to find the fjord re-freezing, and the dive boat in the middle of it – oh dear, and still not a mud sample in sight…

Dive boat stuck in new "pancake" ice

Sea water freezes at about -1.8 oC but the exact value depends on how salty it is. When it starts to freeze it happens in small patches which slowly grow outwards and look a bit like lilly-pads or pancakes (in fact it is called pancake ice). When they get big enough they bump up against the neighbouring pancakes and these then get thicker and thicker and melt and freeze together. Sea ice can crack down these joins quite easily and this is what forms leads or paths in the ice, which ships can use to pass through.

In the distance we could also see that the thicker, whiter, sea ice was starting to block up the end of the fjord as well as new ice forming nearer the shore – I’m getting a feeling of de ja vu…

Freezing fjord

And so the game begins again… This afternoon it has slowly got more stormy, the wind has picked up (easterly again) and the ice is being pushed out and the divers are doing their best to keep us happy – the sediment might be here by this evening, then its only another few hundred serripes, urchins and gastropods left for them to collect, no problem!

Storm over the fjord again


The cargo arrives…

May 7, 2009

Ny AlesundAfter much waiting and hoping, the cargo ship finally docked at Ny Alesund on Tuesday (5th May). It arrived around 8 am and didn’t finish unloading and reloading until about 5.30 pm.

The cargo ship docked and the ice breaker waiting

The cargo ship (red) and the ice breaker (gray) alongside the dock. Photo: Helen Findlay

This was great news for us because many of the scientists still had several boxes of equipment that they had been waiting for so that they could start carrying out there experiments. Unfortunately there is still a few bits missing but hopefully by Monday we should have a full complement of equipment!

The truck loading up the ship with boxes

A tractor loading the ship with boxes. Photo Helen Findlay

It was also very exciting because this is the first ship that has arrived in Ny Alesund since December and it brings with it much needed new stock of food and drinks. The base has been relying heavily on frozen and preservable food as well as the odd plane load of food but the variety of food soon gets a bit limited! So we now have fresh fruit and veg, salad for lunch, yogurts for breakfast and lots of eggs!

The dive boat in the water!

The dive boat in the water. Photo Helen Findlay

The final and possibly most important aspect of the ship’s passing was that is made way for us to launch the dive boat. This was great news for us because many of the studies have been on hold waiting for access to the boat so that animals and sediment can be collected. Hopefully there will be fewer problems now, although the fjord is still very icey and not all the dive sites are ice free yet.

 View of the crowns from the ice edge

View of the Crowns from the ice edge. Photo Helen Findlay


Service 1 update

May 4, 2009

I think the video says it all… It’s been fun! (although it does go on a bit…)

The acidification system is now up and running. This was our number one priority to get started once we had arrived in Ny Alesund. Without this system we would not be able to carry out any experiments so it is a big relief to be able to now sit back.

Setting up

Helen and Hannah setting up the system. Photo Hannah Wood

Hannah and Helen spent most of the first couple of days unpacking and putting together all the component pieces. Each header tank is set up with a CO2 cylinder, a regulator, which is connected to a solenoid valve which electronically switches the CO2 on or off. The valve is connected to a pH controller which is monitoring the pH levels in the water in the tanks. The controller is set to a specific pH level so the CO2 is switch on when the pH gets above that level, and it switches off when the pH drops below that level.

co2 cylinders

CO2 system with header tanks. Photo Helen Findlay

We had a couple of problems with a few bits of kit that had either been forgotten or didn’t quite work they way we needed to so we had to engineer a few solutions with tubing and space but it seems to be working (fingers crossed!) and now we are left to just monitor and tweak it…

We have decided to use five pH / CO2 treatment levels and two temperature levels. The current atmospheric CO2 level is 380 ppm, so we have this as our “control” treatment. Then we are increasing the CO2 levels to 550 ppm, 750 ppm, 1120 ppm and 3000 ppm. This gives us values that span several of the predicitions for next 100 years and also a slightly more extreme value (3000 ppm) for biological interest. The animals can now be put in the tanks, indeed Steve’s urchins have gone in already and the Hyas crabs have just gone in too…


Preparing for bears

April 30, 2009

After arriving, unpacking and setting up, what is most important when you are in the Arctic? Looking out for Polar Bears! So far, as Hannah mentioned, there have been several visits by polar bears to Kongsfjord and around Ny Alesund, although not while we’ve been here. Hearing that there have been nearly 15 so far this month left us feeling very excited, if a little apprehensive. So, to prepare properly Steve W, Hannah, Steeve C, and I have just completed the Polar Bear gun training.


This doesn’t actually involve hunting polar bears; please don’t call in the animal protection agencies just yet! It actually involves a lot of information about polar bears, how they behave and how we should behave around them, and worst case scenario, what we do if they decide they want to eat us… We spent two hours on polar bear and gun theory. Learning facts such as

• Polar bears can grow to 3 m in length. Imagine one stood upright, 3 m high, that’s nearly twice my height (I come in at a small 1 m 54 cm, in case you’re wondering).
• Polar bears are heavy. The giants can get up to 1000 kg! But males are more frequently found to be between 400 – 600 kg, while females 300 – 500 kg. That’s the weight of a rather large bull.
• Polar bears are fast. And I mean fast. At over short distances they can reach a top speed of 40 km per hour. That is about 11 m per second, which means that an angry polar bear 100 m away from you will reach you in about 8 seconds.
• Polar bears can climb and have been known to get into huts and onto roofs…
• Polar bears are very curious animals. When they are just being curious, you can see it in the way they behave; they sniff the air and move their heads around to catch smells. Sometimes they will stand up on their back legs to get a better view of the surrounding area. And if they are still not sure they will move randomly towards the disturbance (you!). Most of the time curiosity is followed by indifference and they move away.
• Polar bears can easily get irritated. They will warn you of this with their behaviour too. They will snarl, blow angrily out of their nostrils or even smack their lips. When they start doing this, take the hint, and get out of its area quickly! If irritation turns to anger, then its time to take action, and by action, I mean scaring with flares and gun. The aim is to scare away and it usually works but legally we are allowed to protect ourselves (that’s good news!) but there’s a big penalty if you are found to have caused the bear to attack or shot it without reason.
• On the rare occasion a polar bear will decide to attack humans. This is rare and only really happens either if the humans have disturbed it and made it angry, if it is sick, old and really hungry, if it is a teenage bear that has recently left its mother so is also really hungry, or if it is a mother protecting her cubs.

Steve W on a skidoo

Steve W on a skidoo. Photo Helen Findlay

This morning we continued the practical exercise part of the course. This involved a snow-mobile (also called a Skidoo) ride up to the shooting range. Steve looked pretty cool on his skidoo but unfortunately they went the wrong way and both Steve and his driver managed to overturn their skidoo while trying to do a U-turn and got flipped off – no injuries though. When we had all safely arrived at the range, we were shown our rifles and after yesterdays demonstration we got straight into it. We each had a go with five bullets shooting while kneeling, another five whilst standing and then a final five kneeling again. All in all we did really well; Steeve and Steve were a bit low of the target to start but not by far and complained that it was a problem with the gun! Hannah and I both got 3/5 bulls-eyes the first round, I steadily improved with 4/5 and then managed a 5/5 on the final round, while Hannah levelled off at a good 4/5. Polar bears watch out!

Hannah and Steeve at the shooting range

Hannah and Steeve C at the shooting range. Photo Helen Findlay

Finally we all had a go at firing the flare gun, which is a bit of a novelty shot really. The aim is to send the flare between you and the polar bear so that it bangs and sparks and then scares the polar bear off. Steeve went first but his went off while still in the air so the only thing he would’ve scared were birds. Steve went next and he sent his flying way beyond the target, so the polar bear would have been scared towards us. Hannah went next and shot the flare into the ground about 5 m in front of the hut – we’re dead again…. Finally, having learnt from all their mistakes, I had a go and perfectly shot the flare between the target and us – consider the bear scared!


Travelling adventures

April 28, 2009

It seemed as if we were travelling forever but finally we are here in Ny-Alesund and the work can begin. The journey was not only long but full of adventure. It began at 5 o’clock Sunday morning as Helen and Karen left Plymouth for the long drive to Heathrow, stopping only briefly to pick up Steve and then Hannah on the way. Heathrow terminal 5 was everything we imagined and we were glad to board the BA flight to Oslo. An hour and a half later we arrived in Norway and then the fun really began. Steve was still getting over the excitement of seeing Roy Hodgson (manager of premiership side Fulham) in arrivals when the fire alarm went off. As the airport was being evacuated we managed to jump on a bus for the 35 minute journey to Oslo city centre just as fire engines appeared all around us. Once in the city we quickly found our hotel and checked in before heading off to explore.

Oslo, we found, is a beautiful waterfront city decorated with many interesting statues and works of art. After taking some time to soak up the atmosphere we opted for a restaurant by the water’s edge and enjoyed a much needed meal. After which we had another brief stroll around, plus a quick beer, before heading back to the hotel for an early night. The journey to the airport the next morning was far less eventful – thankfully. At the airport we soon met up with all the other EPOCA participants and everyone excitedly boarded the plane for the 4 hour flight to Longyearbyen (the capital of Svalbard). The flight was amazing with incredible views of snow covered mountains and frozen sea-ice, giving us a glimpse of what was waiting for us in the arctic. Stepping out of the plane onto the aircraft steps we got our first taste of true “Arctic” conditions. The bright sunshine betrayed the fact that is was cold – really cold. Minus 16˚C!! We quickly headed into the terminal building to wait for our luggage. Once this had all been collected we made the short walk to the Kingsbay part of the airport, from where we would start the final leg of the journey.

Our plane to Ny-Alesund being taken out the hanger

The plane to Ny-Alesund Photo Helen Findlay

This leg consisted of a short flight (approx 20 minutes) over the mountains in a very small plane and it was absolutely amazing as we flew low over some of the most spectacular scenery we have ever seen. As we flew towards Ny-Alesund we could see the frozen fjord ahead of us. As incredibly beautiful as it was, it was not a sight that was particularly welcomed by a plane full of marine scientists hoping to spend the next month sampling this stretch of water. It is unusual for the fjord to be frozen over at this time of the year and we will have to change some of our plans to adapt to these unexpected conditions. Despite this we are all so excited to be in Ny Alesund and can’t wait to get cracking with our experiments. We are also excited, if some what concerned, by the news that there have been many recent sightings of polar bears in the Ny Alesund area and there is every chance we may spot one before our visit is over. Hopefully not too close though. So the travelling is now over and now the work begins…………….

Flying over the base

The base as we flew over it. Photo Steve Widdicombe

Looking across the frozen fjord

Looking across the frozen fjord. Photo Steve Widdicombe