Archive for the ‘Helen Findlay’ Category


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


4 days to go…

April 22, 2009

Welcome again to the EPOCA Arctic site. As you will now see the pages are all up, with information on the background science, including some chemistry and of course the biology. All the people in our campaign have provided some information about themselves and we are getting more information up about the various experiments. So please feel free to explore the site. We will start the blogs properly once we arrive in the Arctic.

We have just four days to go, and I am going through waves of excitement before realising just how much work I still need to finish off here before we leave. Our cargo has all been sent, our flights are booked and we’re ready to go…. nearly!  It will take us two days to get from Plymouth, UK to the research base in Ny-Alesund. We fly from London Heathrow to Oslo, Norway, where we stay overnight before getting another flight from Oslo over to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Once we are in Longyearbyen we will transfer to a small, 12-seater plane that takes us the last 20 minutes across a snow-capped mountain range to the research base.

Just a few days ago we recieved an email from Marcus (the AWI base commander) informing us of the wintery conditions that await us… -16oC and a fjord full of ice!  He sent us these photos…

kongsfjord ice floats

Ice floats in Kongs Fjord. Photo courtesy of Marcus Schumacher

kongsfjord Sea Ice with the Three Sisters mountains in the background

Sea Ice formations in Kongs Fjord. Photo courtesy of Marcus Schumacher

We have tried to be as prepared as possible so we can cope with the cold and snow on land, thats not really a problem – and actually very exciting! – because we have lots of insulating thermals, jackets, hats and gloves. Also, most of the time we will be inside the laboratory or other buildings which are all nicely heated. However, the sea ice is causing some logistical problems. The cargo ship needs to deliver some supplies and equipment to the base, but they cannot get into the Fjord when it is full of ice. Also, the boats that are used from the base to go out sampling have not been launched which means that we cannot collect animals, sediment or other samples for our experiments. The divers are going to be busy!! But even they are limited by the ice cover. Hopefully the sun, which is now above the horizon for 24 hours, will start to melt the ice and the wind will break it up and push it out of the fjord. Fingers crossed this happens quickly, otherwise we will be delaying our experiments. Watch this space…


Welcome to EPOCA

January 28, 2009

I am Helen Findlay, a PhD student working at PML and part of the EPOCA project. In April 2009 myself and 15 other colleagues from PML and several other EU institutions will be travelling to Svalbard to partake in a large set of experiments. We would like to share our experience with you, as well as provide some understanding of the science and the people behind the expedition. We are currently building up the website, so please be patient with us while we get it all up to speed…