The Polar Night Cruise 2017 (PNC17) team is an international group of master and PhD students, technicians, engineers and senior marine biologists and biological oceanographers. During any given day, one would hear conversations not only in the common cruise language (English), but also in Norwegian, German, French and Spanish! The team works under the umbrella of several projects, the main one being the Arctic ABC project led by Professor Jørgen Berge from UiT – The Arctic University of Norway.
Onboard, the Arctic ABC team that represents the ‘A’ (Applied technology) in the project is led by project manager Pedro de la Torre from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). With him are engineers Shane Rodwell and Bernard Hagan from the Scottish Association of Marine Science and Artur Zolich from NTNU, all key in the development on the autonomous instruments (called POPEs) that will – once deployed – provide long-term observations across the year in the otherwise difficult to access central Arctic. The onboard team is completed by UiT post-doc Maxime Geoffroy, an expert on acoustic detection of zooplankton and fish in the Arctic, and – for the brief transit from Longyearbyen to Ny Ålesund – by Daniel Vogedes, the savvy all-round talent and technician of the project, also from UiT. The technology team essentially hitches a ride from Tromsø to Ny Ålesund with the primary goal of transporting the many sensors and underwater vehicles up north for testing in Arctic conditions. The tech team impresses the remaining team by a myriad of electronic parts with fancy names that are spread out across the instrument room of Helmer Hanssen!
The ‘B’ in Arctic ABC stands for ‘Biology’ and is represented by several teams. The light-zooplankton behavior team consists of Malin Daase (UiT), Kim Last (SAMS) and Jon Cohen (University of Delaware). They experiment with behavior of dozens of individual copepods (small crustaceans of a few millimeters in body size) they measure simultaneously, each in a small glass tube (dubbed the ‘copepod hotel’). Each time a copepod moves, it breaks a light beam going through that glass tube, and that break gets recorded as ‘copepod being active’. While these copepods are doing their workout, their friends of the same catch have their respiration rate measured which shows how much oxygen they consume. The team will analyze the data from their numerous experiments in light of possible activity differences between shelf and basin, male and female copepods, and deep versus shallow locations. Malin and collaborators also assess the natural mortality of Calanus copepods, something that is rarely measured since we mostly assume copepods get eaten before they naturally die (an assumption that turns out to be incorrect).
While not directly related to Arctic ABC, Coralie Barth-Jensen, Peter Glad (both UiT) and Liza Ershova (Shirshov Institute of Oceanology Russian Academy of Sciences) also work with zooplankton. Coralie and Peter study very small copepods which often are more abundant than the large ones and whose role in the oceans is less well known. Liza and Coralie also conduct experiments on the egg production of small and mid-sized copepods in the dead of winter. One of the challenges with these experiments is to pick out hundreds of tiny copepods a fraction of 1 millimeter in size under a stereo-microscope on a moving vessel!
Erin Kunisch, PhD student at UiT, and Bodil Bluhm (also UiT) are after ice-associated amphipods, another type of crustacean sometimes called sand fleas. A handful of these amphipods spend part or most of their lives with sea ice which we all know has been declining over the past decades in extent and thickness. Erin is studying whether these amphipods are fully dependent on sea ice for all parts of their live cycles or whether they have evolved adaptations to deal with the absence of sea ice. For that reason, Erin checks every zooplankton net haul from all depths for the occurrence of the ice amphipods – and finds several species, some with eggs documenting winter reproduction! She also uses trophic markers from ice algae and phytoplankton to see which zooplankton grazers (those that eat algae), fish and marine mammals actually use food produced in the ice versus the water column. In other words: Does the food web associated with ice matter, and who does it matter for?
The fish and fish prey team onboard, Marine Cusa, Julia Gosse, Paul Dubourg (all UiT) and Nestor Santana Hernández (University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), are working hard on collecting fish and potential prey data from the water column and the seafloor. These data serve two purposes: They will ground-truth what the Acoustic Zooplankton and Fish Profiler (AZFP) – one of the sensors the technology team is refining for later deployment in the central Arctic – is actually recording when deployed autonomously. The AZFP gives acoustic backscatter from animal particles in the water column. The onboard team specifies what these ‘particles’ actually are, so that Maxime, Stig Falk-Petersen and collaborators will know how to interpret the AZFP data. The onboard works involves pelagic and benthic trawl collections that get sorted to species, counted and weighed, a tedious process. Secondly, the polar cod collections contribute to the PhD project of Morgan Bender (UiT) who is investigating the reproductive ecology of that key and probably most abundant fish species in the Arctic food web.
Three investigators from the collaborating FAAbulous project (Future Arctic Algae blooms, joined the cruise leg from Tromsø to Longyearbyen to fill the winter gap in their sampling effort in Van Mijenfjorden, their primary study area. This project looks at ‘small things’ compared to all described above. Van Mijenfjorden, one of the fjords on Svalbard’s west coast, has been ice covered during the winter for decades – except for the majority of last winter, the core study year of FAAbulous! We encountered no ice during this cruise either, but the temperature was approaching zero degrees in this fjord that is isolated from the Atlantic water inflow through an island at its mouth. Tove Gabrielsen and Janne Søreide from University Studies in Svalbard (UNIS) and Josef Wiktor from the Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences were busy with water sampling for algae and recording the temperature conditions in the fjord. Martí Amargan Arumi (UiT) is also excited about small living organisms. His master project looks at the abundance and activity of the microbial communities, specifically bacteria, during the poorly studied winter months. In contrast to algae, bacteria are not dependent on light and can stay active during winter months.
The team is supported by instrument technician Hans Dybvik, without whom our instruments would not run smoothly in the dead of winter when blocks and nets freeze and batteries drain fast. A big hurray for Hans!
A remarkable crowd that is fun to work with!
-Bodil Bluhm (Professor, UiT)