Who is the PNC17 Team?

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)

Hi everyone! From left to right in back: Marine, Peter, Malin, Julia, Martí, Coralie, Peter, Jon, and Kim. In front: Nestor, Erin, Liza, and Bodil.
The tech team with some of the biology team in Longyearbyen. From left to right: Shane, Nestor, Max, Artur, Marine, Julia, Peter, Paul, and Martí.


Packing up

The last day of our cruise we headed south back to Longyearbyen. It was a pretty rough ride, with seas at 8 meters and winds over 30 meters/second! But we all arrived in Longyearbyen safe and sound–back to labeling (and lots of packing up)!

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

Peter, Kim, and Jon all busy organizing and packing up.
Martí labels and says goodbye to room.
Boxes upon boxes.

Conclusion of the Ny Alesund campaign and return of the ArcticABC team home

Our readers my have lost track of the activities of the ArcticABC tech team that went off Helmer Hanssen in Ny Ålesund on January 9th. We account for that gap with this entry. The expedition in this scientific station was an opportunity to test the newly developed instruments for the project that will be deployed in the North Pole ice this year. Additionally, it was the learning ground for the UNIS course on applied marine robotics with 20 international and multidisciplinary students.

Immediately after arrival, the Arctic ABC tech team took control of the room baptized as “the Vatican” because that is where the POPEs were being developed (UiT The Arctic University of Norway’s Ice- tethered Platform cluster for Optical, Physical and Ecological sensors or ICE-POPEs). Bernard, Shane and Artur worked intense hours tweaking the circuits, coding the capacity of the instruments, shaping the material to fit the computers, batteries and ballast and getting the units ready for testing. Sonars, super sensitive cameras, and other equipment were successfully connected and proved that their ideas could be taken into reality. The first successful tests of an ArcticABC ICE-POPE happened in the darkness of the winter and was illuminated with the rays of the full moon in the middle of Kongsfjørden on a flat wind day (or night, depending on what parameters you take it into account). The engineering team worked hard and deployed instruments in both calm and full storm days, gathered data and analyzed it in an environment that allowed high concentration levels: the scientific station of Kings Bay during the polar night.

Parallel to testing, the course gathered experts from UiT, UNIS and NTNU in the field of marine applied technology. During 12 days, the students learned how to use different marine vehicles, like AUVs, ROVs, and ASVs, and equip them with instruments that could enable them to see or hear what lies beneath the surface, where it is practically impossible for us to be in. Prof. Jørgen Berge and Geir Johnsen orchestrated the event and the three groups of students (segregated by vehicle use) had a hands-on experience. Maxime, Daniel and Pedro installed all acoustic instruments we had with us in the Jetyak, a remotely controlled boat, or in the newly acquired and tested Polar Cirkel. This latter proved to be a superb platform for scientific activities. Professors Maarja and Martin showed us how the bottom of the sea looked with a remotely controlled camera while Petter and Asgeir, supported by Trygve and Øystein, enlightened us in the use of the robotic submarines, aka LAUVs. But science at Ny Ålesund was not limited to the marine environment.

Our appreciated readers might recall that at Longyearbyen, Daniel and Minna-Liina went on board the R/V Helmer Hanssen. The high capacity of Daniel to coordinate activities and vast knowledge of where things are in Svalbard were of utmost help for the whole operation. However, we have not described yet Minna-Linna’s role in the project. She is a human geographer and was studying how the ArcticABC project works and generates knowledge. Among other things she is interested in is understanding how the group members interact and communicate. Impressively, her research takes her to places like the Arctic but also to more tropical environments like Zanzibar. The expedition itself provided valuable material for her research and she therefore became one with the scientific team of the ArcticABC.

The expedition was energetically demanding for everybody, precisely timed, densely organized, with lots of personal learning and a successful experience. The pictures provided show the deployment of the Jetyak, by the students, with an echosounder mounted underneath. It also shows some of the tech team holding what will become POPE3, which will be used for acoustic research of fish and plankton under the ice. The team is now back at home and getting ready for the next expedition at the end of February. This will be the first deployment in-situ of our technology.

-Pedro De La Torre 31.01.2017 (NTNU)

Amazing time-lapse videos!

Malin Daase made two amazing time-lapse videos! The first one is of the fish crew sorting trawls. We hope you can gain a certain appreciation for identifying and sorting the different species we find in the pelagic trawls. There is something truly satisfying watching things get organized and tasks being achieved! Additionally in Kongsfjord, we caught a lot of Atlantic cod–which means we eat them (why waste good fish?) after a subsample of them are weighed and measured. You can watch how fast fish are filleted onboard–though to be fair to the student, you learn by doing!

The second video is an overview of the different nets that we used during the cruise (the MIK net and the MultiNet). We talked about these different nets and why we use them, but if you can’t remember, just take a look back at our previous posts.

Thanks to Malin for these videos, and we hope you like watching them as much as we do. Enjoy!

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

The Rijpfjorden bounty

Bucket ‘o snail fish.
Paul sorting.
The pelagic trawl in Rijpfjorden. The tiny red things are Pandalus borealis (shrimps).
Leptoclinus maculatus (Daubed shanny fish).
Bodil identifying benthic species.
Some big amphipods! The spotted brown animals are called Stegocephalus inflatus, and the reddish animals with the interesting eyes are called Anonyx nugax.
A triceratops-looking shrimp.
Actually it belongs to the Genus Spirontocaris .
Identified shrimps!
Looking at shrimps up close is a fun ship activity.

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

What the fish crew was up to–post 2

January 11th, 2017, “Max transect”, we finally made it up “north”. This year, the fish team also worked with a project conducted by Post-doc Maxime Geoffroy that aims to relate the content of pelagic trawls with acoustic measurements. The purpose of this is to monitor the seasonal position of the back-scatter layer in the water column and to document what it is composed of (mostly mesopelagic fish and krill as we’ve noted in our trawls). This project required us to perform MIK nets and pelagic trawls on the “Max transect” north of Svalbard. The sampling plan and transect position were changed slightly due to bad weather but we managed to get most of what we initially came here for, which was very satisfying. The trawls we conducted north of Svalbard contained very few polar cod but an impressive number of Sebastes sp. and Themisto libellula, a typically Arctic amphipod that polar cod feed on extensively.

Julia in the fish lab.

Throughout the cruise, we sampled opportunistically for a number of other projects, namely a project looking at capelin otoliths, another one looking at “anything that is rare and ugly – just like Carl”, we helped Erin with her attempt to gather ice associated amphipod north of Svalbard, and collected specimen for undergraduate courses back at UiT for Bodil and UNIS for Janne.

“Anything that is rare and ugly – just like Carl”
Atlantic cod found north of Svalbard. This kind of find is not uncommon now a day even though these species are typically boreal species. Their presence could be part of the reason why polar cod are absent in these areas.
Atlantic cod.

-Marine Cusa (Research Assistant, UiT)

What the fish crew was up to–post 1

January 9th 2017, Kongsfjorden, the hunt started once again. On a cruise like this one, most of us biologists are looking for specific critters. As it stands, it has almost become a tradition for the fish group to be on the lookout for polar cod. This endemic Arctic species is the most abundant cryopelagic fish at high latitudes and is believed to play an important role in the Arctic marine food web. In recent years, polar cod have not been doing so well on the west coast of Svalbard, and the increasingly warm Atlantic water seems to have displaced them for reasons that remain to be understood. This displacement might be explained by a change in prey or an increase in competition and predation due to the northward expansion of boreal fish, such as Atlantic cod. Because of this, and as I’ve mentioned it in the past, it has become increasingly difficult to find the little fellows on the west coast of Svalbard, and instead of a catch typically composed of Arctic species, ours are now most often composed of boreal species (whether it be fish or invertebrates). Because it lacks a sill, Kongsfjorden is particularly influenced by Atlantic advection and our trawls there testified this. They did contain some rare polar cod along with the more typically boreal Altantic cod, haddock, and capelin. Part of the goal of the polar cod project that is conducted by PhD student Morgan Bender is to document how these different water masses (Arctic versus Atlantic) affect polar cod reproduction and diet. To do so, we’ve been monitoring seasonally and annually their lengths, weight, body condition index, hepato- and gonado- somatic index, and their diet. To this, we’ve added in 2017 blood samples, histology measurements, and otoliths reading.

For this project, the ideal is to obtain polar cod of different size categories from Atlantic and Arctic fjords using both pelagic and demersal trawls. As previously mentioned however, finding polar cod in Atlantic fjords resembles a hide and seek hunt and can be quite frustrating. We did manage to find what we were looking for but we did not get a large sample size until we deployed the trawls in the north eastern part of Svalbard, in Rijpfjorden (nearly 600 specimen were caught in one trawl).

-Marine Cusa (Research Assistant, UiT)

The importance of polar cod in an Arctic food web. Diagram by Marine Cusa.



CTD’s and why we filter water

Throughout the cruise, we have cast a lot of CTD’s. CTD stands for conductivity (or salinity), temperature, and depth. In oceanography, a CTD is a regularly used instrument that is dropped vertically in the water column to measure water properties (the C, T, and D) at different depths. CTD’s are usually attached to large bottles that collect sea water at different depths. In the video below, the crew brings up the CTD rosette, and Martí and Peter begin filtering water.

Why do we need to know the properties of ocean water? To learn more about where certain animals live in the ocean, we use instruments like CTD’s to determine different water properties at various depths. We can then use this type of data and correlate it to the type of animlas or plants we find there, and further study how tiny marine critters can survive in different areas (or habitats) of the ocean.

Phytoplankton (tiny ocean plants) are essential for many marine animals. By filtering sea water, we can collect these small plants (as well as dead organic material) on filters with microscopic holes. Therefore, filtering water can give an indication of the amount of food available to small marine life (as Coralie mentioned in her post). Martí filters water for his project to learn more about the microbial food web during the polar night.

CTD data can also be used to compare water properties at similar locations through time. The water in western Svalbard is influenced by warmer and saltier water from the Atlantic Ocean moving its way northward into the Arctic Ocean. To determine if some of the fjords in western Svalbard will be ice-covered this year, researchers can investigate water temperatures using a CTD (see figure below). Some of the researchers on our cruise have summarized their findings on this University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) page.

A temperature profile obtained from a CTD. Here you can see that surface water temperatures in 2016 were colder than in 2017 in Isfjord (IsK). What this indicates is that there is more Atlantic water inside Isfjord than last year, so the chances of an ice-covered Isfjord is unlikely this winter. Graphic credit: Ragnheid Skogseth/UNIS.
Coralie, Peter, and Martí around the CTD rosette.
Peter is boss when it comes to water filtration!

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

Pelagic trawling

We will also have more posts from the fish crew, but here are some photos of the fish crew and what kind of organisms they are finding up north.

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

The fish crew met onboard (before Ny Ålesund) to go through protocols.
One of the first pelagic hauls. Haddock, Sebastes (red fish), and Atlantic cod make up the larger fish you see here.
Marine showing Nestor, Paul, and Julia some of the noticeable differences between some of the fish in the trawl.
There are also a lot of tiny organisms caught in these trawls! These are Euphausiids (krill). They are small crustaceans that are important members of the Arctic food web, because they eat phytoplankton (very tiny ocean plants) and are eaten by bigger marine organisms like fish and whales.
Marine measuring and weighing the tiny organisms (a sample of the larger fish caught in the trawls are also measured and weighed).
Julia recording data.
Not the best place for this little fish to be!