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.


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)


Part of the work we will conduct with the technical team of ArcticABC in Ny-Ålesund is to test acoustic instruments, in particular Acoustic Zooplankton and Fish Profilers (AZFPs). Two AZFPs will eventually be deployed on ICE-POPE 3 (Ice-Tethered Platform Cluster for Optical, Physical, and Ecological Sensors), one looking upward and the other downward, to study both zooplankton and fish under ice but also at greater depths in the water column (see attached figure). Before we install these instruments on the autonomous ICE-POPE and leave them operating in the Arctic for several months, we need to test the different settings we are planning to use and make sure they allow 1) a good enough resolution to detect small organisms near the ice cover; and 2) low energy consumption that enables data collection over a complete year cycle on the same battery pack.


-Maxime Geoffroy (Postdoctoral researcher, UiT)

Echosounder preparations

As the weather calms down around the cruising path of the R/V Helmer Hanssen, Max prepares to operate the new Kongsberg echosounder. This is a wide band acoustic transducer EK80. What is unique and novel about it is that it chirps (which is like whistling for brief periods), instead of pinging (which is similar to honking on a car). Together with the AZFP (stands for Acoustics, Zooplankton, and Fish Profiler) echosounder from the ASL Environment Company, both echosounders will tell the team where the plankton and fish are located in the waters outside of the Ny Ålesund research station. Before that happens, the Arctic ABC team needs to know how to operate it, test that all its cables and connections are working, and come up with a plan on how best to install both instruments in the water.

Max with echosounder.

-Pedro De La Torre (Engineer, NTNU)

First research activities

Research activities started immediately after lunch onboard. A CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth sensor for seawater), and two sampling nets (multinet and WB3) provided the first insight into the environmental and biological characteristics of the ocean outside the sheltered continental area. The first crate sent from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) was opened, and it was like Christmas all over again.

The Arctic ABC technology team (the A in ABC) did not waste any time and setup a mini electronics lab in the instruments room onboard to begin testing the ICE-POPES (electronic sampling devices, which stands for Ice-tethered Platform Cluster for Optical, Physical, and Ecological Sensors, so not the Catholic kind) that will be deployed at Ny Ålesund in Svalbard. We hope that you can appreciate the looks on everyone’s faces–the engineers in charge were happy to see not only that the equipment made it, but that their tools and spare parts were right where they were supposed to be.

-Pedro De La Torre (Engineer, NTNU)