9 January: Ever changing plans-an unexpected day in Krossfjorden

Now that we have safely transferred the Arctic ABC technology team to the Marine Laboratory in Ny Ålesund with all their equipment, our plan was to first to head west towards the shelf break for one deep station in the core Atlantic water inflow; then we wanted to head north towards Rijpfjorden and the shelf-break north of Svalbard. Well, again weather changed our plans and, again, we have to adapt our sampling program. The wind had picked up after we had last checked the weather forecast in the marine lab in Ny Ålesund and a storm warning was now, again, on the horizon. Besides the difficulty of operating our gear in strong winds (and people’s stomachs feeling unhappy) the team on the bridge is very concerned about icing of the vessel. With the winds coming from the northwest and high waves hitting the boat and coming over the bow, the vessel would be covered in a solid and heavy ice layer, adding a lot of undesired weight. The only option at the moment is to stay in the fjord.

While this is rather (very) frustrating, all 14 of the science crew still onboard quickly agreed that no valuable ship time should be wasted by just sitting and waiting for better conditions. The observant cook must have noticed our disappointment and handed out a round of ice cream as we sit around the couch table in the lounge next to the mess and discuss our options. With that treat and the sense of an unexpected opportunity it takes no longer than some minutes before the group comes up with all kinds of new plans! Coralie sets up a new 3-station transect stretching across Krossfjorden (just north of Kongsfjorden where Ny Ålesund is located), Kim and Jon design an additional experiment to study individual copepod behaviour of a different species than before, Martí moves his planned experiment to this fjord, the trawl team hopes for more polar cod that are in good enough shape for sampling and so on. Soon we are underway to the innermost part of the fjord in the vicinity of the glacier front. And actually the moon is lighting up just enough of the winter wonderland fjord scenery to get a sense of place. In the protected fjord waters, sampling progresses according to Plan B (well, perhaps Plan M by now). We do keep up our hopes for better weather to allow offshore sampling!

-Bodil Bluhm (Professor, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway)

On our polar night cruise, Bodil is serving as cruise leader. It keeps her busy and sometimes she has to jump out of her boots to run upstairs!

Back on dry land

The R/V Helmer Hanssen made it back to Longyearbyen yesterday. We left Rijpfjorden, with a scheduled stop in Smeerenburg. After departing Smeerenburg, we encountered the roughest seas of the cruise. At some point, the boat was traveling as slow as 2 knots. It was a bumpy ride, but we all made it back safe and sound.

Because the internet connection north of Svalbard can be quite spotty, we will now start posting what we have been doing the past week. There are still samples to process and data to analyze, but we hope that you get a feel for the type of research objectives we conducted during our polar night cruise.

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

The ABC tech team in Ny-Ålesund

Those of us that make up the technology development team came ashore at Ny Alesund last Sunday. After a busy few hours unloading our gear from the ship, we set about installing ourselves in the Marine Laboratory, which is our base during our time here. It’s an ideal location by the waterfront and close to the main pier from where we plan to be doing most of our sea trials. It’s also the departure point for our test deployments in the fjord using our vessel Polar Cirkel, an 8m RIB.

A bunch of POPEs, more or less ready to go.

These first few days have been spent assembling the equipment whilst adjusting to life back on land without the endless heave and roll of the Helmer Hanssen which we had to live with on the crossing from Tromso. The conditions so far have been fantastic, occasional snow flurries, but mostly calm moonlit skies, with the added bonus of the aurora borealis.

Ny-Ålesund in the dark of day.

The team from UiT, NTNU and SAMS have been working well together on our respective parts of the ArcticABC tech development. I’m working mostly on the hardware and electronics for the prototype ICE-POPE, which is a spar-buoy acting as a surface unit for the instruments deployed in the water beneath. The buoy acts as a platform for power storage, data collection and communication via Iridium and long range radio modem. So far we have the capability to connect the AZFP, the UHI and ECOTRIPLET instruments, so far so good.

Shane’s toys and playground in the marine lab.

In the next few days we want to deploy the buoy close to the pier and test out the communications and functionality, seeing what we can do with each of the sensors and hopefully providing a demonstration for the students on the marine robotics course. We hope to learn a lot during the next week that we can apply to the final ICE-POPEs that we plan to send on the Polar Stern cruise up to the Arctic in May, which will be our first real data collection mission.

A POPE! In the water! It floats!

-Shane Rodwell (Engineer, SAMS)

A Master’s student in the dark

As with many other elements of the polar night environment, the microbial food web is an unknown system that has been receiving increasing attention in the past few years. What was previously thought to be a dark period generally void of biological activity, studies from mare incognitum members and others have recently proved otherwise for several organisms. Although the bacterial and microplankton abundances are definitely much (!) lower than in the spring bloom, there is a persistent stock of these small organisms and some evidence of growth during the dark period.

One of the master students on board, Martí Amargant Arumí, is trying to get an overview of how many of these small organisms are present, how active they are, and how much they are being grazed upon. For this, he takes daily water samples from different depths and prepares them for analysis with flow cytometry and epifluorescence microscopy, and in parallel conducts serial dilution experiments. Serial dilution experiments alter the rate at which predator and prey meet: the more diluted a water sample is, the lower the overall predation effect over bacteria is, and the more freely they are allowed to grow. These experiments provide us with an insight on bacteria growth rates and the grazing rates to which they are subjected to in the wild. All of these procedures must be performed strictly in the dark, which is the reason why he can always be seen with a headlight on and unable to locate his tools in the lab.

Martí taking good lab notes in the dark.
Martí also works in the light!
Filtering water samples under the fume hood.

-Martí Amargant Arumí (Master’s student, UiT)

Made it to Longyearbyen!

A quick stop to pick up gear, switch passengers, and onward to Ny Ålesund!

The temperature is a mild -11C and not much wind, perfect conditions to load on board the rest of the equipment that we need from the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and to meet the rest of our team. Those on board took the chance to stretch their legs on terra firma. We welcomed on board Minna-Liina Ojala and Daniel Vogedes together with safety gear and an 8m long Polar Circle that will be used as our deployment platform in Ny Ålesund.

We will sail at 16:00 to Ny Ålesund where the Arctic ABC technology team will say goodbye to the fantastic research team on board. Preparations have started: pallets and crates full of high-tech equipment will be loaded and prepared for top-notch marine research. In addition, some members of the Arctic ABC team will be teaching the UNIS Underwater Robotics and Polar Night Biology course. This course incorporates underwater robots and sensors, and how different types of technology can help answer marine biology questions in the polar night.


Coralie and Bodil standing in front of the R/V Helmer Hanssen.
The new Arctic ABC boat, the Polar Circle, that will be loaded on the Helmer Hanssen.
The moon rise over Longyearbyen, around 13:30.
And we saw a ptarmigan, in all of its white plumage!

-Pedro De La Torre (Engineer, NTNU) and Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)


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)

Who was Helmer Hanssen?

Helmer Hanssen. Photo from: https://www.nfk.no/fylkesleksikon/innhold/personer/helmer-hanssen.852742.aspx

While cruising on a ship bearing his name, we thought it was appropriate to share a bit of background on Helmer Hanssen. Hanssen was born in 1870 in Norway to a farming and fishing family. At an early age, Hanssen worked with his father, hunting whales and seals, and fishing around the northern Norwegian coastline. When Hanssen was 27, he received his mate’s certificate, and soon participated in his first ocean expedition with the British to Novaya Zemlya (islands to the southeast of Svalbard).

Adventurous fate soon crossed his path, as Hanssen met Roald Amundsen while they were both in Sandefjord, Norway departing on their respective expeditions (Hanssen with the British to Novaya Zemlya, Amundsen with the Belgians to Antarctica). Six years later, in 1903, Hanssen accompanied Amundsen as his mate for a three-year expedition through the Northwest Passage on the s/s Gjøa. In 1910, Hanssen also participated in Amundsen’s ice plane expedition to the Antarctic, and the team reached the South Pole in December 1911.

In 1915, Hanssen received his skipper’s license. Because of his previous good work, Amundsen hired Hanssen to serve as captain on the s/s Maud through the Northeast Passage in 1918-20. Throughout Hanssen expeditions up to date, he had also gained experiences in dog sledding. His sledding expertise came in handy during this expedition, after the s/s Maud was stuck in the Arctic sea ice. Hanssen led the dogs on a 1500 km journey in order to send telegrams for Amundsen. The return journey to s/s Maud took Hanssen approximately 6½ month’s time, and 4000 km. Historians estimate that at the time, Hanssen’s trip was a dog sledding record.

Unfortunately, the Northeast Passage expedition proved to be difficult. Amundsen’s relationship with Hanssen had deteriorated, and Amundsen claimed that Hanssen became difficult to work with. As a result, Hanssen was dismissed from the middle of the expedition in Nome, Alaska, and had to work as a gold miner to earn the funds to travel back home to his wife and children.

Hanssen continued to engage in polar adventures and dog-sledding. In later years, he was offered to participate on another Antarctic expedition with Richard Byrd (an American polar adventurer), but turned it down. In later life, Hanssen received many distinctions and medals for his service in polar expeditions. Hanssen died in Tromsø, Norway in 1956.

Source: The Fram Museum

To learn more about Hanssen’s life, Nordland Fylkeskommune has a great summary (in Norwegian). The Fram Museum also has a great online collection of historical polar expeditions and explorers.

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

Van Mijenfjorden activities

Yesterday, we stopped in Van Mijen fjord to deploy CTD’s, collect grab samples of the benthos (the bottom of the sea floor), and zooplankton data using a multinet.

Mud from the grab sample.

Associate Professor Tove Gabrielsen (University Centre in Svalbard, UNIS) is part of the FAABulous project, another research project under the Mare Incognitum project umbrella. The FAABulous project, or Future Arctic Algae Blooms and their role in the context of climate change, studies the ongoing changes in Arctic primary production due to decrease in sea ice over and the resultant changes in light conditions. Eva Leu, another member of Mare Incognitum, is the project leader.

Tove studies microbial protists (organisms made up of a single cell), and she identifies small protist species and further investigates drivers in protist community composition in Svalbard fjords. As seen in the photo below, Tove is taking the top centimeter of the grab sample from the benthos to analyze later at UNIS.

Tove working on the grab sample.

Associate Professor Janne Søreide (University Centre in Svalbard, UNIS), also took samples from this fjord. In addition to teaching a sea ice course in Van Mijen fjord, she is interested in the zooplankton community structure in this fjord system. What is the ecological role of ice in Van Mijen fjord? It is documented that small creatures use the tiny cracks and crevices in sea ice as a nursing area. If ice disappears in this fjord system, can these small organisms survive without the ice? To answer these questions, Janne and her master’s students will study what organisms are living in this fjord and who is using the ice habitat. Janne looked at the rest of the grab sample to look for any ice-associated meiofauna (small benthic invertebrates) and any adult organisms that produce meroplankton (larval stages of larger organisms like sea stars, urchins, and mussels).

Janne looking for organisms.
Rinsing the mud away to look for benthic critters!
She found some polychaetes (worms) and mussels.

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, UiT)

What is a multinet?

In previous posts we discussed taking biological samples with a multinet. A multinet is a multiple plankton sampler that is pulled up vertically through the water column. It can carry up to 5 different nets, and each net can be programmed to open at particular depths within the water column (for example, 500-200 meters).

Here, the R/V Helmer Hanssen is pulling up the multinet:

After the multinet is on the trawl deck, each net is rinsed with a hose to ensure that all the zooplankton make it into the red containers below.

The multinet on deck after being pulled out of the water.
The multinet on deck after being pulled out of the water.

The red containers are brought into the laboratory, where organisms are sifted into small bottles and analyzed at a later time (usually when the boat is in calmer seas, because it isn’t quite fun looking through a microscope in rough seas!).

Preparing the multinet samples.
Preparing the multinet samples.

-Erin Kunisch (PhD candidate, 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)