A long-awaited journey

An expedition to the Nordic Seas after almost three years of changing plans

Once I had started my PhD back in October 2019, I was told that I will get the chance to go on a research vessel and participate on an expedition soon. As I have never been on a ship before, I was really looking forward to this. It would also be the chance to not only encounter the area of my research work (the Nordic Seas and the Fram Strait), but also sample planktonic foraminifera from the water column for my own research work.
But as so many things in 2020, it did not turn out as expected: the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled my hopes of going on a ship in summer 2020, as the number of participants had to be drastically reduced. The plans for my research project were shifted and I focused my work on samples that had been collected before. At the beginning of 2021, I started to hope again, as two further expeditions were coming up in the summer which could be interesting for me in terms of both the region and the work planned on board. But the pandemic was not over, and it thwarted my plans once more. With the time that was left for my PhD, I started getting nervous if I would ever get the chance…

But finally, in June 2022, it happened! Though the pandemic is not over yet, regulations are (almost) gone, and without any problems, I could travel to Norway to join an expedition of the ARCLIM (The Arctic Ocean under Warm Climates) project at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway. The main goal of the expedition: sampling of two species of planktonic foraminifera to do culture experiments in the laboratory on how changes in climate and water conditions influence their calcification.
I was excited about this travel for so many reasons. First of all, I finally got the chance to go on a research vessel, for which I had been waiting for almost three years now. Second, even though I have worked with planktonic foraminifera since the start of my PhD, I never saw the living organisms. And I would also see the deployment of plankton nets, which are used to get the foraminifera out of the water, for the first time. Third, I have never been to Norway. And finally, it would also be a chance to get in touch with other researchers working in the same field as I am.

All this excitement in mind, I arrived in Norway and helped with the final packing of all the material needed for the expedition. On the 23rd June, we met at the harbor and got onto the research vessel Helmer Hanssen, which would be our laboratory and home for the next days. We left Tromsø and after enjoying the view on the mountains and fjords for a while, started to unpack boxes and set up the laboratory.  
Soon after, everything was set up while we were on our journey towards our first stop in the Nordic Seas. Unfortunately, the sea got rougher with the time, and we had very high waves in the evening. I got hit by strong sea sickness, and the first evening and night, I kept wondering why I had been waiting for this for such a long time…

But these negative feelings only lasted until the next noon, when I started feeling better. On the third day, we arrived at our station and started sampling with a plankton net. By then, my excitement was back! It was so interesting to see the freshly taken sample of all the tiny particles that are present in the water under the microscope. Especially impressive were the living foraminifera, which just look amazing with their huge spines pointing all around them.

The following days were very busy, and besides picking about 1000 foraminifera from plankton samples, we were taking a lot of water samples as well as some sediment cores. In between, there was transit time to get to know each other better, discuss science, or just sit on the deck and enjoy the view over the water glittering in the sun.

The expedition was extremely successful, and besides getting all the samples we wanted to have, we came back two days earlier than planed – so we were also very efficient in our work. The teamwork was amazing, especially considering that some of us just met a couple of days before for the first time.

After we were back in Tromsø, all samples were brought into the laboratory. The living foraminifera, all put into individual bottles with water varying in conditions (pH and salinity) were put into incubators where they can stay at different set temperatures and with a light intensity mimicking the polar day (so it was actually very good that we came back as early as possible, as keeping them in a constant temperature was not that easy on board). The purpose of those culturing experiments is to understand how the elemental and isotopic composition of the foraminifera shells records changes in key environmental and climatic parameters. By this, it is possible to establish methods that are tailored to reconstruct past changes in the Arctic Ocean climate system, which are essential to better understand the system and to better validate climate models. These experiments also have the potential to tell us how foraminifera as an important component of the marine ecosystem will respond to the ongoing changes in temperature and acidity of the Arctic ocean. The following steps of work were feeding the foramininifera regularly and exchange the water from time to time, so that can live as long as possible in the controlled environment and grow their shell.

I was really glad that I had the chance to stay a little longer after the expedition – not only to see how the laboratory work in connection to the sampling on the ship looks like, but also because it gave me the chance to explore Tromsø and the surrounding islands including their mountains and fjords a bit more.
It was an amazing time, and I am so grateful that I finally got the chance to be on a research vessel. I was welcomed nicely and learned a lot, and would definitely recommend to grab the chance if you get it – even though being on a moving ship can be a little challenging in the beginning.

Franziska Tell

About Franziska Tell

PhD student from the 3rd ArcTrain cohort, working on planktonic foraminifera and the carbon cycle in the Arctic Ocean. @GruenEisBaer on twitter & instagram

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