By Katy Hoffmann and Josephine Rapp
For roughly five days now we have been sailing through Arctic waters aboard RV Polarstern, our home for the coming weeks. It is the second time that both of us have been here to collect samples for our PhD projects. Over the next three weeks we will conduct research in the Fram Strait and on the East Greenland shelf along with 44 other participants of various ages and from ten different nations. Our expedition started on Tuesday in Tromsø – also called the „Paris of the North“ – and we left the harbor in beautiful weather (Photo 1). On Wednesday we woke up to a shaky sea. The waves were not especially high, but when you have just arrived on a ship even two or three meter waves can give you a hard time (Photo 2). For a while the corridors were rather empty as many participants had to lie down to get rid of the uneven feeling in their stomach, and to get used to the ship’s movement. Nevertheless, we enthusiastically started to unpack the containers, and after one to two days most of the labs were fully installed. Outside on deck we could get our first gaze of all kinds of interesting instruments – still free of salt crusts or mud. With such an interdisciplinary group of scientists like ours, you end up finding CTD rosettes for water column sampling next to plankton nets to catch free-floating animals, next to unmanned aerial vehicles for sea ice observations and sediment traps for collecting sinking particles.
Especially exciting for this year’s expedition is having the Quest 4000 from the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Research on board. The Quest is an unmanned remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that is controlled from a container on deck. With this robot we are able to conduct complicated experiments at thousands of meters depth. Since everyone is curious to follow the ROVs activities and to see what the seafloor looks like, a live video-stream is displayed on several monitors all over the ship.
When the MUC finally arrives on deck we begin to section the cores (Photo 4), and different subsamples are taken depending on the research questions to be answered. Our small team works with the bacterial communities that live in the sediment, and we try to get a better understanding of what are the dominant groups, which role they play in the overall ecosystem, and how they are affected by environmental change (to which Arctic regions are particularly sensitive).
Despite very little sleep our first deployment at 2:30 this morning went well and all samples were successfully collected. So now, although a little tired, we are looking forward to the next stations and are excited to find out what else the high North has in store for us. Please do keep following us, as we hope to report more in a couple of days!