By Katy Hoffmann and Josephine Rapp |
We have now been on board for more than two weeks, and the expedition’s halfway point has already passed. In some moments it feels like we’ve been on this ship for ages, and in others like we only just started. Sometimes you are really looking forward to your flight back home, but then you have a look outside and see the beautiful silhouette of Svalbard, an island in the polar sea rich in fisheries, natural resources and most importantly marine research, and realize how very lucky you are.
After two really busy and exhausting weeks of work right at the start, the two of us are finally experiencing some quite days. If you are working hard on a ship in a place where the sun never sets, days start to blur into one. It gets to the point when it is simply the name of the individual meal that is served that tells you whether it is morning or evening. The great thing about expeditions is that you can completely focus on work, as there are no other appointments or obligations, no meetings with friends or phone calls to distract you. If it is your turn to deploy your instrument or to take your samples you often get a call from the team that was sampling before you. It is basically a wake-up call that tells you how much time is left before your instruments gets into or out of the water, in our case the MUC (Photo 1).
As we already told you in our first blog entry, we try to find out which microorganisms are dominant in deep-sea sediment, which functions they have in the ecosystem and how they are affected by environmental changes. Some of our colleagues on board already observed an interesting shift in the algae community composition of the upper water column during their long-term observations in the HAUSGARTEN area. Triggers for these shifts might be changes in the surface water temperature or in the sea-ice cover, both of them being intensely studied at the moment. Changes in the surface ocean might also affect the microorganisms in the deep-sea, which largely depend on the food input by sinking particles from above. To investigate if and how these organisms adjust to changes, whether new groups succeed previously successful ones and how all this eventually influences the biogeochemical cycling in the oceans is the main reason for our participation in this cruise. At the same time we also simply want to contribute to the generation of baseline knowledge, discovering which microorganisms inhabit deep-sea sediments, which ones are active and how they interact. Based on this research it will be easier to detect and understand community changes in the future.
It is fascinating and also somehow satisfying that the only thing you have to deal with is work. We use our rare moments of free time to enjoy the sun and the beautiful view (Photo 2). However, you can only cope with these kinds of working hours for a certain time, since, although some things get easier, it also becomes very exhausting. There comes a time when you are just simply done – for us this was yesterday, and we would have loved to stay in bed all day long. There happened to be a very difficult recovery of a long-term mooring going on (Photo 3) that kept us in position for hours, so we chose the time perfectly. Right now we are in transit – first to Longyearbyen, then to Ny Ålesund where we will exchange some scientists and equipment (Photo 4). Afterwards, we will head towards the next station where another MUC deployment is already waiting for us… because after one MUC always comes another.
Overall, this expedition is again teaching us many new things, bringing many new experiences and opening up new perspectives on topics that might inspire our own future research questions.