Wrapping it up

When we went out for our last sampling a week ago, it clearly showed that most participants had exceeded their optimal field work performance period (a wide-spread phenomenon, aka exhaustion, pretty understandable after the sampling program we had carried out): several of us forgot not only their lunch, but also other relatively important and not too small pieces of sampling equipment that we had always brought with us. But in the end, another complete station was sampled successfully with another >50 ice cores, countless physiology measurements, recordings of snow depths, ice thickness and light conditions. Furthermore, we took down the entire autonomous sea ice observatory – which was quite a task in itself, since there were countless cables and fragile pieces of equipment to be found in the solid-frozen sea ice….

The rainy day afterwards was used to process the countless samples, and pack down our improvised lab – partly into the container at Kapp Amsterdam, but mostly back on our scooter sledges. The travel back home to Longyearbyen was not as pretty as the outward journey had been in splendid sunshine, but we all made it back home safe and sound – only one scooter had to be left behind in Todalen, and our brave lead driver managed to find the deepest slush-pit in the entire valley of Adventdalen with his double-sledge – but that happened luckily barely outside Longyearbyen.

Now we will have to analyse all the precious samples we have brought with us, write our theses and articles …… - and prepare for the next cruise that is coming up soon.

The sea ice in Van Mijenfjorden has started to decrease its extent just after our last sampling day: this can (not) be seen on this picture from the plane on the 5th of May, where the ice edge is perfectly hidden by the very few clouds that were around in Svalbard on a very sunny afternoon.

Been there, done that – just in the very best possible moment in time!!!

Thanks a lot to all FAABulous participants of this unforgettable campaign!

Sea ice algae in the sauna

The main focus of our current campaign are sea ice algae. They live inside the ice or attached to it at the sea ice water interface. When we want to sample them we use corers that cut out a piece of sea ice.

This core is then measured, sliced in different sections and brought back to the lab.

There we add filtered seawater to allow melting it under optimal conditions and let it melt before we further process the sample. Since we do not have proper lab facilities here in the former mining settlement of Svea, we have to improvise – and it turned out that actually an abandoned sauna was the best place to get this done, as the temperature should not be too warm and it needs to be dark. 

Afterwards, we fixate samples for species composition analyses and filter the algae for analyzing their content of chlorophyll a, marker lipids and carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus



What it takes to sample 'just' one ordinary FAABulous sea ice station

During our field campaign we are living in Svea, a small settlement in the innermost part of Van Mijenfjorden. Every day we travel by snowmobiles out on the sea ice to collect samples.

During our stay here we sampled different stations, and we are in addition following the seasonal development of the system. A full standard sampling station includes samples from both the sea ice and the water column underneath: we bring back home 60 L of seawater from different depths, zooplankton samples taken with different nets, and more than 50 ice cores. For all this, we need a lot of equipment that we bring on the sledges of our snowmobiles to the ice and back – every single day. That means a lot of packing, unpacking and cleaning of equipment every day. This video illustrates how we set up our camp once we are out on the sea ice. 



Sea ice algae on TV and in the media

Communication of our scientific work to the broader public has become an important part of our project during the past weeks.  During our sea ice field campaign, we had several journalists and filmmakers visiting us to document our work. Thomas Moore and Nathan Hale from Sky News stayed with us over the past weekend and shot part of their upcoming documentary about climate change threats to Arctic marine ecosystem, which is part of the Ocean Rescue campaign, see: https://skyoceanrescue.com/. FAABulous will be up in the air with that presumably in November this year. In addition, the Norwegian photographer and filmmaker Asgeir Helgestad (NRK) was collecting material for a climate change movie he is producing for Norwegian TV – this will be broadcasted in December, and is sold to several other European countries already. Last, but not least, Eivind Torgersen from forskning.no, a Norwegian platform for research, was joining the cruise on KV Svalbard, and came to see us for our very last day of sea ice sampling here in Svea. 


Fieldwork videos!

Here are some impressions of what we are up to out on the sea ice in van Mijenfjorden.


A video by Forskning.no journalist Eivind Torgersen



All videos by Tom Brown, except drone footage by Martin Ludvigsen.

About timing

Timing is a tricky thing – and it's probably one of the greatest challenges if one wants to study algal blooms is to hit the right time when planning your field campaign. Therefore, we are outmost grateful to see that we have been incredibly lucky with the timing of our spring campaigns this year: despite the late sea ice formation, we have covered both pre-bloom, early bloom stage (by the students who were on fieldwork before Easter), and did really manage to document a strong sea ice algal bloom now during our main campaign. Through a collaboration with AMOS, a technology Centre of Excellence for underwater robotics at NTNU in Trondheim, we are even able to deploy autonomous vehicles underneath the ice that provide us with much more detailed information about spatial heterogeneity of ice structure and algal growth than we would be able to get from only taking cores from the ice.

The brown 'stuff' that is visible on these pictures (underwater and the underside of an ice core) are dense aggregates of microscopic algae that form the basis of the marine foodweb.


A long year later

Today we finally started the two-weeks field campaign on the sea ice in Van Mijenfjorden that we had been waiting for more than a year. As usual, the weather conditions prevented us from starting on the intended date, but one day later we drove in splendid sunshine over to the settlement of Svea. Nine of our group are here now, and will start the sampling on the ice tomorrow. Today we explored the situation on the two main sampling stations – and found lots of sea ice algae!!!!!

In addition, the lab had to be established, and a lot of snow digging was necessary to access equipment that had been stored here.



Research cruise with coast guard icebreaker KV Svalbard to Van Mijenfjorden

After KV Svalbard had helped us last year to obtain samples from an almost ice-free Van Mijenfjorden at the probably most critical time of the spring period, I had contacted them again for assistance when the autumn in Svalbard became milder and wilder week by week …. – and luckily we found even two occasions where we could join them to collect data on phytoplankton and zooplankton in the ice-free waters of our fjord during spring time. These cruises are really critical for our project and allow us to sample a transect from ice edge in the innermost part of the fjord until the sound outside Akselsøya (Bellsund), where we usually find a scenario dominated very much by warm and salty Atlantic water – also this time.

We left Longyearbyen in bright sunshine, but almost -20 degree and some wind, which made the first sampling hours in Isfjorden feel pretty chilly, but gave nice pictures. The next morning we had planned to start sampling in Bellsund, outside Van Mijenfjorden – but due to strong wind and high waves we decided to change our plans, and start in the innermost part of the fjord. Luckily, the timing of our passage through the very narrow Akselsundet (strong tidal currents!) was perfect, and we got taken CTD-casts at all stations in and close to the inflow. After this, we proceeded further towards the ice edge – and met this as very fragile, just forming slushy region, full of open leads. We continued a little bit further, but stopped outside Conventzodden – since we definitely did not want to destroy the little sea ice that we have in Van Mijenfjorden this year. With amazing precision, the huge ship (103 m) returned in exactly the same lead it had opened on the way in, and we did a CTD station just outside on the sill between the inner and the outer fjord basin. After this, we continued sampling two more stations and returned the day after to Bellsund again. The conditions there were rather worse than on the first day we arrived – but thanks to the stability and size of our large vessel, it proved to be actually possible to carry out an almost complete station sampling – despite wind speeds exceeding 30 knots.

Inside Van Mijenfjorden we found several species of sea ice algae – and despite a clear pre-bloom situation with very low algal biomass in all locations, we managed to get done physiological measurements from different depths.

One more time, the cruise with KV Svalbard proved to be an outmost pleasant and comfortable way of obtaining important seasonal data for our project. A great thanks to the Captain and the crew for all their practical help and support – you were wonderful!


Sea ice observatory finally installed – but plans keep ever-changing …..

After the sea ice finally was stable enough to work on, the weather conditions deteriorated, and the next field trip had to be postponed due to bad weather conditions (whiteout), and high avalanche danger in the area. However, only one day later than planned the FAABulous team for installing the sea ice observatories left from Longyearbyen by snow scooters to Svea on wed 8.3. Working conditions on the sea ice were still far from optimal – but eventually all instruments could be deployed as planned, although it was quite windy. After some more panicking e-mails forth and back between Germany, Norway and Scotland Thursday evening after working hours we also got the confirmation that our SIMBA (Sea Ice Mass Balance Buoy) and the Snow Buoy were sending data as planned. Hurray!!!

Shortly after these FAABulous news, however, new challenges were arising: by the time the work on the sea ice was finished, weather conditions had deteriorated again, and now our team was trapped in Svea! This is bad for a number of reasons, as Arctic ABC is desperately missing Maxime in their preparations for own fieldwork coming up next week, and Ane and Sander were supposed to join us on the cruise with the coast guard vessel KV Svalbard, leaving from Longyearbyen on Sunday morning. So, once more, everyone has to change plans, and find new solutions  - this is why field work in these regions never gets boring ……


What is a sea ice observatory – and why do we need one?

The very generic term 'sea ice observatory' that has been used on the FAABulous webpage in several places stands for a group of instruments that we are getting installed in the sea ice, preferably as soon as it has formed (in our case slightly delayed by UNIS safety rules that do not allow us to work on sea ice before it has reached a thickness of 30 cm ;-)…). These instruments consist of different types of sensors that are then located either beneath, inside or above the ice, and measure continuously the temperature, salinity, light and weather conditions on 'our' sea ice sampling spot in Van Mijenfjorden. But why is it so important to be able to follow these hour by hour – from our PC back home?

The purpose of the FAABulous project is to understand better how algal bloom development is controlled by its environment. Just as any algae, sea ice algae need sunlight for doing photosynthesis – they are remarkably well adapted to very, very low light levels, and can therefore start growing earlier than other photosynthetic organisms in the season. How much light reaches the inside of the sea ice or the water column underneath is dependent on the thickness of the snow layer on top of the ice (mostly), and the thickness and structure of the ice itself. However, snow absorbs most of the incoming solar radiation, and it makes a greater difference whether you have 10 vs. 25 cm of snow on top of the ice than whether the ice itself is 50 or 100 cm thick. Furthermore, in order to be find a good and safe 'home' inside the ice, the ice needs to be not too cold (above -5°C), so the algae can find brine channels to live in. Hence, the information that we are collecting by our autonomous instruments describe very detailed the living conditions for our algal communities – and they change obviously on several scales: there are diurnal changes between day and night, seasonal changes from spring towards summer – and even 'just' changes caused by weather conditions. That makes the situation pretty complicated, and the need for high-resolution data obvious.

Our collaboration partners from Germany, Marcel Nicolaus (AWI) and Dirk Notz (Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology) have long experience with this type of measurements. Here is an overview over the instruments that are being placed out there:

a)       SIMBA buoy:

measuring sea ice thickness and a vertical temperature profile throughout the ice



b)       Snow buoy:

Providing information about snow depths and air/snow/ice temperature



c)       Weather station & spectral radiometer:

Measuring air temperature, wind speed and incoming spectral irradiance above and below the sea ice




d)       Salinity harp(after deployment only the uppermost few cm will be visible on top of the ice), picture 2

Measuring a vertical salinity profile inside the sea ice




If you want to learn more about sea ice and these kind of measurements, you will find a lot of information on this website: http://www.meereisportal.de/en/

Here you can also follow online the data from all the buoys that are out there – most of them actually drifting freely in the ice in the Arctic ocean!


In collaboration with the Arctic ABC project, we will deploy two more instruments in the sea ice in Van Mijenfjorden:

a)       POPE 2


Ice-tethered Platform cluster for Optical, Physical and Ecological sensors (ICE-POPEs): will be deployed for the first time to test the equipment in ice-covered areas and provide under-ice light measurements. These data will be transmitted continuously through satellite communication for the entire field-season, but the instrument will need to be retrieved at the end of the field season.



b)       Acoustic Zooplankton and Fish Profiler (AFZP)


Downward looking AZFP under the ice: collecting data on pelagic fish and zooplankton. These data will be stored within the instrument and will be downloaded following retrieval at the end of the field-season.


First FAABulous sea ice sampling!!!!! (2.-3.3.2017)

Finally, almost 14 months later than originally planned, a group of students and researchers from the FAABulous project were able to take samples from sea ice. Not that there are vast amounts of this in Van Mijenfjorden this year either – but at least the air temperatures during ice formation were lower than last year, yielding a more stable and better to work on result of some landfast sea ice cover. A substantial part of this first field trip was spent on finding an ideal (i.e. mainly not too coastal) sampling site for us – since even our innermost station vMF 1 is still not ice-covered, and checking the sea ice thickness and conditions. After that was settled, a new station was established in 40 cm thick sea ice with 50 m of water column underneath – and sampling could start. Numerous ice cores were extracted to measure temperature, salinity, nutrients – and not the least collect all algae and small animals that were living in the sea ice at that time of the year. We hope to be able to continue ice sampling at least for two more months – and to follow the development of algal communities in this truly special (and in Svalbard almost extinct ;-)…) environment.

The mine in Svea was closed down last year, and the population of the settlement has decreased drastically; we are in a new era of Svea where Store Norske tries to earn some money by providing infrastructure, housing and meals for researchers and tourists. For us this means (hopefully) less coal dust in our samples, and quieter times during our campaigns – but also less maintenance of the main snow scooter track and less flights between Longyearbyen and Svea.

According to plan D (or was it E by now …?), another team should travel over to Svea today for establishing the autonomous sea ice observatories – but due to high avalanche risk and whiteout, this trip (as well) had to be postponed… - to be continued.


FAABulous mooring stories….

After our series of monthly cruises (May-July), the big moment was here, and the autonomous observatories that had been deployed in late September last year should be retrieved. In seasonally ice-covered Arctic glacial fjords, it is impossible to have such installations with a surface unit that continuously transmits data – but we have to stay at least around 10 m below the water surface with the floating unit. Hence, the moment of retrieval is really thrilling (and a little bit magic) – as you will know only then whether you got your precious instruments (and data!) back or not. During almost 15 years of continuous mooring deployments in Svalbard (see also: :….), the retrievals were always successful, and no equipment or data were lost. Generously, the scientists responsible for the zooplankton course at UNIS had agreed on retrieving and re-deploying our moorings during the annual cruise in late August. But unfortunately, things went not as smoothly as anticipated. The first mooring that should be retrieved was the one behind Akselsøya that was meant to measure the water masses entering the fjord from the adjacent shelf areas. Although communication with the releaser unit was still possible, the equipment from this mooring seem to have vanished, and never surfaced. That was a big disappointment and bad start for the cruise. Probably, this area was exposed to too strong currents to assure a safe deployment?

Luckily, retrieval of the other two mooring (in the innermost part of van Mijenfjorden and Kongsfjorden) went really smoothly, and all sensors seem to have worked excellent during the past 12 months. Even the autonomous water samplers that were programmed to collect samples for phytoplankton taxonomy, nutrients and carbonate chemistry at numerous occasions throughout the year (with an up to weekly resolution during the spring months) had worked as planned – which is not self-evident under harsh Arctic conditions, and sometimes sub-zero water temperatures in winter. We will now spend the coming months on analyzing the data that give us a unique insight into algal bloom development in an exceptionally warm year that probably should be considered a future scenario for both our sampling locations. A great thanks to everyone who was involved in the mooring operations – in particular Daniel and Finlo!


2nd FAABulous cruise to van Mijenfjorden

The original field work plan for this winter spring was based on the deployment of an autonomous sea ice observatory, in combination with monthly sampling campaigns of sea ice and water at our main station in the inner basin of van Mijenfjorden. We were interested to follow the entire development of algal communities from the Polar night until midnight sun. However, due to exceptionally high sea water and atmospheric temperatures, the sea ice formation in the entire Arctic, and in the Svalbard region in particular, was very poor and heavily delayed.


Fig.1: Historically low Arctic sea ice extent by the end of February 2016

Fig.1: Historically low Arctic sea ice extent by the end of February 2016


Fig.2: Sea ice situation in Svalbard at the beginning of March 2016 (left), and 2015 (right). Note: practically not a single fjord was covered by land-fast ice (grey) in 2016 at that time.

Fig.2: Sea ice situation in Svalbard at the beginning of March 2016 (left), and 2015 (right). Note: practically not a single fjord was covered by land-fast ice (grey) in 2016 at that time.


van Mijenfjorden seen from the plane 28th of April 2016 (Picture by Eva Leu)

van Mijenfjorden seen from the plane 28th of April 2016 (Picture by Eva Leu)


We had been looking forward to our field work a lot, equipment had been sent to Svalbard, all participants had booked plane tickets and accommodation – but when I had to cancel first the expedition planned for January, then February, then March ….. – I started to realize that we need a plan B here.

With respect to the aim of the project (studying future Arctic algae blooms) it was maybe the best thing that could happen to us, as we got a truly future scenario for our fjords served on a silver tablet – but we were unfortunately lacking the ice-covered scenario to compare it with. In addition, we were facing substantial logistic challenges with respect to sampling this situation, as all our plans had been based on the use of snow scooters, and we had no boats or research vessels available at this time of the year. Luckily, we got offered eventually four cruise days on the coast guard vessel KV Svalbard at the end of April.

The coast guard ice breaker (necessary to study ice-free conditions …) (Picture by Eva Leu)


An enthusiastic Norwegian-German-Polish team joined the crew in Longyearbyen on the 29th of April, bringing along a very simple hand-driven winch, and a corresponding meter counter as crucial sampling equipment. Luckily, the many recruits onboard seemed to enjoy the energy-sapping sample collection that required an astonishingly high number of people, in particular when collecting zooplankton samples with a so-called WP 2 net.

Zooplankton net, and the sampler owner (MSc student Linn) (Pictures by Eva Leu)


We furthermore deployed a CTD probe to check vertical profiles of temperature, salinity and in situ fluorescence, indicating the presence of algae. We did not manage to reach the two innermost stations of our standard transect due to sea ice coverage, but started the sampling at the ice edge, on the sill between the inner and the outer basin. There, we water temperature was still below 0°C, and chl a values were very low. However, when we continued sampling towards the outer part of the fjord, we finally found it: the spring bloom!!!!  This caused a lot of enthusiasm amongst the vast majority of the scientific staff onboard – apart from the zooplankton student who had a hard time of concentrating the dark brown algae soup collected by a 64 µm net into something that resembled a zooplankton sample.

Sampling techniques for collecting pelagic microalgae: Niskin bottle (left) and phytoplankton net (right) (Pictures by Miriam Marquardt)

THE BLOOM!!! (diatom chains, making algae researchers very happy) (Picture by Ane Cecilie Kvernvik)


We furthermore collected samples for a wide variety of chemical and biological parameters, and studied the algal physiology. Another team from our partner project PROECO (led by Clara Hoppe (AWI) is following the spring bloom in Kongsfjorden from early April to early June.

Light profiles were measured from a small boat – under very nice weather conditions.

Light measurements (finding lots of light)


So, despite numerous challenges, we managed to carry out a very successful cruise at a very interesting stage of the spring bloom development. Another cruise (led by a team from Arcex, see: http://www.arcex.no/) will go back to van Mijenfjorden in 10 days to follow up our studies there. Furthermore, we are planning monthly cruises from UNIS from June to August – and then, we all wait for the big moment, when we will retrieve our moorings in late August, containing – hopefully – a unique set of seasonal samples from these two fjords.

A great thanks to the incredibly helpful crew of KV Svalbard who helped us with the sampling, and made us feel truly welcome on this vessel!


First FAABulous fieldwork van Mijenfjorden 2015

The team
The team

We are just steaming back in perfectly calm conditions towards Longyearbyen after the first FAABulous cruise to our new second home, van Mijenfjorden in Svalbard. When we were on our outward journey  in the same waters, four days ago, the situation was – and felt – greatly different. Due to unfavourable wind conditions, our not so stable R/V Viking Explorer developed quite interesting movement patterns that proved not to be compatible with the physiology of slightly more than half of the cruise members. Any plans about doing preparatory work on the 12 hours steaming journey to our first sampling location turned into vague illusions by the time all not tightly strapped pieces of equipment, luggage and kitchen equipment started moving around in uncontrolled mode. The cruise leader spent some moments of thought about why on earth one would use a lot of time to prepare carefully a proposal to the Norwegian Research Council, getting this funded – at the expense of exposing oneself to what she felt was one of the most unpleasant days in her entire life. But by the time we reached the fjord mouth, and the narrow sound close to Akselsøya, the conditions calmed down again, and it felt safe again to move in an upright (body) position.

All of us were longing for a good night's sleep, safely towed to the tow boat on the pier of Svea, the mining community in the innermost part of the fjord – but before that, the first scientific operation of the cruise had to take place, and Ingrid's sediment traps were deployed close to midnight.

On the following morning, we woke up to a perfectly calm day, and started sampling right after breakfast. The following two days were filled with sampling activities of different kinds, (a lot of!) filtration – and: the deployment of two ocean observatories that shall provide us with valuable background data material for our coming field campaign. To this end, a large number of different instruments were tied to each other (and a long wire), and dumped in the fjord at two carefully selected locations (with permission of the authorities, of course). Core part of the main mooring in the inner fjord basin is an autonomous water sampler that had been programmed to collect two water samples on 24 days during the coming year. This instrument (and some additional sensors) were sponsored by our collaboration partner Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. Unfortunately, it turned out that the proper preparation of this sophisticated device is to advanced that none of us could actually do that, but we had to fly up an expert from Germany: Ian Salter. He did a marvelous job, preparing two of these samplers in two different locations, and helping to deploy one of them during his only 4-days long stay in the archipelago. Thanks to his help, we were then able to place the second one of this miracle instruments at our main sampling station (to be). A number of CTD-stations were taken on the way out of the fjord, and some more water and zooplankton was collected. Just behind Akselsøya, the second mooring was deployed during a truly spectacular sunset – hence, it got its obvious nickname. The great advantage of mooring deployment cruises is actually that one returns with much less equipment than what was on the ship on the outward journey – so after cleaning up on deck, we were almost overwhelmed how much space actually was available on this boat.

For the last night of our cruise, we anchored up in Frithjofhamna, just in front of Frithjofbreen – went to sleep under a clear sky full of Arctic stars, and woke up the next morning to one of the most beautiful sunrises one can imagine. Three more CTD stations on the way back home – and here we are, almost back again after a really successful cruise. Great thanks to all participants who have been working together in  perfect way – although most of us hadn't been out together in the field before. That was a FAABulous start of the project!


By Eva Leu, cruise leader

Checking the miracle
Checking the miracle

Happy sediment trap owner
Happy sediment trap owner
Mooring deployment
Mooring deployment
Anchor weight
Anchor weight
Filtration expert I
Filtration expert I
Filtration expert II
Filtration expert II
FAABulous moment
FAABulous moment

Leader of the FAAbulous project and responsible for the content of the page: Eva Leu.

Mare upcoming events


27.07.2017 - 30.07.2017


09.10.2017 - 13.10.2017


08.11.2017 - 10.11.2017

The Mare Incognitum projects are members of the ARCTOS research network

The Mare Incognitum web pages are maintained by Marine Night technician Daniel Vogedes, UiT.

The content is provided by the projects, for comments please check the project pages and contact the project leader.