‘Breaking the Arctic’s Ice Ceiling’

I recently contributed to a series by the Arctic Institute which aims to highlight the roles of women working and living in the Arctic, increasing the visibility and empowering the voices of women. I am really excited that they allowed me to be involved! Check it out here:

What next?

So, after being safely back on land and suitably warmed, what happens now? First off, have some numbers:

18 stations sampled

152 water samples fixed to allow plankton cell counts

402 water samples filtered to collect particulate matter

485 copepods frozen

12590 eggs counted (each one was actually counted three times, and most were frozen)

No wonder I was seeing copepod eggs whenever I closed my eyes!

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And now, after rooting through photos taken by others on the cruise, I can offer you a close-up of a beautiful calanoid copepod, the stars of the show. This was taken with a particularly expensive Leica microscope with digital camera, with the copepod on a fine mesh beneath. The red pigmentation varies between individuals, and between the similar species in the Calanus group. To work out their life stage – and most importantly, whether they are old enough to spawn – you have to count the segments in the the tail bit, called the urosome. It’s hard to tell from this picture as the mesh is in the way, but this looks like an immature one.

My samples remained on the ship, and don’t get back until 9th August, when the RRS James Clark Ross will dock in Southampton. This is when the real work begins! I can’t wait to get started, and I have already started planning for the next cruise in 2019.

Part 10 – Longyearbyen

I am sad to say we have reached the end of the expedition. We have taken our last samples, washed everything, and packed it all away in boxes and containers. I’m going to miss my nights with the copepods, and being rocked to sleep by the waves every morning.

But luckily, I have plenty of samples to analyse when I’m home. And I’m going to stay in Longyearbyen for a few days to explore. The view from the ship this morning was incredible, so I am very excited!

As of this afternoon, this vegan will no longer be at seagan, as we climb into a rib to take us ashore.

Complete summary stats to come.

Part 9 – Confession

If you thought upon reading the blog post title that this would be an apology over the recent lack of news, you were wrong. We’ve had no internet for a week now, so it’s been beyond my control, couldn’t do anything about it, get off my back okay?! But no, we’re now just off the coast of Svalbard, in view of the beautiful glassy mountains, and therefore back in satellite range. (Actually, we’re on the East coast, as there was a change of plan. Turns out, you need to hire a Svalbardian pilot to get into the western fjords where our final stations were, which wasn’t mentioned until recently – and this pilot has to be helicopter-dropped on board, costing like 10 grand. Hence we are now sampling the East.)

This confession comes as science starts to wind down. See, I call myself a vegan. But over the course of this cruise, I have crossed into the murderous realm of the other side. I have mercilessly killed 270 animals by freezing them alive, and I will burn their bodies or extract their lipids when I’m ashore. Despicable. This isn’t even all. Half of these copepods have been tricked time and time again, thinking they were safe, because I kept them in bottles for 5 days measuring how much they eat. Worse, I harvest their young, use a vaccuum to suck their precious eggs onto a filter and then freeze them next to the bodies of their parents. The ones that aren’t picked for this atrocious ordeal, being the wrong age, species, or accidentally a bit squashed, are callously chucked down the sink. Even more are handed over to a fellow conspiritor, who brutally pours chemicals on them, preserving them to be eternally probed and examined, unable even to rest in peace.

Does it help that I whisper to them all about how I’m going to try and save the Arctic, save the world? About how their deaths won’t be in vain, and how they will be used to investigate climate change and to understand their species, one that spans oceans? Does it help that they don’t have brains, and are less then 3mm long, and are invertebrates, deemed so rudimentary that I don’t need to fill ethics forms in to work with them? Does it help that I feel really REALLY sad about it when I do it? I will feel endless guilt and have to convert some people to veganism to make it up to the vegan gods.

I’m only joking, of course. I do feel a little bad, but it’s no more damage than a simple walk through the park does to ants. Can’t avoid everything.

On a non-confessional note, the other day I woke up, staggered up to the
computer control room for my usual wait on the CTD, looked out the window and realised we were surrounded by a whole pod of common dolphins! So silky smooth, jumping around everywhere. I immediately ran outside and watched them come really close to the boat, chasing the birds that were sat in our wake. Then we realised they had friends – two fin whales popped up just a bit further away. The dolphins stayed for over an hour, obviously oblivious to the sins of the vegan on board. So beautiful!

Part 8: Engineers are amazing

It’s been an exciting few days, with things on board being broken more often than not.

This didn’t just include the scientific equipment and winches used to lift them, but also the rear thrusters (or something equally important sounding and useful) for moving the ship. We were stuck in quite thick ice for a bit while that was being fixed, but then got into even thicker ice trying to reach the planned stations. I was loving life and the prospect of having to stay longer in the arctic just enjoying ourselves, but a few people seemed to get a little bit worried, and after we went a super long way round to get out the ice, I heard that we will not be adventuring that far in again. Cry.

To make these things even more fun, we were out of range of the one satellite that I’m using now to send this. Also, my laptop has broken, so I can’t send anymore nice photos until I hit it in the right place and it starts working again. This is particularly annoying because yesterday was a beautiful clear day, with a midnight sun, a freezing sea, and glistening pancake ice. There is an (I suspect mythical) IT guy on board, but I have only had one sighting of him this whole trip. He has never appeared at meals, or in the crew mess, so I can only assume he is a robot. I will keep trying.

Science wise, the bongo nets that I use are simple and so the one bit of kit that hasn’t broken. I’ve managed to do all my feeding experiments fine, except having to end one just a day earlier than planned. The winch for the CTD has been playing up, and there have been cable problems, but we’re up and running again now. The winch is kind of essential, as the CTD weighs about 800kg and has a great habit of bursting the lungs of people it careens into. At the moment, it’s the ARISE coring equipment that is broken (check out https://www.changing-arctic-ocean.ac.uk or https://ariseatsea.wordpress.com for more information about their work), but the engineers have fixed like 50 problems by now so I have full faith in them.

Part 7: POLAR BEAR

POLAR BEAR! This is a quick post to express my overwhelming excitement at seeing a POLAR BEAR! I can’t take credit for the fantastic pictures, they were taken by Flo Atherden as there was no time to run and get my camera when I was in the presence of a POLAR BEAR! I must say my survival instincts aren’t really functional – I had to fight the urge to go and play with it, as if it was a big white labrador. I can’t express how lucky I feel. Such an intelligent, regal animal.

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Part 6: Breaking the Ice

We just reached the Arctic ice! I know my evidence for this is is not that impressive given it is like 1km away and is possibly just a 1m squared bit, but it counts. Later today we’ll be properly iced I think, so I expect to see infinite polar bears and narwhals, for sure.

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Thought you’d maybe want a quick view of my daily science life aboard. I don’t want my copepods to warm up too much, so I work in the cold room. It’s 2°C in there, which is actually warmer than outside, but more stable. The sea surface around here is -0.65 °C but it gets a few degrees warmer as you go deeper because of the ocean circulation.

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UPDATE

WE ARE PROPERLY IN THE ICE NOW THIS IS SO EXCITING AND MILDLY WORRYING AT THE SAME TIME.

The ice is so AMAZING. It’s apparently soft at the moment but getting harder towards tonight, so I’ll take this chance to give my love to all my family and friends. This ship is not an ice breaker, it’s only ice strengthened. And at the moment every small iceberg we hit I am almost totally sure it’s broken through the hull and we’re going to die. So in my opinion, we’re not going to live through tonight’s sampling. So worth it though. Death in the name of science.

P.s. Had devastating news today that the hash browns they have for breakfast are not vegan, hash brown free life is a dull morning prospect.

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