The summer is finally upon us. There have been many sunny days so far and the sun is bright especially in the evenings and nights. The incredible variety of wild life here on Svalbard is absurd and we can now see more of it than when we first arrived. The snow is almost gone and only the white tips of some of the mountains around us remind us of the frozen Svalbard to which we arrived five weeks ago. The colourful moss that used to be covered by snow and ice is now covered in small patches of the mountains avens and purple saxifrage flowers.
Between these you can see occasionally reindeer with their antlers now fully developed. But along with this wildlife comes also great danger. And the danger does not come from the scary beast of the north the polar bear, that is nowhere to be found, but from the birds.
There are many bird species here spread out over several sanctuaries and protected areas. The Arctic tern is the one worth paying attention to. This tiny little white bird with a red beak is believed to be doing every year one of the longest migratory routes known (almost 15000 km).It breeds here in the Arctic and winters in Antarctica. Its nests can be found everywhere in Ny- Alesund, even in unconventional places such as the middle of the road.
I am not a birds’ expert but most birds I have heard of up until know nest their eggs somewhere sheltered or in a distance from human activity. This is obviously a problem here in the Arctic where there are no trees. The eggs of the Arctic tern are very small and you need to be very close to them in order to be able to spot them. As most birds, the Arctic tern is very protective of its offspring and often attacks people when they pass near their eggs. Sometimes it even feels like in a Hitchcock movie.
They attack the highest point of the body- the head. Therefore you can imagine a very funny picture: people, walking on the roads waving one hand or the other above their heads, punching the air, trying to scare away sometimes more than two or three birds. The lucky once that have a license to carry a gun as a polar bear protection don’t have to wave any body parts in the air but simply need to carry their gun on their back with the tip of their barrel higher than their heads. This way the birds attack the gun and not the head.
This amusing situation amongst others is something that is very much needed here in Ny- Alesund. The work we do as part of the mesocoms experiment is usually the same and can get very monotonous. A few days ago our colleges here reported that there was a chance of a bloom developing in our mesocosms after the nutrient addition, which could be exciting. However, we will only know the exact results once we have looked at our metagenomic data along with everyone else’s data.
Either way, we have two more sampling days left after which we will have to start the complicated process of packing all our samples and getting our gear back into the container boxes in order to make them ready for pick up by the Greenpeace boat. The experiment will officially end on the 7th of July however I will be leaving the island together with the rest of the group from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory on the 8th. This is indeed very sad in a way as I really got used to being here and doing interesting science despite all the hard work and the sometimes annoying birds. Also, being here is like being in a big family, everyone knows each other and the thought of going back to the city life with thousands of people on the streets, shops and the constant use of mobile phones is almost terrifying. We will be surrounded by concrete buildings and the smell of gasoline, instead of crystal clear water and a refreshing breeze from the fjord. But all good things like always come to an end. This wonderful experience of being here will have to be over. We will have to get back to our laboratories and work again under the white light of the fluorescent lamps. It is under these lights that we will be analysing the hundreds of samples we have collected here and under these lights we will try to understand the other CO2 problem and its impact on the Arctic. So it is not all bad news for us and there are still some exciting times ahead of us. There is light at the end of the mesocosm and the journey just begins.