[de] home [de] oceans [de] culture [de] tech

Field science: water sampling

blog-post-sampling-1

“There’s no point in doing oceanography if you don’t know what the temperature and salinity are doing. It sets the scene for all the other measurements and samples you take,” remarks Dr Helen Findlay.

We are out in the boat again on Kongsfjorden, the inlet running from the Atlantic Ocean to the Kongsbreen glacier and edging past the science village of Ny Ålesund.

It is easy to forget that the ocean is not just a massive bathtub, but contains different layers of water with different properties at different depths. Internal waves ripple through it and internal rivers run through our seas and oceans. There are two main instruments used for water sampling and they allow scientists to map the water column.

blog-post-sampling-2

The first instrument is a niskin bottle. To the untrained eye, it looks like a length of drainpipe with elasticated ends. The niskin bottle has been used for sampling in the polar waters since 1910, when it was designed by Fritjof Nansen and Otto Sverdrup.

The bottle is lowered into the cold dark waters of the fjord on the winch, ends held back, to the desired sampling depth. At each waypoint along the fjord, Helen would take samples at a variety of depths, surface, 15 metres, 25 metres, etc. When the niskin bottle is at the desired depth, a small brass weight, known as a ‘messenger’ is sent down the wire to snap the ends closed and capture a sample of seawater at specific depths.

This is then drawn back to the surface and carefully decanted into obsessively labelled bottles. Helen is studying the carbonate and nutrient (e.g. nitrates and phosphates) content of the water samples. Helen adds mercuric chloride to the samples, which kills any microorganisms, to ensure that the levels of carbonate do not change after sampling has take place.

blog-post-sampling-3

The other instrument that is used is a CTD, standing for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth. Again lowered over the side of the boat using a winch, the CTD is used to create a profile of the water column and its important physical properties.

These samples and data sets will then be analysed later to give Helen and the team a better understanding of the waters of Kongsfjorden.

Reflections on field science

blog-post-6

We head out on a small research vessel. Spray hits the deck riming instantly. Views slide past, slightly bleached in the head-on sun. Busyness and chatter. Helen and Alexey, two of the researchers at Ny Ålesund, labelling bottles for the water sampling that we’ll be collecting.

It will be good to get up further into the fjord beyond the vicinity of the base. A mini-expedition in itself. Small team, set purpose, easy camaraderie cut with reflective silence and concentration.

Normality and extremity nestle naturally. The cabin is warm. The table strewn with the necessities of our job. Radios, log-book, balaclavas, tea and biscuits.

The windows are salt sprayed and the pristine view grimy, but it will be a pleasure more so to step back into cold and clarity. A sharpness for all the senses.

The scene still resides in the realm of academia. Talk of funding applications, grant programmes, pan-European initiatives and studentships. For those who come here on a regular basis, this must seem normal, no distractions by the landscape. Maybe a pod of beluga would turn eyes and imaginations for a moment.

blog-post-5

It’s their focus that is admirable. Single-minded, chirpy, rhythmic filling of sample bottles, obsessive labelling, routines whetted through hard-won experience. No complaining, no drama, a quiet everydayness about their actions.

This is how your newspaper science headlines are made. Through a series of measurements taken by very unassuming men and women going about their daily work in extreme places.

The head of the fjord is divided into sections, the crystal blue sharp-edged snout of the main glacier, peaks, ridges and cliffs. More bird life out here and the waters are gently rippled. Auks, fulmars and eiders scud along the waves, searching for food.

The rumble of the generator, a constant acoustic judder, even when stationary and engines off. There was a short time knocking against bergy bits, a mildly alarming thwack, but Trond, our skipper laughs and noses carefully on.

Alexey comes into the cabin every couple of minutes with a small sample bottle that is then hidden under a black polystyrene lid, Norwegian Polar Institute, Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems emblazoned on the side.

blog-post-4

Helen has her bottles. Small difficulties caused by the cold. The roll of insulating tape to bind up the samples has frozen and the plastic is now brittle and snaps. Almost impossible to peel a strip without it just becoming a collection of black plastic flecks under your fingernail. Trond looks to help and holds the tape in the warmth of the generator exhaust, but the problem persists.

The warmth of the cabin and the lull of the waters, allow me some much needed rest, and then it is out again, filming, photographing, recording. Making some sense of this extraordinary routine.

Real science: searching for krill

The science team are investigating the impact that ocean acidification might have on the krill population in the Arctic. Investigating small marine invertebrates at the bottom of the food chain is important as these lay the foundation for all the larger life in the marine environment here.

blog-april-22-1

The first step for the research is to find the krill. Then in the next days and weeks they will be exposed to different pH levels, replicating potential future changes caused by ocean acidification. The first couple of trawls hadn’t been great, and the team need between 350-400 individuals to make sure that the sample size is large enough.

blog-april-22-2

The support team at King’s Bay (the managing company for the science bases at Ny Alesund) had a boat ready at short notice, and so with Helen, Piero and Theresa, we headed out into the waters of Kongsfjorden. It was eerily calm, and still light from 6.30pm through to 9.30pm to search for krill. The first two trawls yielded a few, thirty at best, but the last has given the science team a decent batch. There is a fair bit of luck involved as no one on the boat was an excellent krill fisher.

blog-april-22-3

The krill were carefully collected from the net and placed in sample boxes to be transported back to the lab. Over the next few days, we’ll be following the science experiments.

See Digital Explorer resource bank for more classroom resources and background on ocean acidification.

Flying north

The Arctic is a long way away both physically and in the lands of the imagination. From the Digital Explorer offices in London to the science base at Ny Alesund is a one and a half day journey, flying via Oslo and then to the Svalbard archipelago and a night in the town of Longyearbyen.

blog-post-1

At this time of year, with the Arctic sun not due to set again until the end of August, the journey is odder still. Growing up in temperate climates like the UK, I have etched on my mind that the North is cold and sunless, dark days and nights and endless winter. Likewise, the sun is something that rises in the East and sets in the West, transcribing a high arc through dawn, noon and dusk.

blog-post-2

The flight from Oslo left towards nine in the evening and the sun had already set. But flying north over the land then sea, the sun got brighter and brighter as we neared midnight. This was so contrary to all my experience. Flying north towards the sun.

blog-post-3

We look forward to having you with us on the #FrozenOceansLive journey as we share life and science with schools around the world.

EMSEA Conference 2013 presentation

Here are the slides for the presentation given by Jamie B-D at the EMSEA conference in Plymouth…

Polar Challenge Workshops: bringing the Arctic to your classroom

fo-collection
Polar Challenge Workshops

Digital Explorer is challenging you! Can your students take on the Polar Challenge?

The polar challenge day engages students to learn more about the importance of this remote region. Create and train your pupils into teams of polar guides, expedition leaders, communications managers and scientists. Plan an itinerary collect data, share the findings and see how many teams survive!

This workshop is suited to ages 5-16, suitable for geography or science students. This activity day comes with accompanying lesson plans, activity sheets, photos and videos. You can download the most relevant resources for your class at the Digital Explorer website.

The Polar Challenge Workshop for primary is a cross curricular set of resources that involves guest speakers coming into the school to discuss life in the Arctic. The activities that take place for the primary polar challenge include making polar sandwiches and a food web mobile.

The polar Challenge workshop for secondary schools is best suited for geography or science students. The focus on this workshop is based around data exercises and expedition life. Guest speakers usually include scientists or people that have travelled to the Arctic.

The Polar challenge days are developed as an off-timetable model for half- or full-days. The polar challenge provides a hands on experimental learning adventure.

For more information on the Polar challenge workshop please visit Digital Explorer.

The full range of resources are available to download now.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @de_updates
Or like our Facebook page.

What would your experience curriculum include?

earthwatch-lecture

After an excellent event put on by Earthwatch, Why emotion matters in conservation science, it was a pleasure to talk about how we can help young people have an emotional relationship with nature and the especially the ocean.

‘J’ Nichols talked about a project in El Salvador, where every 10 year old releases a baby turtle on the beach. What an amazing experience, for every single 10 year old to have. And there is a buzz in the years beforehand, children anticipating this rite of passage and connection with nature and the ocean.

In discussions on the National Curriculum in England, we put into law what our young people should know. What would happen if we also enshrined in law the experiences that they are entitled to: spend a night in a tent in the wild, visit the sea, attend a service from a different faith background, grow food (and eat it!).

What would your experience curriculum include?

For the research on this, see the Cornell University study showing the link between adult environmentalism and nature experience before the age of 11. Maybe we should start lobbying for mandatory nature walks and camping for primary school pupils rather than climate change in the science or geography curriculum.

Education blog: How can I calculate my footprint?

I have travelled from London to Sydney to join the Catlin Seaview Survey. It promises to be an amazing experience, learning more about the Great Barrier Reef and coral in general.

Over the next three weeks, I shall be visiting different parts of the reef and speaking to the science teams who are investigating the health of this ecosystem.

One of the areas of investigation is how climate change is affecting the reef and the damage that it can cause. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere affects coral reefs in three main ways:

  • warming oceans can cause ‘coral bleaching’ where the symbiotic relationship between coral and algae breaks down, so that the coral loses a major energy source and can die
  • climate change is also linked to increased storm activity that causes physical damage to the reef
  • more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the oceans, causing ocean acidification and adding to the stress on this fragile environment

It’s a difficult choice. Can I be of benefit to the reef by coming here and helping to communicate its wonders or stay at home and let others do this work?

Can you help in calculating my carbon footprint for this journey so far and if possible compare it to the average annual carbon footprint for the UK?

Here’s how I travelled…

7.5 miles by taxi from my house to Paddington Station

A total of 27 miles by train

10,673 miles by aeroplane from London to Sydney via Singapore

And the last (and nicest) leg by ferry to a part of Sydney called Manly – 7 miles

Awesome Sarah – explorer and educator

We were sad to hear of the extreme weather earlier this year that has delayed  Sarah Outen’s London2London expedition. Sarah had to be rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard after she and her rowing boat were hit by a huge storm in June.

Digital Explorer has been working with Sarah on the education side of things, developing resources and competitions for primary schools and so it was great to read this blog post on her education blog:

Recipe for Adventure Competition: the results

Hello Everyone,

A little while ago we set a competition for L2L Primary Schools to design me a ‘Recipe for Adventure’ – dreaming up a tasty meal that would give me of all the different food groups that I need for adventuring.

London2London HQ received some excellent entries and I have just spent some time getting very hungry and excited at the thought of trying some of the recipes.

Everyone has been spot on in thinking about the food groups I need when I am cycling, or kayaking or rowing – so we have lots of protein for helping me rebuild my muscles, carbohydrates and sugars for giving me energy, vitamins for keeping my skin and gums healthy and all washed down with plenty of water to keep me hydrated.

My favourite entries came from English Martyrs School in Oakham and Mr Kirkland’s Class at Manor School in Didcot. Both schools will receive L2L stickers and some adventuring books, including ‘The Boy who Biked the World’ by Alistair Humprheys and my book ‘ A Dip in the Ocean’. As well as that, I shall be visiting both schools to tell them all about my adventures so far and what treats and surprises I have eaten on the way.

Coming next on the Education Blog…. I shall be sharing some of the stories from my attempt to row across the North Pacific in my boat Gulliver. You may already know – but it didn’t go quite to plan this time.

Happy summer holidays to everyone who is on them already or about to start. Make sure you pack in some adventures!

Cheerio,

Sarah, Nelson, Hercules and Gulliver x

Congratulations to both schools who won.

And sending all our best wishes to Sarah as she prepares to face the challenges of the Pacific again. See this CBBC Newsround clip that really brings home the scale of her ambitions, and do follow her on twitter.

And, Sarah, drop by the Digital Explorer office for a cuppa and a chat next time you’re in town, you’re an inspiration and role model.

EU fishing fleet map

In the middle of making a series of resources on sustainable fisheries for the science and geography classroom and thought that I might have a play again with Ricardo Sgrillo’s excellent free Gooogle Earth tool, GE Graph.

You can easily make your own maps, using world border datasets, such as this one created by Valery35.

Download the Google Earth file, and have a play in your classroom.