UKCEH Dips its Toes into (Arctic) Waters

It’s been a month since the team’s return to the UK from Ny Ålesund, Svalbard, and after a much needed two week holiday, I finally feel ready to put the proverbial pen to paper to put our epic BIOPOLE adventure into words. After re-reading my daily journal that I kept during the trip, I have realised that my ramblings completely failed to capture the utter privilege it was to spend time with these fantastic people and call this incredible place home for a month. So in this blog I will endeavour to expand on my scribblings and paint a picture for the reader that may just give them a small window into our month of thrilling polar science. It’s a tale of an arctic escapade involving impossibly good weather, a heroic label printer, the Poet Laureate, a squeaky winch, and the most fetching orange boat suits.

Our story starts long before our departure from the UK in July 2023. It starts back in May 2022 with an email I sent to my fellow UKCEH colleague, Dr Nathan Callaghan, asking to discuss the field campaign in Ny Ålesund of which he was the named coordinator. From this email I had the following reply: ‘Could you please send me a link to where I am listed as the task co-ordinator, as I have to admit that this is news to me. No problem having a discussion about this, but at present it sounds like you know more than me’. A less than ideal start to what would be, in the end, a very eventful and successful field campaign!

Fast forward to 2023 and the team had already completed the pilot field study in Loch Etive, Scotland (see a previous blog to learn more about that), and now had a good idea of what we needed to accomplish in Ny Ålesund and how we were going to go about achieving it. One major question in BIOPOLE is whether nutrient delivery from land-based sources is sensitive to climate change. If the balance of nutrients entering the sea changes in a warmer climate, then the impacts of climate change on polar marine ecosystems could be significant. To answer this question in Ny Ålesund, we need to track nutrients as they travel from land and glacial meltwaters, through rivers, and into the Kongsfjorden inlet and out to the open ocean. The data we collect here should be able to tell us where the nutrients are coming from, how they are transformed as they travel through the environment, and how much of this makes it out to sea.

With six months to go until the campaign kick-off, we hit the ground running with planning everything from rifle permits, medical exams, and navigating the online RiS portal, to ashing filters, creating lab protocols, and acid washing a mind boggling amount of bottles and containers. I should say here, none of this planning would have been possible without the help of the UK Arctic Research Station manager, Iain Rudkin, who was like a lighthouse in a planning storm, who always kept us heading in the right direction with his constant advice and guidance as we battered him with email after email of frantic questions. More on Iain and his many talents later on.

By May we were ready to pack up our five pallets of cargo to start their journey by ship from Bangor, Wales, to Ny Ålesund, Svalbard. By the end of June all of our meticulous planning was paying off and we were almost ready to head off with everything mostly under control. That was until I was asked two and half weeks before our departure if I could purchase a drone for measuring river discharge, learn how to fly it, and apply for special permission to use it in Ny Ålesund, all before we left. My typical technician response to this question? Absolutely!

Come the beginning of July, I had the drone (affectionately named Droney McDroneface) packed in my bag (and one day of practice flying under my belt), and was ready to leave an admittedly less than sunny summer in the UK to travel to the world’s most northerly community. The first four field team members met up in Longyearbyen, including Prof Chris Evans MBE, Dr Nathan Callaghan, Alex O’Brien, and myself (Alanna Grant) (all from UKCEH) and we journeyed on together further north on a plane not meant for those who suffer from aviophobia. Luckily, I am not one of those people and was treated to breath-taking views over mountains that rise up and ripple out of the ground, glaciers that stretch as far as the eye can see, and stunning blue green glacial lakes that dazzled in the July sun.

View of mountains, glaciers, and lakes from the plane window.
Photo: Alex O’Brien

On Arrival in Ny Ålesund we were met by our host, Iain, who showed us around the station and to our rooms. My room was number three; a small room with a comfortable single bed, a wardrobe, a desk and two chairs. A cosy place to call home for the next month. The station itself had everything needed to undertake a successful field campaign. Not only was it our living quarters but it also housed several excellent lab spaces. We also had use of the garage to store our mountains of bottles, as well as fridges and a freezer to keep our many samples preserved.

Our month kicked off with several days of training to ensure we would be safe and competent working in the field and in the station. Once this was complete the real fun began. We worked tirelessly for the first week with Chris, who brings a wealth of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem biogeochemistry knowledge, leading the campaign. Our goal was to sample as many of the rivers that drain into the fjord as possible. These rivers were an even mix of glacial melt rivers and non-glacial rivers. We sampled for a wide range of determinands such as phosphorus, dissolved organic carbon, chlorophyll, oxygen isotopes, metals, and greenhouse gases, among many others. During this first week we were treated to excellent weather and spent several days out on the boat. Each river we would come to, we would spend several minutes surveying the coast line for any sign of polar bears before Iain would expertly land the boat on the shore like something out of a James Bond film. Some sampling sites were fairly open so you could be reasonably sure you weren’t sneaking up on a sleeping bear, whilst others were more enclosed and felt like places that we didn’t want to hang around in for too long. At these sites, after some further bear scouting on land, we would collect our samples as quickly as we could and return to the boat, lest a furry visitor would come ambling into view. Luckily for us the only polar bears we saw in the field were from the safety of the boat.

The team sampling a non-glacial river in the fjord.
Photo: Alex O’Brien
Team members visiting a sampling site in Ny London.
Photo: Alanna Grant
Nathan laughing at Chris who has fallen over. Just kidding. The team taking samples and measurements from a river (not pictured).
Photo: Iain Rudkin

Whilst at these river outflows, we also deployed the drone in an attempt to quantify river discharge, a vital measurement when trying to calculate nutrient outputs. This involved flying the drone over an area of the river that was un-braided and deep enough so as not to have rocks breaking the surface which would skew the surface velocity measurement. This proved more difficult than anticipated as it transpired that rivers that meet these requirements are very few and far between. However, we persisted and managed to get measurements at several of the sites and now have a better understanding of how this novel approach could be used in the future. And Droney McDroneface managed to get some fantastic photos and videos too. Ny Ålesund is a radio silence zone which means no WiFi, phone reception, or Bluetooth allowed. This isn’t ideal for using a drone so this work was made possible with collaboration from the Norwegian Mapping Authority and NKOM who kindly worked with us to ensure our drone would not interfere with their sensitive observatory measurements.

A braided glacial river that made it very difficult to take discharge measurements using the drone.
Photo: Alanna Grant
Ice bergs in the fjord captured by drone.
Photo: Alanna Grant

After each day sampling from the boat (or on bike/foot if possible) we would return to the station with our bulk water samples to subsample and filter for the various determinands. This was no easy task, as each determinant required a specific sized acid washed container and also had different filtering requirements. This challenge was expertly handled by Nathan, who developed a specific organisational system that allowed him to keep track of each sample whilst spending many hours hand filtering with a syringe. Nathan’s many hours of toil in the lab gained him the affectionate nickname of Lab Ape. Which was maybe less cool than his field nickname, Black Rifle. A suitable name for the guy who was always the first to jump out of the boat to undertake bear watch; risking his life for the science. A true polar hero!

Nathan (Black Rifle) stands guard on bear watch as the team takes samples.
Photo: Alanna Grant
Nathan (Lab Ape) prepares bottles in the lab for the day’s water samples.
Photo: Alanna Grant

We were generating an impressive amount of samples each day and if we were to hand write each label it would have taken us several extra hours each day. This is where Printy Mcprintface came in. The ultimate label printer who became the fifth member of the team and saved us from a month of cramped, ink stained hands. This was, in my opinion, easily the best thing we bought for the project and I would highly recommend one to anyone undertaking a highly intensive field campaign.

Label printer, Printy McPrintface; Project MVP.
Photo: Alanna Grant

While Nathan toiled away filtering in the main lab, I was set up in the wet lab next door with a six-rig filtering manifold which I used to filter sample water for multiple determinands at once, with the purpose of keeping the filters rather than the water. This involved filtering anywhere from 50ml to 2000ml of water, depending on the sediment load of the sample, through a filter until it clogged or I ran out of water. At first it would take many hours to get through only three or four samples, but once I had a system going it was like playing a melody on the piano; my hands would do the work while my mind would wonder onto other things. After a few days I could get through around six samples in two hours. This would come in handy as some days we would be on the boat for the majority of the day, come back in the early evening for dinner, and then spend the rest of the evening filtering up to 12 samples. We wouldn’t stop until all of the samples collected that day were filtered so we could be filtering until 10-11pm. This was made easier by the 24 hour sunlight so it never felt late, and by our own music playlists that kept us entertained; some playlists more eclectic than others.

6-rig filtration manifold used for sample filtering (filter funnel #6 and waste water container not pictured).
Photo: Alanna Grant

Also during this first week, Alex deployed the algal growth experiment baskets that were designed by the freshwater team at UKCEH Wallingford. Here’s what she had to say about the experience: ‘The abundance and growth rates of algae communities in the Arctic are not well known.  In July 2023, we undertook a series of in-river experiments. Floating baskets were used to determine the growth rates of river algae within their natural growing conditions. At each chosen site, a floating basket was set up containing samples of river water and its associated algae within bags made from semi-permeable membrane tubing. The algae are trapped within these bags, but nutrients can diffuse into the bag from the surrounding river water. As the algae grow and take up nutrients within the bag, fresh nutrients from the river water diffuse across the membrane, maintaining constant water quality conditions. In total, four baskets were successfully deployed in rivers flowing into the Kongsfjord, two glacial meltwater streams and two non-glacial. A fifth basket was anchored in the fjord to assess the growth rates of marine algae, and to determine how river algae entering the fjord would grow in higher salinities. In order to keep the baskets in place in the fast-flowing rivers around Ny Ålesund, we had to be creative in anchoring the baskets in place, including pinning them to the underlying sediment and setting up rock anchors in tarpaulin sheets to prevent them from being washed away. After 9 days, the baskets were collected and brought back to the lab at the UK Arctic Research Station, where the bags were removed and sampled for algal flow cytometry and chlorophyll analyses, to determine how the algal communities within the river had increased and changed in community composition. Setting up these experimental baskets in Arctic rivers provided a unique challenge, far removed from our regular work in British rivers, which has so far provided us with greater insights into algal activity in the rivers of Svalbard. And it couldn’t have been accomplished without the help of Chris, Iain, Alanna, and Nathan in the field helping cycle the baskets and algae from site to site and back again’.

Alex setting up the algae dialysis bags to deploy on the floating baskets.
Photo: Iain Rudkin

Part way through our campaign we were joined by Simon Armitage, the poet Laureate, and Sue Roberts, BBC radio 4 producer.  Simon and Sue joined us for four days with the goal of creating three half-hour documentaries for BBC Radio 4 which will be broadcast in the autumn.  They joined us for some field work to gain a deeper understanding of what’s really going on in this important part of the world. They were even kind enough to help with some of the greenhouse gas sampling.

Back from a day on the boat. From left to right – Alanna Grant, Simon Armitage, Nathan Callaghan, and Alex O’Brien.
Photo: Alanna Grant

One day in particular stands out for me as being especially memorable. On this day, as we headed by boat towards our intended sampling site, we spotted a polar bear on the shoreline of Blomstrandhalvøya, an island in the middle of the fjord. It was particularly special as this was the first one we’d seen. It was a large male that was walking with pace around the perimeter of the island. We stopped a safe distance away and watched it walking for a while. This experience was elevated from memorable to unforgettable as we sat in silence and listened to Simon poetically narrate this encounter. What a pleasure to share the moment we saw our first polar bear with the poet laureate. Later that same day, we headed towards an area of new icebergs that had recently calved from one of the sea-terminating glaciers in the fjord. We slowly nosed our way into the field of icy boulders, some being as small as pebbles, others being the size of a small building; all in various states of melt. We sat in silence for some time as Sue recorded the sounds of the melting ice. The sound is louder than you would expect it to be and includes various popping, bubbling, and fizzing notes. I could have sat there for hours, happily hypnotised by nature’s playlist. But as mesmerising as it is to listen to, it is also the soundtrack to a merciless countdown to a potentially ice free world and a reminder as to the importance of the science that takes place up here.  I look forward to hearing Simon’s take on this when the programs are aired on radio four in October.

Polar bear on the shoreline of Blomstrandhalvøya.
Photo: Iain Rudkin

Two weeks in and we had said goodbye to Chris and Alex, and were joined by WP1 co-leads, Prof Kate Hendry from BAS, and Prof Bryan Spears from UKCEH. Unfortunately for them, the fresh food supply was running low and the delicious mangos, avocados, and salads were slowly being replaced with tinned fruit, frozen vegetables, and sliced cabbage. With the next ship not due until after we’d left, we had to make do for the next two weeks. Kate’s goal for the trip was to reach eight sites along a transect line down the middle of the fjord, and deploy a CTD at various depths at each of the sites. This involved lowering a CTD and a niskin bottle on a winch to depths of up to 300 meters and winching it back up, by hand. I’ve been reliably informed that, unfortunately for those on the boat, this happened to be the world’s squeakiest winch, which haunts those who had the misfortune to use it to this day. Nevertheless, the team persevered and Kate now has an impressive dataset that has already shown some exciting results.  She also collected water samples at these marine sites for some of the biogeochemistry determinands and collected sediment samples from the bottom of the fjord, over 300 m into the abyss.

Kate on the work boat launching the CTD in the fjord using the winch.
Photo: Iain Rudkin

Bryan’s main task for the campaign was to produce a sediment sample archive across our many catchments and deep-water areas of the fjord. He committed himself to this task with more glee and gusto than I have ever seen from a researcher before. He was quite literally like a kid making mud pies and absolutely loving it. I’ve never seen someone sniffing sediment as if it were an expensive cheese or a fine wine. In the end he was very successful in his task and we left with several kilos of dried marine sediment for use in process experiments back in the UK. This will be opened up to the wider community – hopefully it will save others time and money in their pursuit of the black (sometimes red, sometimes white etc.) gold. Bryan was also a great help to the team overall, always jumping in the help wherever he could, and always doing it with a smile (and even a cheery song on occasion). That is with the exception of when he was wading out from the beach with a bucket, hunting for the salinity gradient with a probe, and overtopped his wellies. Much to the amusement of a nearby curious seal, who he swears he saw laughing maliciously at his misfortune.

Bryan measuring the salinity of the river using a conductivity probe.
Photo: Alanna Grant
The team beside a glacial river.
Photo: Alanna Grant

It wasn’t just seals and polar bears that we spotted, but a plethora of other iconic arctic species as well. We saw several arctic foxes, in their brown summer coats, darting about town chasing goslings, as well as many reindeer which seemed mostly untroubled by human presence. Whilst out on the boat we were treated to sightings of guillemots that weave like spitfires, puffins that look as if they’re perpetually struggling to stay airborne, as well as fulmars, kittiwakes, ivory gulls, arctic skuas and many more. But there was one bird in particular that really made the trip memorable; the Arctic Terns… Whilst being lovely birds to look at with their red lipstick and black cap, they are absolutely vicious. They seemed to take a particular disliking to me, and seemed to always go straight for me every time we walked or cycled past them, even if we were in a group. They did, however, provide endless entertainment as we could watch the unsuspecting tourists being attacked from the comfort of the station window, pleased that I wasn’t the target for once.

An arctic fox exploring our sampling site.
Photo: Alanna Grant
A reindeer in the Bayelva catchment.
Photo: Alanna Grant

With the month drawing to a close and the fieldwork component of the trip complete, we bid farewell to Bryan and Kate who made their way back to the UK laden with a large amount of aqueous scientific treasures. All in all we collected over 1500 samples including water, sediment, greenhouse gas, and eDNA samples which will make an impressive dataset. Nathan and I spent the next three days repacking the kit and equipment back onto the pallets and tidying and cleaning the lab spaces. There was a sense of quiet contentment around the station knowing that the job was complete and had gone as well as it could have. But there was also, for me anyway, a sense of sadness at having to leave this vibrant science community and head back to the real world. Being in Ny Ålesund felt very strange at first; remembering to take your shoes off in every building was difficult and getting used to the strangely early meal times even more so (dinner at 16:50?). But by the end of the month the thought of seeing paved roads and driving to Tesco for the weekly food shop felt absolutely foreign. I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience this place and meet so many talented and diverse scientist from across the world. The Polar Regions are experiencing some of the most rapidly changing environmental conditions in the world and the science that is done here is absolutely vital. This campaign wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of those back in the UK; Amy Pickard, Mike Bowes, Stephen Lofts, Chris Barry, Justyna Olszewska, Rebecca McKenzie and many others. As well as without the crucial support from boat driving, James Bond stunt double and photography extraordinaire, Iain Rudkin. Thank you to all of the visitors that helped with our sampling throughout the month; Jenny Forster Davidson, Simon Armitage, Sue Roberts, and Jane Francis. It was a pleasure to meet you all and share a gin and tonic with you.

When asked by a friend if this trip had scratched my adventure itch, my reply was ‘it’s only made me itchier’. I think I may have just caught the Polar bug…

A scenic boat ride through recently calved ice bergs.
Photo: Alanna Grant
Testing the pH, dissolved oxygen and conductivity of the water as it melts from the glacier in the background.
Photo: Iain Rudkin

The author of the blog – Alanna Grant. Contributors Alex O’Brien and Bryan Spears from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

BIOPOLE in the Western Arctic Ocean

Polar oceans export nutrients to the lower latitudes where this export flux can be an important regulator of lower latitude productivity.  In the Arctic Ocean careful analysis of nutrient inputs and outputs suggests that the Arctic is a net exporter of phosphorous and silicate to the North Atlantic but intriguingly not nitrogen with nitrogen inputs to, and outputs from, the Arctic seemingly balanced. The result is a characteristic change to the nitrogen to phosphorous (N:P) ratio found in seawater which gradually increases as ocean waters flow from the Pacific through the Arctic and eventually out into the Atlantic Ocean. Despite considerable uncertainties and limitations of existing datasets nitrogen loss processes occurring in the Western Arctic, particularly within the sediments of the shallow Bering and Chukchi Seas, are known to contribute to the removal of nitrogen and enrichment of phosphorous reported in seawater nutrient measurements. However, the magnitude of this sedimentary nitrogen removal process is insufficient to account for the observed shift in seawater N:P ratios, with several competing explanations presented in the literature as to why this may be. One interesting possibility, and a target of BIOPOLE Work Package 2 (WP2) activities in the western Arctic, is the presence of an additional nitrogen sink operating within the water column.

To address this possibility BIOPOLE WP2 was tasked with measuring bacterial denitrification rates, collecting eDNA/eRNA samples to probe the makeup and function of bacterial communities present in seawater, and to deploy an automated water sampler to collect an annual cycle of seawater nutrient concentrations in water flowing across the remote and seasonally icebound northern Chukchi Shelf. These activities will contribute to wider programme efforts investigating how ecosystem processes can change elemental balances in the northern polar region and to project Milestones i and ii (new observations in polar environments and obtainment of seasonal measurements via autonomous technologies).

Access to the Western Arctic (from the UK at least) is non-trivial but through the supporting efforts of project partners based at the University of Maryland and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, a single berth was secured on the 2023 autumn Arctic ecosystem survey aboard the R.V. Sikuliaq, an ice-class research vessel operated by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Demand for berths was high and the cruise itself was a consortium effort supporting NOAA’s EcoFOCI program (Ecosystems and Fisheries Oceanography) and the NOAA Marine Mammal Lab,  the Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) programme run from the University of Maryland (project partner), and the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (AMBON) and Chukchi Ecosystem Observatory (CEO) projects both run from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (project partner).

The result was an enjoyable cruise with diverse scientific activities ranging from benthic trawls, benthic landers, water sampling, mooring recoveries/deployments, sea-bird and marine mammal observations, and detailed chemical and physical observations across this key Arctic region. Results from BIOPOLE activities will be made available in due course once samples have returned to the UK and have been analysed, but which is expected to be within 6-12 months.

Map of the survey region and sampling locations

Stuart Painter from the National Oceanography Centre 

Meet the Team

Alanna Grant

  • Please introduce yourself.

I am a biogeochemistry field scientist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh. I started in this role in 2020 and work across a wide variety of research areas including freshwater biogeochemical monitoring and carbon and greenhouse gas cycling in environments such as lakes, rivers, estuaries, reservoirs, and peatlands. My main role in these works is to provide field and laboratory expertise such as field campaign planning and implementation, campaign logistics, field data recording as well as water, sediment, greenhouse gas, and eDNA sample collection. In the lab I specialise in dissolved organic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus analysis as well as greenhouse gas analysis through gas chromatography.

  • What do you do within BIOPOLE?

In BIOPOLE, I work in collaboration with researchers and technicians in WP1 to design and execute polar land-based field campaigns with the aim of assessing the nutrient sources of major freshwater inputs from land to determine their eventual inputs to open-ocean ecosystems. We have recently completed the first land-based field campaign in Ny Ålesund, Svalbard, which took place over the month of July 2023 and resulted in the collection of over 1500 samples to be analysed for 24 different determinands, across multiple partner labs. This was a major undertaking and a real logistical challenge but we have learned many important lessons and are looking forward to more campaigns in the projects future.

  • What have you enjoyed about BIOPOLE so far?

I have enjoyed learning from so many talented and diverse researchers as I expand my field research into the Polar Regions. I also very much enjoyed staying and working in the UK Arctic Research Station in Ny Ålesund and seeing several polar bears!

  • Tell us about a skill or trait unique to you that you would like to share?

I lived in Canada for 11 years and was a keen snowboarder. Now that I live in Scotland, I have traded snowboarding for surfing! When I’m not working, I enjoy being outside surfing, hiking, and cycling and I’m hoping to learn how to sail soon.

I also ran a 5k in Ny Ålesund which I believe may be the world’s northernmost 5k!

Alanna Grant from UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

RRS Sir David Attenborough Sea Trials and Media Trip

In early July the RRS Sir David Attenborough set sail from Edinburgh to the North Sea to conduct sea trials ahead of its maiden science cruise in Nov-Dec: BIOPOLE Southern Ocean Cruise 1 which will be led by Andrew Meijers! Hugh Venables (BAS) is part of the trials team for its duration (until mid-August), providing expertise on the CTDs and autonomous platforms (including gliders). Nadine Johnston (BAS) also joined for the first few days of the trials, taking the opportunity to step through some net deployment logistics (to collect zooplankton), including deployment of the mammoth net (which will be trialed through the ship’s ‘moonpool’).

These few days included the first ever media trip at sea to show journalists the science capability of the ship, to highlight the science it will do this season for BIOPOLE, as well as a trial of a new Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO). The ships officers and crew (and media) also came along to a presentation on BIOPOLE. Fortuitously, the officers and crew on board, ‘The Giants’ (named after an Antarctic dog sledging team), together with Captain Matthew Neill, will also be supporting our Nov-Dec cruise, so it was a fantastic opportunity to familiarize them with our programme and its goals. If the HVO trials are successful, there is a high possibility that our science cruise will be powered by HVO – but the decision is yet to be made – fingers crossed!

Coverage by the media (including BIOPOLE) include articles in Carbon BriefThe Times and New Scientist (these are both behind a paywall), and  Shipping Technology Magazine. There is also a New Scientist video on You Tube. Many thanks to everyone involved, great to see the BIOPOLE flag flying!

The authors of the blog  – Nadine Johnston, Hugh Venables, Geraint Tarling, and Andrew Meijers from British Antarctic Survey

Team BIOPOLE in the Arctic

Since 1999, the Alfred-Wegener Institute (AWI), has conducted long-term ecological research in the Fram Strait, the passage between East Greenland and Svalbard. In June, Katrin Linse and I joined for this year’s ‘HAUSGARTEN’ expedition on board the research vessel and icebreaker, Polarstern.

This was a fantastic opportunity to collect data with BIOPOLE project partners from AWI (Barbara Niehoff and Sinhué Torres-Valdes) and the Senckenberg Institute (Saskia Brix) which would span the breadth of BIOPOLE’s aims: to understand how nutrients and ecosystems in polar environments influence global primary productivity and carbon cycling from the surface to the seafloor.

With spectacular sea ice and blue skies, the BIOPOLE team worked seamlessly under the midnight sun to sample over 30 stations in just as many days. Katrin and Saskia used an epibenthic sled for the first time in the region to sample the sea-floor animal community; Sinhué and I used an auto-analyser to infer the inorganic and organic nutrient profile of hundreds of water samples; and under the guidance of Barbara, plankton nets were deployed to collect our favourite Arctic zooplankton – copepods. Furthermore, a BIOPOLE-funded Remote Access Sampler (RAS) was deployed as part of a mooring array in the outflowing East Greenland Current, complementing others deployed in the inflowing West Spitsbergen Current.

The data collected will contribute to BIOPOLE work packages 2 and 3. Analysing the nutrient make-up of water flowing out of the Arctic is fundamental to the aims of WP3, and the strategic placement of the HAUSGARTEN stations and RAS will help provide high resolution spatial and temporal coverage within this key Atlantic gateway area. A key aim of WP2 is to refine our understanding of the lipid pump, a process driven primarily by the seasonal vertical migration of polar Calanus copepods. One understudied aspect of this process is the interaction between Calanus and the benthic community. The epi-benthic sled allows for simultaneous sampling of these two communities and subsequent elemental and lipid analysis will offer new insights into bentho-pelagic connections.

Data aside, an important outcome from this expedition was the close interaction and teamwork between BIOPOLE members and partners which is set to continue through future cruises, data sharing and meetings. As an early career researcher, I’m incredibly grateful to the whole BIOPOLE and AWI/Hausgarten team for sharing their knowledge, skills and experience in many ways; from training me in chemical oceanography and mud-sieving, to helping with species identification and general navigation of working at sea. It was an incredibly enriching experience.

The whole BIOPOLE team would like to express our sincere thanks to the Captain Thomas Wunderlich, PSO Thomas Soltwedel, and all scientists and crew for their wonderful support, hospitality and atmosphere on board. For more highlights (including polar bear encounters), read more on the Polarstern blog here.

Copepods were sampled, identified and imaged from the surface to over 5000m deep. Credit: Jen Freer

Copepods were sampled, identified and imaged from the surface to over 5000m deep. Credit: Jen Freer

The author of the blog – Jen Freer (British Antarctic Survey)

Launching the BIOPOLE Mentoring Scheme

The BIOPOLE mentoring scheme is ready to launch and aims to support BIOPOLE’s Early Career Researchers (ECRs) with their academic progression and/or professional development.

Academics who have been mentored are more likely to be promoted, demonstrate increased self-efficacy in teaching and research and obtain more grant income (Shellock et al. 2023). Mentoring was also highlighted as a key strategy for retaining women ECRs in academia and forging a path for women to take up leadership positions (Shellock et al. 2023). It has also been highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed opportunities for ECRs and mentoring is one way to expand skills and networks that were more challenging to develop throughout the pandemic (Fisher et al. 2021). This was part of the motivation for starting the BIOPOLE mentoring scheme as well as to provide an opportunity for ECRs to engage with mentors outside of their home institution and subject-specific networks to experience different perspectives on their career development and trajectories.

The BIOPOLE mentoring scheme is open to all BIOPOLE’s ECRs (self-defining) and will be coordinated by the BIOPOLE ECR network and the Executive Board. We are very keen to engage BIOPOLE stakeholders in the mentoring scheme, both to act as mentors or for stakeholders ECRs to engage as a mentee. We are also in the process of connecting to other broader mentoring schemes – watch this space!

The mentoring scheme will be flexible depending on the aim(s) that the mentee would like to work towards and we advise that during the first meeting the mentor and mentee agree the frequency of meetings, the aim(s) to focus on and the length of the mentoring period. We suggest a minimum of a 3 month mentoring period. We are encouraging mentees to develop an initial aim to allow for a good match to a mentor and this can be revised during the first mentoring meeting. The mentee should be proactive in the process, such as scheduling meetings and setting an agenda. The meetings can be held virtually or in person depending on the locations of the mentor/mentee. If it is found that the mentoring isn’t working for either party then the mentoring period can be ended early. In contrast, if the mentorship has been beneficial the mentor and mentee can agree to extend the mentoring period either formally and informally. There are three documents prepared that include further guidance, a form to complete at the beginning of a mentoring period and a feedback form to complete at the end of the formal mentoring period.

We are hoping for the BIOPOLE mentoring scheme to be a great success and a memorable achievement of the project! If you would like to sign up as a mentor or mentee and/or would like to access the BIOPOLE mentoring scheme documents please get in touch with the BIOPOLE ECR representative (2023-24) Chelsey Baker at

The authors of the blog – Chelsey Baker (National Oceanography Centre) and Amy Swiggs (Northumbria University)

Meet the Team

Petra ten Hoopen

I am a Scientific Data Manager at the UK Polar Data Centre at the British Antarctic Survey. Before joining BAS, I have spent ten years in fundamental science working in several countries on plant hormonal pathways and stress response and then moved to a data-focussed profession. For the last ten years I work with marine data, specifically genomic data at EMBL-EBI and environmental data at BAS. In my current role, I archive, publish and integrate UK-funded polar marine data, develop databases, collaborate with other data professionals on developing the data publishing infrastructure and engage with national and international communities, such as the NERC Environmental Data Service, Southern Ocean Observing System, Polar Data Forum or Research Data Alliance.

In BIOPOLE I am the data management lead ensuring that BIOPOLE data are FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable). I coordinate the development and implementation of a roadmap for long-term preservation of data from this large multidisciplinary project. I also take responsibility for the BIOPOLE data webpages, data management training and visualisation of BIOPOLE fieldwork for stakeholders and will support the BIOPOLE Antarctic cruise on the RRS SDA.

It is a privilege to work in the BIOPOLE multicultural community of friendly and highly skilled professionals and I enjoy getting to know people in the team.

I like plants, drawing their shapes, studying their physiology, learning about their impact on human history, taking care of them in my garden, simply having them around me, so won’t volunteer for a mission to Mars.

Petra ten Hoopen from British Antarctic Survey

BIOPOLE in Parliament

On 12 June 2023, BIOPOLE’s Geraint Tarling and Andy Shepherd gave evidence at a hearing called by the All-party Parliamentary Polar Research Sub-Committee exploring UK’s relationship to the Arctic environment. This parliamentary committee is considering the UK’s contribution to the Arctic through scientific research.

Inquiries of this sort start with a call for written evidence, to which BIOPOLE responded with a document submitted in April 2023. The document answered questions around the benefit to the UK of supporting Arctic research activity, how UK institutions can be supported to enhance the UK’s leadership in Arctic science, and what research activities concerning the climate and environment ought to be eligible for UK support through NERC.

Geraint and Andy were invited to the subsequent hearing to expand on this evidence and provide the committee with further insight into Arctic science and its pressing concerns, particularly with regards the scale and rate of Arctic environmental change and our capacity to study it. Among the main issues we raised was the need for UK led programmes making longer-term measurements in the Arctic – laying the foundations for such a programme could be a lasting legacy of BIOPOLE. The committee’s findings are expected to be released in around 6 months from the date of the hearing. 

The BIOPOLE inquiry report is published here.

Geraint Tarling (left) and Andy Shepherd (middle) providing evidence to the All-party Parliamentary Polar Research Sub-Committee (right)

The author of the blog – Geraint Tarling (British Antarctic Survey)

Meet the Team

Enma Elena García-Martín

I’m a biogeochemist working within the Ocean BioGeoscience group at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. During the last decade I’ve been investigating the role of phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacteria on the marine carbon cycling, the coupling between oxygen production (primary production) and consumption (plankton respiration) processes and the influence of the community structure and environmental variables, such as temperature and dissolved organic matter, on the plankton metabolism. In BIOPOLE I wear two different hats:

a) I am part of the WP2 which focusses on the biological processes that modify the carbon to nutrient ratios in polar environments. Specifically, I run laboratory experiments with different cultured phytoplankton to determine the direct and indirect effects of warming and nutrient supply on microplankton cell size, metabolism (primary production and respiration) and biomass stoichiometry. Our results will allow to understand better the responses of polar phytoplankton to changing climatic conditions.

b) I am also the Strategic Lead for Arctic Fieldwork, and when I wear this hat, I serve as a point of contact between BIOPOLE researchers and BIOPOLE project partners, facilitating the interactions between them and coordinating the activities, to ensure that BIOPOLE maximize the resources available in the Arctic.

I was lucky to live a year in Tromsø (Norway) many many years ago, where I spent hours looking at polar plankton under the microscope. BIOPOLE has given me the opportunity to spend more time with these cold, beautiful creatures without the need of woolly hat and gloves. 

I have green fingers, not only for phytoplankton, and I like growing my own veggies. Ohh, I love how tasty they are!!!

Enma Elena García-Martín from the National Oceanography Centre