Chalmers researchers heading to Arctic Ocean

Chalmers University of Technology

​At the end of July, a polar research expedition departs from Helsingborg in Sweden. Onboard are Chalmers researchers Amanda Nylund and Anna Lunde Hermansson, who will be investigating changes in the marine Arctic system. ​Amanda Nylund and Anna Lunde Hermansson, researchers at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences at Chalmers, will study the status of the Arctic ecosystem in an expedition called Synoptic Arctic Survey. In the Swedish part of the journey, 39 researchers from 14 departments will participate, of which six are Swedish universities. It is part of an international expedition where Oden is one of twelve research vessels.

The Arctic is the part of our planet that is currently most affected by global warming, making it an important region to map. The aim is that the measurements made during the expedition will lead to a better understanding of how variations in the Arctic Ocean are interconnected, how the carbon and ecosystems react to climate change, and how chemical and biological disturbances in one region can spread to another. The expedition will travel to a relatively unexplored area in the Arctic Ocean.
Before their departure on July 26, a one-week quarantine awaits everyone on board due to the pandemic. At the beginning of August, the observations in the Arctic Ocean begin. The estimated return to Helsingborg is at the end of September.
What will you focus on in this expedition?
Amanda: We will look at the chemical measurements that concern the carbonate system.
Anna: In our team, we are responsible for three of the measurements. We will spend a lot of time on deck and in the lab. We will be working in shifts to get all the samples done on time.
Amanda: Previously, more physical and chemical measurements have been made compared to biological ones. And now there is a great effort to do all this work simultaneously. Since all of these pieces are connected, our measurements will be part of a bigger whole.
How does it feel going to the Arctic?
Anna: It feels like a privilege to be able to dive deep into these subjects in an isolated place. Our expedition will take us to an area where there has hardly been a research expedition before, which also feels fantastic.
Amanda: I’ve always wanted to go to the Arctic or the Antarctic. I have previously been to Svalbard but stayed mostly on land during that trip. What we are doing now is an incredible opportunity for any researcher. The expedition is so well organized and extensive. We will measure everything when we are out there. For me, this is a dream come true.
Will you encounter any polar bears?
Amanda: It would be amazing to get out on the ice even if it is not the main focus of this expedition. I would love to see some polar bears, but also whales and birds.
Anna: There will not be a separate research group onboard that specifically studies marine birds and mammals, but we are encouraged to keep an eye out and log our observations if possible, a bit in the style of citizen research. We can also help with fishing and see what kind of fish is out there. We’ll see if we will get any sleep at all. Maybe we will only work with the measurements and look for different kinds of animals while we are there. I will definitely bring a pair of binoculars with me.
How have you prepared before departure?
Amanda: We already know what kind of measurements we will be doing and have a good supervisor. There will be doctors on board and we have gotten a lot of information before we go, which makes it feel incredibly safe since this is the first time we are doing this.
Anna: I have mostly been preparing the practical things, like buying an external hard drive because we will not have access to the internet when we are there. And to make sure that the insurances are in order. What I worry about the most is that we all have to sit isolated in separate hotel rooms a week before departure. That kind of challenge feels much harder somehow.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Anna: I am very much looking forward to going into a research bubble and the daily interaction with other researchers. I have been missing this kind of work during the pandemic even if we have kept in touch digitally.
Amanda: Discovering new things together and wondering what our finds can mean is so exciting. I look forward to finding out what it looks like there. In areas like this, you feel small as a human being and can marvel at nature. It is very far away from everything and we will be isolated from the outside world. This experience will most certainly pave the way for new perspectives.
What do you hope that your research will lead to?
Anna: I hope that we can contribute to the understanding of how the Arctic is changing, but also how the Arctic environment can affect and be affected by climate change. We do not know that now and that is why this expedition is so necessary. We need increased knowledge about how we can preserve the area. Now that the ice is melting, there is a possibility that shipping will increase in the area. It is important that this is not allowed uncontrollably and that we have a plan for it based on research.
Amanda: There are many “white spots” on the map with regards to measuring points in the Arctic. Therefore, new measuring points can mean a great deal to our understanding of the place. It is a very important area that we know very little about. What we learn on the expedition can give us a clue as to what may happen in the future.
Text: Vedrana Sivac
Photo: Private
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