Merel C********* was offered a research placement on Spitsbergen during her internship with the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. The fifth year Biology student spent one month at Ny-Ålesund research station in the company of Arctic foxes and the occasional cruise ship.
Test installation off the Spitsbergen coast
'I studied the effect of CO2 on ocean acidification. Just before my arrival nine large 'condoms' measuring 2 meters in diameter were placed at a depth of 9 meters in the water. In those mesocosms we reproduced the CO2 levels of various eras, for example the pre-industrial age, and the values anticipated for the year 2300. We studied the way tiny algae, the picoplankton, develop under those circumstances. During the last week we also added other nutrients like phosphate, nitrogen and silicate, which cause algal bloom.'
Agressive polar bear
'Ny-Ålesund feels like the end of the world. From the capital of Spitsbergen it takes all day by boat. The peace and stillness are truly indescribable. The village is peaceful, but beyond it nature is wild and rugged. You move about between the ice floes in a little boat, and an aggressive polar bear may cross your path at any time. There's always a gun on hand. The glaciers produce this eerie noise: the air in the ice gets warmer in summer time, causing the ice to crack. It makes a sound like thunder.
'There's not much life around here. Yet you do see seals selecting a good ice floe for a spot of sunbathing. And underneath our house we had a nest of Arctic foxes. We could hear them squeal at night, and see them playing outside in the day time. Every now and then our peace was shattered by the mooring of a cruise ship. A little shop would then open selling ridiculously expensive souvenirs. Visitors have to pay 10 euros in landing tax in any case and this is an important source of income for our research.
'During my stay we had 24-hour sunlight, it was really bizarre. The sun turns circles above your head and never sets. When it is light you just don't want to go to sleep because it is so nice. You also have more energy for working; we worked twelve- hour days, also at weekends. But at one stage I got to be so tired that I managed to fall asleep again, fortunately!'
Merel kept a short weblog about her research for Vroege Vogels (Early Birds): http://vroegevogels.vara.nl/Weblog-Expeditie-Spitsbergen.683.0.html