Monthly Archive for July, 2009

Going west!

After saying good bye to our new friends in Rostock/Warnemünde I was looking forward to coming back to Swedish waters, this time a bit saltier, on the west coast. There are two marine field stations on the Swedish west coast belonging to The Sven Lovén Center for Marine Sciences. Our first stop was in station Kristineberg, beautifully situated just opposite of Lysekil, a major tourist destination in this part of Sweden. Kristineberg is yet another historical marine field station, founded in 1877. We were greeted by Professors Mike Thorndyke, head of the Kristineberg Marine Genomics group, and Katarina Abrahamsson, head of the station. The next morning we headed out together with Mike, Katarina and a couple of other local scientists to sample in Gullmarsfjorden, a 25 km fjord with a shallow threshold entrance and a maximum depth of almost 120 meters, resulting in a highly stratified water column.

When we got back from sampling we had a chance to get a tour of the station and after the crew were invited for a lovely dinner and got to try some delicious Swedish west coat shrimp.

Mike Thordyke and Katarina Abrahamsson giving a tour of Kristineberg research station to the Sorcerer II crew.

Mike Thordyke and Katarina Abrahamsson giving a tour of Kristineberg research station to the Sorcerer II crew.

When the time came to get going the staff in Kristineberg suggested that we make another stop on our way to Oslo, in Tjärnö the other marine research station on the west coast. I was excited to go back to Tjärnö because about 10 years ago I spent a couple of weeks there when taking an undergraduate ecology course.

Head of the station, Professor Kerstin Johannesson welcomed us when we arrived and within an hour a large crowd of curious staff and students had gathered around the boat and were invited onboard for a tour. Kerstin reciprocated by showing us around the station. The crew particularly enjoyed the petting zoo aquarium where we could play with sea stars and sea cucumbers!

It was a beautiful quite night and I went kayaking around the small islands nearby.

Karolina in the kayak. Photo by John Henke, Sorcerer II first mate.

Karolina in the kayak. Photo by John Henke, Sorcerer II first mate.

The next day we picked up a sample outside the station and continued north through the Oslo fjord, the weather was spectacular and logistics coordinator Sarah Dyste and I decided to jump in the refreshing water for a swim.

Sorcerer II is now docked in Oslo, right in front of Town hall, were we just had and amazing tour and were invited to meet the deputy mayor of Olso. He was curious about our research and also told us a lot about Oslo’s interesting history.

The time has come for me to say good bye to the rest of the crew and fly home to Stockholm, where I will continue my cyanobacteria projects in the lab. It has been an absolutely amazing summer and I can’t wait to get back to the boat in later this year to meet with Mediterranean collaborators and get ready for sampling in the Med in 2010!

Bye for now,


In the bloom…almost

Cyanobacterial blooms during the summer are reoccurring phenomena in the Baltic Sea. This summer we have already encountered the two main species responsible the blooms, Aphanizomenon sp. and the toxin producing Nodularia spumigena (see previous posts), but so far not in the abundance that would qualify as a bloom. With the help from our colleagues back at JCVI in La Jolla and the Swedish meteorological institute’s satellite tracking of algae blooms ( we have been following the development and waiting for the bloom to show up. However, we are approaching the end of our Baltic Sea journey and due to the relatively cold and windy weather blooms have been moderate this year. We had almost given up on the chance of encountering a bloom and due to the clouds the satellite imagery wasn’t much help when…. Finally, a bloom! Well…almost a bloom… On our way to Kalmar, just on the southern tip of the large Öland Island we spotted a lighter streak in the water and when taking a closer look we could see that the water was filled with small whitish aggregates of some sort. In the microscope we could confirm that these aggregates were indeed cyanobacteria and Nodularia spumigena seemed to be dominating the sample. Due to the whitish colour we suspect that the filaments were dying since these types of blooms are typically more yellow in color.

After sampling we continued to Kalmar, where Professor Åke Hagström was waiting for us on the dock together with his son. I was also happy to see my own brother Anders there to greet us. He and his family are in Öland where he is visiting my parents in their summer house. It was great seeing some familiar faces!

The next morning Åke came back together with his colleague Dr. Lasse Rieman for breakfast and a tour of the boat. Jeff and Åke exchanged fascinating experiences from air sampling of microbes and Åke told us about his new appointment as head of the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment, an exciting initiative aiming to coordinate the efforts of all four Swedish marine research centres, read more about it here.

In the Deep

After the brief stop in my hometown we continue our journey southward in the Baltic proper. Our first sampling site was the Landsort deep, the very deepest part of the Baltic Sea (459 meters!)  and a long-term monitoring and sampling site for various Swedish and international scientists and environmental agencies. We arrived late in the evening but were all curious about what out CTD cast would reveal about this key sampling station in the Baltic. We all took our positions for sampling, which by now has become a well-known routine: Captain Charlie at the helm, John holding the CTD , Jeremy dropping the CTD in the water and keeping the water pumping through our 100 m hose, Jeff at the CTD computer monitoring the data and of course me, the Swede, feeding the CTD cord.

Here, at Landsort deep, we did not have to worry about hitting the bottom with the CTD but rather wanted to go as deep as possible to try and find the oxygen minimum and get a sample from there. Just below 70 meters, oxygen levels were down to almost 0 and we decided to collect water for our deep sample right there.

CTD profile from Landsort deep.

CTD profile from Landsort deep.

Tomorrow we will hopefully run into some nice cyano blooms on our way to Kalmar, where we will meet up with our collaborator, Professor Åke Hagström.

The Midnight Sun and Fermented Fish

We returned from Abisko on Thursday July 9th around 10 p.m.  The next morning was very busy for the crew as we had to put the science gear back together, prepare the boat, and do local newspaper and radio interviews.

Here are the links to those interviews: radio | paper

Like the transect north, our southern route is based on collecting samples at sites for which our Swedish collaborators have secured permits. Before turning south towards Stockholm, we had to sail north 40 miles to collect two samples in the northernmost part of the Bothnian Bay. Over the next five days we sailed down the east cost of Sweden, and during that time we collected nine samples from five different HELCOM sites.

The most interesting stop on the sail back to Stockholm was the Island of Ulvön, a tourist destination known as the “Pearl of the Sea of Bothnia.”  We only spent 15 hours on the island, but the experience will be cherished by the entire crew thanks to the Northern Swedish dish called Surströmming, which is fermented herring. A friend of mine with family on the island set up a tour of Erik Den Röde, a high-end brand of Surströmming owned and operated by Ruben Madsen (link 1 and link 2). Ruben is a very interesting person, and with a background in the Russian circus and a love of fermented fish, he put on an impressive show that we will never forget. From my first days in Sweden I was warned of this dish and was informed to never open a can on the boat due to the horrible odor that you will not escape. As Ruben opened the can the crew looked worried, but to our surprise the smell was not overpowering. We all tried a piece in the traditional way (on a piece of flat bread, with chopped red onions and cream). I went first and decided the piece of fish was too small, so Ruben made me taste with a huge chunk of the fermented fish. I required a big sip of Swedish beer to finally swallow this delicacy…

The next morning, with fermented fish still in our stomachs, we departed for our two day sail back into Stockholm.

ROAD TRIP! Watch Out Arctic Circle…the Sorcerer II Sampling Team is Coming Your Way!

After we arrived in Luleå, Jeremy, Karolina and I started packing for our road sampling trip to Lake Torneträsk, a freshwater lake located in the Arctic Circle.  Dr. Erling Norrby had contacted Dr. Christer Jonasson, the deputy director of the Abisko Scientific Research Station, to help coordinate our sampling trip.  The research station is located in Abisko, Sweden approximately 130 miles north of the Arctic Circle and is 1,300 feet above sea level on the south shore of Lake Torneträsk.

On the morning of Monday July 6th, with the rental car filled to maximum capacity including three carboys strapped to the roof, we set off for the 270 mile road trip to Abisko.  During the six hour drive we discussed our excitement about seeing such a unique environment and having some time away from the boat!  No offense to the others onboard but sometimes 95 feet can get a bit small. While driving we enjoyed the view of the snow capped mountains, thick green forests and the signs that warned us of moose crossings.  That is correct, we were in moose country and we were on high moose alert…sad to say there were no moose sightings.

After arriving at the station we were met by Dr. Jonasson who showed us the facilities and our apartment.  The apartment was very nice and had a fully equipped kitchen; we were all looking forward to cooking for ourselves.  The first night we settled into the apartment, cooked dinner and enjoyed our view from the living room overlooking the lake and the mountains in the background.  Since we were so far north in the Arctic Circle we experienced the midnight sun. It was an amazing experience, although it did interrupt our sleep cycles!

The next day was spent setting up the lab and collecting our samples from Lake Torneträsk.  We drove down to the lakeshore and filled 200 liters of lake water from a pier that stretched out 20 meters into the lake.  Lake Torneträsk doesn’t thaw until June so the water we collected by hand was 7°Celsius (44°Fahenheit).  Needless to say it was not the most enjoyable experience.  The water was crystal clear so we thought we would have to sample 500-1,000 liters to get enough biomass for DNA sequencing.  After only 200 liters, all 3 size filters were completely full of microorganisms and had distinct colors.  These filters had more life on them then what we see in open ocean samples when 400 liters is filtered.  The sample collected from Lake Torneträsk is a very unique sample because the lake is a major freshwater contributor to the Baltic Sea.  The data will be very interesting to compare to the other samples collected on our North/South transect of the Gulf of Bothian.

We took full advantage of the long sunny nights by doing hikes up the surrounding mountains and rivers that feed the lake.  The time spent at the station was important scientifically and for crew moral.  It is always reinvigorating to get off the boat, get some exercise and experience these unique environments up close.

Sunset at Norrbyskär

It was another beautiful morning in the Gulf of Bothnia as we left Härnösand. We stopped at another sampling site before meeting with a boat from Umeå Marine Research Station (UMF).  We were greeted by UMF scientist Dr. Johan Wikner and a television crew. We docked at Norrbyskär, a small island close to the station, and Jeff and I were interviewed about our research.

Dr. Wikner, associate professor at UMF and a specialist on bacterioplankton, introduced us to Dr. Hans Wolf-Watz, professor in applied molecular biology at Umeå University, as well as a resident of Norrbyskär. We were generously invited to dinner at a local inn and had a chance to try regional delicacies such as Arctic char and västerbotten (local cheese) pie. After dinner we invited Dr. Wikner, Dr. Wolf-Watz and their wives to have coffee and watch the sunset onboard Sorcerer II. We finished the evening with a guided tour of the beautiful island given by Mrs. Wolf-Watz.

Sunset at Norrbyskär.

Sunset at Norrbyskär.

The next morning we visited with Dr. Jarone Pinhassi, one of our collaborators from the University of Kalmar in the southern part of Sweden, who happened to be vacationing with his family. Dr. Wolf-Watz joined us as well and Dr. Wikner followed in the UMF boat, as we sailed towards our next sampling site just outside of the station.

After saying goodbyes to our UMF friends, we sailed over night to reach our next sampling site, the second most northern site on our transect through the Gulf of Bothnia. We arrived at the station at 6:00 AM in the morning and recorded the lowest salinity yet, only 2.9 psu at the surface and a temperature of only around 10º C.

A few hours later we arrived in Luleå, one of the major cities along the northern coast of Sweden and an important port for shipping iron from the mining industry in Kiruna. The day ended with a 4th of July American style BBQ!

Heading north with more daylight

After spending a couple of days visiting with my family in Stockholm, I boarded a ferry boat to Blidö and rejoined the Sorcerer II crew to head north to the Bothnian Sea. Before departing, we sampled in the bay outside Dr. Norrby’s summer house. The last days of fantastic summer weather had warmed the water to about 20º C in the little bay, and we found our first specimen of Nodularia spumigena, the most conspicuous toxin producing bloom-forming cyanobacteria in the Baltic Sea. Just like Aphanizomenon this cyanobacteria have heterocysts, cells specialized for fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere.

The cyanobacterium Nodularia spumigena. Two square-formed heterocysts with thick cell-walls are visible close to the ends of the filament.

The cyanobacterium Nodularia spumigena. Two square-formed heterocysts with thick cell-walls are visible close to the ends of the filament.

We continued to sail through the night, and the crew was amazed by the light Nordic summer nights and the sunrise at 3:30 AM. The following afternoon we reached our next sampling site, one of the Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, monitoring stations in the Baltic Sea. HELCOM has been working to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea for 35 years, and the monitoring stations enable researchers to identify and quantify the effects of anthropogenic discharges/activities in the Baltic Sea.

Tomorrow we continue north and meet up with Swedish scientists from Umeå Marine Research Center (UMF).

The last leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, the Swedish Archipelago and the Gulf of Bothnia Sampling Transect

The morning of June 25th we left Stockholm and followed the Volvo race boats into the Baltic to watch the start of the last leg of the race to St. Petersburg. Once again there were hundreds of boats on the water to watch the start of the race.  As the race began we saw someone waving to Dr. Venter and Dr. Norrby from another boat.  It turned out to be King Carl XVI Gustaf! (Note: our friends on PUMA achieved second place in the final standing of the race.  Congratulations!)

After we watched the boats sail into the Baltic, we started making our way through the Swedish Archipelago.  These waters are very difficult to navigate so it was a relief to have Dr. Norrby onboard to help Captain Charlie and Dr. Venter maneuver in these rocky, shallow waters.  Dr. Norrby has years of experience sailing in the Archipelago as well as extensive knowledge of the Swedish coastlines.  During the last two days, Dr. Venter, Dr. Norrby, Captain Charlie, and the Sorcerer II crew had many meetings to plan and plot our course for the north/south sampling transect of the Gulf of Bothnia.  This is going to be one of the most intense sampling legs on Sorcerer II to date, but we all agree that the samples collected on this transect will be some of the most unique we have seen.

With a busy two weeks of sampling coming and Dr. Venter and others returning to the States, we decided to celebrate the 4th of  July on June 29th.  With Sorcerer II docked in front of Dr. Norrby’s summer house, we celebrated with a special dinner and launched a few expired flares for some fireworks to mark the occasion.