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If you want to run SITES operationally and scientifically in the next phase, we are looking for you! Do you e.g. want to develop SITES and act as SITES front image in the outside world, read the full assignment description for SITES Director (only available in Swedish). If you are interested, apply before November 8th and please help us spread the ad on appropriate networks.

Welcome with your application!
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You study microbial communities living on surfaces of glaciers and have spent time from July to mid-September at Tarfala Research Stations during your field study at the Storeglaciären glacier.

Tell us more about your research project!

Glacial melt is a major 21st century problem. Ice algae (Zygnematophyceae) are exasperating this rate of melt by growing on glacial surfaces. These brown pigmented cells darken the ice, reduce reflectivity, and consequently enhance the amount of solar energy absorbed, which ultimately increases surface melt. Algal cells are living, dynamic systems, which interact with, and react to, their environment. So changes to their physicochemical conditions will likely influence their distribution and function; potentially altering their melt effect. If we are to make robust projections of future glacial melt, then the ecology of these surface ice systems needs to be better understood, so that it can be worked into more advanced surface mass balance models. My research aims to address the current ecological knowledge gap by studying the relationship between the form and function of ice algae and their surrounding climate.
Karen peering into a crevasse which highlights the contrast between dark algal colonized ice on the surface and clear algal-free ice within the fracture. Photo credit Sara Penrhyn Jones.
Karen peering into a crevasse which highlights the contrast between dark algal colonized ice on the surface and clear algal-free ice within the fracture. Photo credit Sara Penrhyn Jones.

Have you results already that you can give a small glints of?

Sadly not! When I work in the field it’s all about collecting snapshots of microbial communities, preserving them in that state as quickly as possible, and storing them in a stable condition until we can transport them home. Not much else can be done in the field for the analyses that we want to pursue. In our home laboratories we have access to equipment that allows us to peer into their molecular biology, providing us with insight into who they are and what they are doing. In the field, the only results we obtain are cell counts; but this shows us very little on its own without parallel data. We do get to see lots of very pretty algal cells when we are counting though!!
Ice algae viewed under a microscope at x10 magnification. A single cell is highlighted by a red circle.
Ice algae viewed under a microscope at x10 magnification. A single cell is highlighted by a red circle.

Why did you come to Tarfala Research Station?

Tarfala was a really great location choice for this project for several reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, anyone who’s spent much time here will know that it can be a very wet and cloudy place. Despite this being a little unpleasant to work in, the long-term project plan is to compare communities sampled from these conditions to other glaciers that typically have more stable weather, so Tarfala was a great natural laboratory for us. Secondly, the proximity of the glacier to the research station really helped us in achieving all our research goals; it meant that even in some of the most horrendous weather it was still possible to head out, take samples and get back to the warmth of the station within three hours. We were also extremely grateful of this short walking distance when we had to haul heavy bit of sampling kit up to the field site! Finally, Tarfala has really fantastic logistical support and facilities. Getting to the research station is relatively simple, and once we were there, the most important part of our research (processing and storing samples) was very easy to do thanks to the space and equipment available.
Karen on her daily walk towards Storeglaciären with Tarfala Research Station in the background. Photo credit Michael Gardner.
Karen on her daily walk towards Storeglaciären with Tarfala Research Station in the background. Photo credit Michael Gardner.

SITES makes a lot of terrestrial and limnologic research infrastructure happen, what has the infrastructure at Tarfala meant to you in your research project?

The SITES infrastructure available in and around Tarfala will undoubtedly be key to the project!! There’s a weather station on Storeglaciären, about 200m from where we were working, that will provide us with all the solar, precipitation and snow depth data that we need. Complementary data from closer to the research station will also be useful to have as a comparison. Any changes in the ecology that we see will be correlated to environmental changes that are measured at these weather stations, so this data will become central to the project as it progresses. In addition, Tarfala boasts a long history of mass balance and climate records from the surrounding area, which is really great for providing foundation knowledge and for obtaining a better understanding of this system.
Karen sampling surface ice communities in early September as the glacier melt slows for the season. Photo credit Michael Gardner.
Karen sampling surface ice communities in early September as the glacier melt slows for the season. Photo credit Michael Gardner.

How long did you stay and how was your time there?

All in all, we were at the station for a little over a month this year, spread across two visits. Our first stint was for all of July. We then returned at the end of August until the beginning of September, for some late season sampling as a comparison. It was a strange year for sampling, with lots of snow persisting late into the year. This snow prevented us from getting on with sampling, so we tried to hurry the melt along by digging down to the ice surface; but this proved to do little other than keep us fit, warm and amused while we waited for the sun to do the job properly!! As soon as the ice surface was naturally revealed we embarked on a non-stop carousel of sampling in the morning, and processing in the afternoons and into the evenings. Thankfully there was always time for a relaxing sauna before bed; which should surely be listed as one of the main reasons we came to Tarfala! We worked really hard this field season, so fingers crossed that we will be rewarded with some great results to match our efforts. You can read more about some of the work and adventures over our 2017 season in our INTERACT blog - Arctic Research.
The project spanning spring, summer and autumn. Left to right: Aliyah Debbonaire shows deep (50-80 cm) snow in early July; summer flowers line the route out of the Tarfala Valley at the end of July; and autumn colors flood the valley floor with dustings of snow on the summits in early September.
The project spanning spring, summer and autumn. Left to right: Aliyah Debbonaire shows deep (50-80 cm) snow in early July; summer flowers line the route out of the Tarfala Valley at the end of July; and autumn colors flood the valley floor with dustings of snow on the summits in early September.
Dr. Karen Cameron
Aberystwyth University
Research project name: CLAIM
Project time: July – September 2017
@KCameronArctic

About Karen Cameron at Aberystwyth University
Karen was interviewed in October 2017 by Ida Taberman. Karen has taken all pictures unless otherwise stated.
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The national research infrastructure SITES will receive further funding from the Swedish Research Council (VR) for five years. This is a very pleasing message, says Anders Lindroth, SITES Director. Final decision regarding the funding will be determined after dialogue between VR, SLU and the consortium. The consortium behind SITES consists of SLU (host), the Polar Research Secretariat, and the universities in Stockholm, Uppsala and Gothenburg.
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Jonathan is SITES newest crew member and will work with SITES data portal in Lund.
This is how he describes himself:
I´m originally from France and have been living in Sweden for four years. Studied computer science and have worked in web and iOS development since graduation in 2010. My interest in the environment got me motivated to join the SITES project. I wanted to use my competences as a programmer to help us understand and work better with the world. The Carbon Portal developed by ICOS will be the basis for the SITES project and I'm looking forward to expand its capabilities to include the different kind of data that SITES will include.
 
Welcome on board to SITES!
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Kim Lindgren has a McS in Biology, has previously worked as a field assistant for Skellefteå municipality and is a proficient computer programmer. Kim works at both Röbäcksdalen and Svartberget since two years and is the initiator of TagTags, the digital field sheet used within SITES.

How is it to work at two field research stations at the same time?

For me personally, I think the biggest advantage is the bigger support network, there is nearly always someone I can ask if I have a question or if there is something I need for my work. Furthermore, the communities at both stations are great and I enjoy working with each and every one. For the stations, the biggest advantage is of course the sharing of knowledge and experience. In many cases, both stations have similar problems and we can develop a solution together instead of wasting resources and creating two separate systems. One example is for sample storage, currently I am working on a sample storage system which should help keep things organized. The project was started at Röbäcksdalen but will definitively be of great use at Svartberget as well, and could hopefully be adopted by other stations! The only negative aspect of working at two stations that I can think of is that it becomes slightly harder to plan my vacation!
Kim sampling for SITES Water in Degernäs creek at Röbäcksdalen. Photo by Tommy Andersson.
Kim sampling for SITES Water in Degernäs creek at Röbäcksdalen. Photo by Tommy Andersson.

Are there similarities and differences between the stations you work at?

I think the biggest difference between the stations is that Svartberget is part of a support unit, while Röbäcksdalen is governed by a department. Essentially, this means that Svartberget is inherently more focused on infrastructure while Röbäcksdalen has a comparatively greater history on meeting demands from the researchers at its department. Since SITES initiation great efforts has been put into equalizing this trend and open up for increased usage from a larger range of ecosystem research. Furthermore, a definite difference between the stations is that Svartberget already has a lot of infrastructure so that, for me, the work is mostly focused on managing the data from these infrastructures, while Röbäcksdalen is in an exciting expansion stage where I get to be a part of developing and governing how data collection should happen from the ground up.

As for similarities, the stations are both very well established within their fields and have very competent staff and a rich and interesting history. Both have very long data-series and experiments which have been running for decades which I think is very important to highlight and preserve!
 
Summer fields at Röbäcksdalen. Photo by Lim Lindgren.
Summer fields at Röbäcksdalen. Photo by Lim Lindgren.

What is your background and how does it influence your work today?

Since I was quite young, I have wanted to be a scientist and an inventor, which put me on track to pursue a career in the academic world. I have always been very broad in my interests, but with a definite focus on science and technology. While I was still in high school I found Linux and the open source movement, which spurred on my interest in programming and fueled my interest in open-access data and transparency within the information industry.

Furthermore, I have been politically involved for a long time and for a while I was the head of the local section of a youth party in Skellefteå, where we lobbied for democracy and equal rights as well as against racism. This has definitively had an effect on my work since I always strive to achieve the highest possible level of transparency in any system I develop. Furthermore, I believe the public sector should embrace open source solutions and open standards to a larger extent.

Beyond this, I have always had a big interest in nature and biology, which led me to take a masters degree in evolutionary ecology. Specifically, I am very interested in how climate change drives selection in plants. I think that this field fits me perfectly since, at least in my opinion, it embraces computational technology to a large extent. This has also definitively affected my work, since I believe it puts me in a relatively unique position of being a developer that understands the needs and thinking of researchers and field technicians. Furthermore, I still have an interest in doing research on evolution and population genetics and perhaps doing a PhD at some point, but in the end my greatest interest rests with the technical aspect of science.
TagTags used in field, pictures from the instruction video.
TagTags used in field, pictures from the instruction video.

Your initiative TagTag has spread across the SITES stations, tell us about the idea and the current status.

I had the idea for an app TagTags several years ago, since I thought that the increased availability of easily portable but still powerful devices like tablets and smartphones could reduce the problem of lost papers and unreadable handwriting, not to mention the hassle of going through historical data which had never been digitized. Eventually, I contacted the Krycklan project and asked if they had any interest in me coming in and working on it, and as it turned out they had already been looking into this type of solution but did not have the time nor experience needed to pursue it. At first we looked at a few alternatives that already existed, but found that they were all either too limited or too complicated for an average user to configure, so I drew up the concept for TagTags and showed it to Peder Blomkvist, who really liked the idea. Initially, I worked on TagTags in my spare time in parallel with another app we were trying at the time, and when it reached a stage when I thought it looked good enough, I showed it to Peder and Hjalmar Laudon and the decision was made to drop the other efforts and instead continue development of TagTags. At the time, I never imagined that it would grow as much as it has now. As for the situation today, I have begun working on TagTags 2.0 in my spare time, which will expand on the concept further, address some of the problems it currently has and introduce a few requested features as well as some really neat and useful new features!
Water sampling from the Kallkälls mire at Svartberget. Photo by Kim Lindgren.
Water sampling from the Kallkälls mire at Svartberget. Photo by Kim Lindgren.

Tell us about your connections and exchange with other stations in SITES

The other station that I have had the most contact with is probably Skogaryd, which was one of the early adopters of TagTags. However, I have also been in contact with Lönnstorp, where we have been discussing data management strategies and shared knowledge and contacts regarding installations for SITES Spectral at the two agricultural stations. Furthermore, we had a TagTags-workshop in Stockholm last December, where I believe all stations were represented. During the workshop it was fun to meet representatives from more stations and get some broader feedback on the app, as well as learn more about the activities within SITES directly from the people involved.

Overall, I think that SITES is excellent in promoting sharing of knowledge and competence, and that it is probably the greatest benefit of taking part in the infrastructure!

Looking ahead, what you want to learn more about and develop in SITES?

Overall, one of the things I would like to see happen in the future is better and more collaboration/exchange between organizations, not only universities but also municipalities and county boards for example. SITES is good at managing data from measurement programs and keeping track of sampling procedures, and if SITES could become a national coordinator for all ecosystem monitoring in Sweden (or maybe even Europe?!) and organize data from all of these initiatives, I think that would be of awesome benefit for all of society.

Furthermore, I would love to see SITES grow to include organizations that are seated outside of Sweden as well! Whatever happens in the future, I hope I will get the opportunity to take part in shaping it.
Kim Lindgren was interviewed by Ida Taberman in August 2017
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