(Blog entry from week of July 20-26)
For the meltpond people aboard the Amundsen the last week or so has been both exhausting and rich in new experiences. The ship was surrounded by ice in Lancaster Sound and was hardly making its way towards Resolute Bay. Every gained metre was a struggle against ice. Up in the arctic one might expect to find a smooth and regular frozen sea ice surface, but that could not been more wrong; the ice surface is irregularly punctuated by ponds of melted ice, or meltponds.
These meltponds appear every year when the ice starts to melt. In the Arctic, the speed at which these develop has increased in recent years and they’ve become a much more obvious characteristic of the environment. They have caught the eyes curious arctic scientists, and we have started to wonder many things about these intriguing Arctic features.
Could life be happening in these ponds? If so, would it be different from the life below the ice? And what happens this life once the ice has completely melted? Could these meltponds be a source of life above the ice, and also alter life below the ice by changing the amount of sunlight that penetrates the ice? Ahhh! Too many questions for a single brain!!
In order to answer some of these questions, a small group of brave scientists decided to sample these meltponds; this was the research opportunity that ultimately led to my decision to start a masters program. My task within the group is to compare the productivity of the algae biomass to the productivity in the surrounding open water, and in water along the ice edge. To conduct our sampling, water is collected using a pump that is placed directly in the meltponds, whereas in open water we collect water samples using a rosette that is placed within the water column. Once we have collected a sufficient number of samples, I use them to measure and compare several important characteristics. In particular, the concentration of chlorophyll a (a green pigment contained in all plants) which can be used as an indicator of biomass.
From aboard the Amundsen we have been able to collect meltpond samples in the middle of Lancaster Sound that will allow us to better understand the life history of meltpond algae. How many questions will we answer from the data collected, and how more will be raised? A few more months of analysis back in the south in our sophisticated labs should give us an idea of the amplitude of the mystery we just dipped into.
-Joannie Charette, NETCARE Graduate Student