Author Archives: cto042

Photo: MM Nielsen

Trip to Disko Fjord

Waking up bright and early Monday morning we all eagerly awaited a call from the captain of Porsild on whether we would be able to go on our sampling trip to Disko Fjord or once again have to change our plans due to bad weather. The call came and like a child on Christmas morning our eyes glistened with hope.

Yes! We are going!

The weather was even good enough to take the small speedboat with us, so three brave guys dressed up in teletubby-like survival suits, which are one size that really fits no one.

Photo: MM Nielsen

Jeroen and Peter rock in the survival suits

We were told this little boat would be slightly faster than Porsild, and as we steamed out of the harbor doing approximately 5 knots it raced passed us at the speed of light with the mighty Johannes at the helm.

On the Porsild we were all taken by the beautiful scenery, large icebergs and steep cliffs that plunged into the sea made almost every moment a Kodak one. The sea was calm and not a single whale spotted so the trip was somehow uneventful in this matter.

For our speedboat crew the story however was quite the opposite. Having arrived hours ahead of Porsild, our brave boys decided to do some fishing. This resulted in them catching not one, not two, but six large cods which we later prepared for dinner with the only spices at our disposal, salt and beer.

Photo: J Egardt

Very happy boat crew

They also had a taste of the Inuit everyday life when a curious seal approached the boat. Quicker than any gunman in the wildest of the west, Johannes reached for his rifle and that seal is now swimming happily in the eternal seas.

At the arrival of Porsild we all met up for some sampling of blue mussels. Oddly enough, the only one of us who actually works with this organism was still at the Arctic Station having us do his dirty-work for him. What a clever Dane he is, that Jakob.

Photo: MM Nielsen    Photo: MM Nielsen

Sorting mussels

So, after replicating sampling grids and sorting and cleaning mussels until our fingers were the same temperature as the surrounding water we headed to a nearby village, population of 50.

Half of us were to spend the night on Porsild and the other half were camping on land and therefore had packed both warm sleeping bags and thermal mattresses. The “campsite” turned out to be a house where government officials stay while visiting the area so needless to say, our campers was not particularly uncomfortable in their palace with a panorama view of the fjord and surrounding mountains.

After a good night on board Porsild being gently rocked to sleep by the sea we woke up to the smell of fresh coffee ready for an exciting new day in Disko Fjord.

Photo: AH Tandberg

First on the agenda(after collecting our campers) was to go look for a radioactive hotspring, not to worry though, it was not radioactive enough to make us glow in the dark. Even for the crazy German Andreas who walked barefoot.

This spring is homeothermic and thus never freezes. This creates a very unique environment that allows species like orchid and Angelica to grow in an otherwise harsh environment. Rumor has it that the vikings used to smoke Angelica and further the Inuits have a tradition of using it for producing an alcoholic beverage.

Photo: J Egardt

Withered orchid – apparently they do not bloom in September…

So, armed with GPS-coordinates and survival suites very suitable for boat rides in the arctic (but definitely not for long walks) we were put to shore within a short walking distance from this elusive spring. Or so we thought.

Apparently our captain didn’t care much for those coordinates. This could either have been a miscommunication (none of us speak Inuit very well) or he just felt we needed some exercise (he was probably right considering the high amount of potatoes and gravy in our diet up here…), because we ended up walking up and down moss-covered hills for about one kilometer before reaching said spring.

Finally there, everybody was on their hands and knees taking pictures from all kind of weird angles of Angelica, gypsum fluorite precipitation on rocks and withered orchids. Surprisingly enough, the orchids were no longer flowering at this time a year – but what do a bunch of marine biologists know about that stuff anyway.

Photo: MM Nielsen   Photo: J Egardt

Photographing Angelica can be tricky                    Gypsum fluorite precipitation

Back on the boat we had a very quick cup of coffee and then off we went for the next agenda of the day, Lithothamnion sampling!

Lithothamnion are coralline red algae which creates either crusts on rocks or globular aggregations on the seafloor. These globular Lithothamnion were of particular interest due to their importance in creating unique habitats for meiofauna…

So tune in on our blog tomorrow for more exiting scientific facts about this topic.

Photo: MM Nielsen

Written by: Mette (Aarhus University) & Jenny (Gothenburg University)

Photo: AH Tandberg

Disko amphipod experiment

Saturday 14th of September, a day with a handful of events throughout history: Stephen V ends his reign as Catholic pope (891), The Netherlands and England sign a peace treaty (1662) and Walt Disney gets the Medal of Freedom at the White House (1964) to mention a few. Moving towards present day and we find scientist and researcher Anne Helene setting up her traps on an experiment to catch amphipods at the local harbor in Qeqertarsuaq, Greenland.

Photo: AH Tandberg

The amphipod trap team: Daniela, Henning and Anne Helene

With a warming sun and clear sky in the back she is assisted by enthusiastic students Henning and Daniela heading towards the chosen localities for the traps. To understand this experiment a little better we need to go back in time to the happy 90’s.

In 1990 Yves Scailteur and Claude De Broyer examined feeding in amphipods at the Arctic Station, Greenland from July 25th to August 18th. In one of the experiments traps were laid between 80 and 180m depth to catch the temperature and light sensitive amphipod Anonyx makarovi, in another experiment they examined the scavenging amphipods that were present at shallower depths.

Drawing: G.O. Sars

A scavenging amphipod (Onesimus sp.) – what we hoped to find. Drawing by G.O.Sars, 1891

23 years later scientist Anne Helene decided to set up a similar experiment to study scavenging amphipods. She made three homemade amphipod traps consisting of plumber tubes, plankton net, horse clamps and funnels and the result looked like this.

Photo: AH Tandberg

Traps “armed” with fresh seal blubber.

Photo: AH Tandberg

Preparing the blubber – the smell was quite intense… 😉

So on a sunny Saturday afternoon Anne Helene, Daniela and Henning set out to place these infamous traps to gather some amphipods for further examination. For bait the traps were fitted with fresh seal blubber straight from the fish market and a nice good chunk was put in to keep the amphipods well fed. There were chosen two localities for the experiment, the royal dock (actually just a floating dock with a bridge) by the museum of Qeqertarsuaq and at the harbor next to the research vessels docking point. The traps were hung with a solid rope roughly 2m down into the water with different colors to differentiate the two locations when collected; blue rope would indicate the dock and white would be the harbor.

Photo: AH Tandberg    Photo: AH Tandberg

Site 1: “The Royal Dock”                                        Site2: The harbor.

After 24 hours of exposure in the different sites, on a windy Sunday afternoon the three characters went to collect the traps, and to their relief they were still there! The traps were collected and on their way back to the Arctic Station they spotted a sunken ship, sledge dogs and friendly people greeting us as we passed by.

Photo: AH Tandberg

Retrieving the traps

So what was the outcome? Not a single amphipod…. Why? They really don’t know. It could be a number of factors from leaving them for a too short amount of time to feeding the scavenging munchkins something other than delicious seal fat. But wait! The traps weren’t completely empty! There were a couple of polychaetes  (Phyllodoce maculata) gathered around in one of them that seemed to be fascinated by the blubber and the blood. And even if the plan wasn’t to catch polychaetes, a failed attempt doesn’t have to mean that the findings don’t matter. In science we don’t discriminate!

Photo: AH Tandberg    Photo: AH Tandberg

The sampling result: a bucket of worms                  Empty seal blubber pieces and clean net


Photo: AH Tandberg

Our sampled species: Phyllodoce maculata (Linnaeus, 1767) with seal blood in the gut.

Written by: Henning (University of Bergen) and the girls (Daniela (Gothenburg University) and Anne Helene (Institute of Marine Research))

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Sampling with Porsild

Porsild is the research vessel of Arctic Station and our workplace when we go out for collecting samples. 

It’s a 15m long and 5m wide vessel that can transport 12 passengers and three crew members during daytrips. Eight people can stay over-night on board.

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Porsild in the harbor of Qeqertarsuaq

Prior to sampling we plan which stations we are going to visit and which sampling gear will be needed. This has to be done with care as space on the ship is limited so we only want to take equipment that is absolutely necessary.

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Packing of gear from a small boat to Porsild

In order to get an overview over the marine biodiversity around Disko Island, Porsild takes us to places such as Disko Fjord and deeper waters south of Qeqertarsuaq.

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Porsild in Disko Fjord

On board we use several sampling tools and two winches. The larger winch has a 400m wire and a lifting capacity of two tons. The smaller winch has a wire length of 800m and is mainly used for lighter sampling such as with the plankton net.

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

The plankton net is prepared for a tow in deep water

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Content of the triangular dredge is examined

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Examination of specimens on board

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Sieving of mud samples on board

Photo: Andreas Altenburger

Relaxing on board on the way home after all sampling work is done

Written by: Andreas (Natural History Museum, Denmark)




Photo: J Brijs

A day at the Arctic Station

Woke up bright and early on day 6 of the ForBio Marine Course in Disko Island, Greenland to the beautiful sight of blue skies and the sun reflecting off the icebergs in the bay.  After a delicious breakfast the group divided up to tackle multiple tasks, which included activities such as sorting samples gathered on the Porsild trip, identifying multitudes of exciting species and a trip to an intertidal area outside the village.  After weaving our way past bands of fearsome sledge dogs aka ‘wolves’, the band of intertidal researchers arrived in a premium location for investigating life in the rocky pools, blue mussel communities and macroalgae. To observe macroalgae communities, a brave (and slightly crazy) Danish researcher (Mette Möller Nielsen) snorkeled around the coast in water with a temperature of around 3°C with icebergs as her companions.  As a safety precaution a rope was attached to her and held by a shore person, this technique was later dubbed as ‘orca fishing’ as she closely resembled a seal in her wetsuit, fortunately for her no orcas were sighted. The blue mussel expert present (Jakob Thyrring) was jubilant as the area had thousands of blue mussel specimens, which will be important for his research on understanding climatic changes in Greenland. Meanwhile, another enthusiastic researcher (Peter Kohnert) had discovered a ‘gold-mine’ of nudibranchs which will probably take the better part of the rest of the decade to identify…..but he was excited nonetheless. Once sampling had finished we enjoyed a slice of frozen bread with herring and a hot steamy cup of coffee in the sunshine whilst enjoying the beautiful views.

Photo: J Brijs    Photo: J Brijs

“Orca-fishing” with human bait…                            Sampling phytoplankton from the shore.


In the afternoon more identification of amazing arctic species ensued and terms such as chaetae, papillae, dactylus, subchela and rostrum were thrown around with abandon interrupted by the occasional cheer once someone had successfully identified one of the many cryptic species.  A small party attempted to catch some arctic fish species and phytoplankton at an amazing location dominated by large cliffs, icebergs, the occasional whale and beautiful tundra-like vegetation. Unfortunately the level of expertise in the fishing department was not quite up to scratch resulting in a catch of one piece of seaweed and little else, luckily we are here for at least another two weeks and can work on our techniques.  The phytoplankton scientists had more success, getting a large haul of the microscopic organisms.  Satisfied with our sampling success for the day we headed back to enjoy a delicious meal of local lamb and exciting presentations given by members of the team.

Photo: J Brijs

Pete enjoying his frozen sandwich


Till tomorrow,

Photo: J Brijs

Jeroen Brijs (Gothenburg University) and Jakob Thyrring (Aarhus University)

Photo: MH Eilertsen

First day of sampling at Disko Island (Qeqertarsuaq)

The first day of sampling did not go exactly as planned, which is more the rule than the exception when it comes to marine sampling.

Photo: MH Eilertsen

The hardships of sampling -not every day comes with calm seas and bright sunshine

Due to bad weather and some technical issues with the boat it was not safe to go as far out to sea as we wanted to, but instead we stayed near the harbor in Qeqertarsuaq and took samples there. With the triangular dredge we got some macroalgae (kelps), including one beautiful species with circular holes in the leaves. This alga is a common species here, but it was new for most of the students attending the course. The roots of the kelp are a habitat for many small animals, which we picked out by hand when we got back to the lab. We also sampled mud with associated fauna, most of which was sieved on deck to wash out the animals. Some of the mud however was taken back to the lab undisturbed to look for meiofauna, small fragile species that would be crushed or lost in the sieving process. In addition to the benthic sampling we took plankton samples with a plankton-net that was dropped down to approximately 25 meters and pulled slowly back to the surface. This turned out to be not very successful probably due to high seas and small manoevering space.

Photo: MH Eilertsen   Photo: MH Eilertsen

Mette shows the “holey” kelp.                                  Seaweedy and muddy catch. 


Photo: MH Eilertsen

Samples on deck!

The most abundant animal groups in the benthic samples this day were polychaetes (bristle worms) and amphipods (crustaceans). When we started looking at the samples under the dissection microscope the diversity of polychaete families and species were much higher than expected, and to begin with nearly every new specimen represented a new family. It was, however, very challenging to identify the polychaetes to species for many groups, because the literature and keys that are available usually only include European or Scandinavian species, but with a combination of keying and googling for local Greenlandic fauna we managed to identify a large proportion of the material.



The student group is very varied, with PhD students in fields ranging from neurotoxins and fish physiology to population dynamics and meiofaunal taxonomy. Although everyone has their own little project during the course, we all chip in with the general identification work and compiling species lists of the collected material. Even our fish physiologist, Jeroen, got to identify some polychaetes, and he was fascinated to see that what only looks like small, boring worms to the naked eye are in fact beautiful creatures when you get them under the microscope.

Photo: MH Eilertsen

Making friends – there are sledge dogs everywhere!

Written by Mari (University of Bergen) and Inga (Stockholm University)

Photo: AH Tandberg

ForBio course: Marine biology, Greenland – Arctic Station, Disko Island

The Research School in Biosystematics (ForBio) is an inter-institutional PhD-research school for students and postdocs from Norwegian, Swedish and Danish universities. Our courses are also open for participants from other countries or employed by non-academic institutions. ForBio is financed by the Research Council of Norway and by the Norwegian Taxonomy Initiative. For more info see:

Fifteen students, two teachers and one teaching assistant on an autumn adventure to study the marine fauna and flora of the West-coast of Greenland.

Photo: AH Tandberg

Mette, Jenny and Josefin on the ferry to Disko

The journey to Disko Island (September 9-12, 2013)Photo: AH Tandberg

After an overnight stay in Copenhagen, we took a plane to Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strømfjord) and then – after a pleasant walk in the sunshine exploring the surroundings of Kangerlussuaq airport – to Aasiaat (Egedesminde), South of Disko. Our planned two-days stay in Aasiaat (including whale watching trip and guided tour through the town and cultural history museum) had to be extended for one more night due to the weather conditions. Thanks to the nice people at Aasiaat Sømandshjem we didn’t have to stay out in the cold. Some of us slept in the conference room – but everybody got a bed. The storm, however, faded away over night and we arrived safely at Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn), where Ole Stecher – scientific director of the Arctic Station – waited for us to give us a warm welcome.

Greenland-10092013-079whalesafari   Greenland-11092013-299

Humpback whale in Aasiaat.                                  Our guide let us try fresh, raw minke whale.


Arctic Station (September 12-27, 2013)

The Arctic Station just east of Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn) was founded in 1906 and has functioned since as a base for scientific research and training, with a special focus on the Arctic environment. This was made possible by the initiative of the botanist Morten P. Porsild. Today, the Arctic Station is run by the University of Copenhagen. It is situated North of the polar circle in the rich nature of Disko Island.

For our marine biological course, we can make use of the station’s research vessel Porsild and of a smaller motorboat to collect material to study in the laboratories of the Arctic Station. We have planned a number of collecting trips in the vicinity of the station and an overnight-trip to Disko Fjord. The station is our home for 16 days.

Photo: AH Tandberg   Photo: AH Tandberg

The Arctic Station with the lake in front                 The laboratory building


The following entries are written by the course participants. The group contains of two students from University of Bergen (Norway), five students from Gothenburg University and two from Stockholm University (Sweden), three students from Aarhus University and one postdoc from University of Copenhagen (Denmark), one student from Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich (Germany), a teaching assistant from Institute of Marine Research Tromsø (Norway), a teacher from Aarhus University and a teacher from University Museum of Bergen (Norway).


Entry by: Christiane Todt (ForBio, University Museum of Bergen), Anne Helene Tandberg (Institute of Marine Research, Tromsø), and Peter Funch (Aarhus University)