Spring in Sweden

Of all the things I love about my job, the opportunity to travel is fairly high up the list! Whether it’s living aboard a ship in the Iceland Basin or crawling around in saltmarshes on Cape Cod, every trip teaches me something new and opens my eyes to a breadth of knowledge and experience I never before realised existed.  I thought it might be nice to share a trip I took recently to a workshop – one of the lesser known activities scientists take part in.

Last week, 18 scientists across more 11 countries came together in a sleepy town in Sweden to discuss ways to monitor how much carbon is being transported from land to sea via rivers throughout Europe, and I was pretty excited. Land-ocean carbon transport is my favourite topic (or at least its the subject of my PhD, so may as well be), and it is a luxury to spend days discussing your passion with like-minded people, each at the cutting edge of their field.

A frozen forest – incredibly peaceful, and remarkably like the ones I grew up around in Scotland.

After a 5am start and a 7:45am flight out of Heathrow, we flew into Gothenburg Landvetter Airport. As the plane touched down I caught sight of the flat, white world into which we had descended and seriously questioned whether I had packed warm enough clothes. As I stepped out onto the tarmac, face braced for impact with the freezing cold air, I was pleasantly surprised when instead the sun hit my face and I realised it wasn’t so bad after all!  -7 doesn’t feel so cold when the sun shining at the same time.

Two hours and two busses later we arrived in Stenungsund, a little town to the south of Gothenburg, where we awaited our ride in the most charming little diner where we were kept entertained by the chef who appeared to enjoy surprising us with slightly unusual but delicious Swedish fare (Pulled Oomph, anyone?). Our ride arrived and, after a trip to the supermarket for supplies, we headed off towards our destination.

My first experience drilling through a frozen lake! I was a little terrified, so stayed close to the edge the first time!

Our cabin sat up a steep drive, so steep in fact that we abandoned our four-wheel drive, snow-tired jeep and trudged up to the door through several feet of fresh snow.  A quick catch-up with the team we had come to meet, and we were back out the door and off on our first adventure. One of the other scientists in our party is in the middle of a year-round study of local waterways, and so we accompanied him out to drill holes in the (thankfully very) frozen lakes which surrounded our cabin.

I thought working at sea was sometimes challenging, but hiking through knee high show to drill a hole through ice you are relying upon to support your weight is something altogether different! I’m assured you get used to it, and quickly learn how to safely navigate these environments, and of course we would never have gone out onto the ice without someone who knew what they were doing, but all the same, it felt a little risky! On return to our cabin we were greeted with dinner (a traditional feast of meatballs, potato gratin and lingonberry sauce) and a catch-up about some projects different members of the group had been involved in across Malaysia and the Falkland Islands before we retired for an early night.

A lake field station, which normally floats on a barge but in winter is frozen in place. We hiked out across the lake to see it.

The next day, we woke with the birds, cleaned down our cabin for the next intrepid explorers, and headed off to join the rest of the workshop participants in a small town called Ortagarden. From then, our mornings and evenings were spend discussing and collaborating. Experts had assembled from across multiple disciplines to bring their knowledge carbon cycling in rivers, streams, lakes, estuaries, the coastal zone and the ocean together in hopes of finding a coherent way to monitor the whole picture, and everyone had their chance to present their work. Aside from travel, the best part of this job is the fact that I’m constantly taken out of my comfort zone, and asked to think about and learn about things which don’t quite sit in my area of expertise. Last week certainly did that, working with terrestrial and aquatic scientists who think about the world from a different perspective to us marine scientists – a classic example of this is when one of the lake ecologists showed an OS map of a mountain range and I thought they were showing bathymetric data of a very deep, sprawling lake system. 

During the afternoons, we were taken out into the countryside by our hosts who showed us several sites where measurements take place. 
The highlight, of course, was walking out across another lake – this time much further from shore – to see a frozen-in monitoring station which, under normal circumstances, we would have been taken to by boat. (If you want to see – and hear – what hiking across a frozen lake looks like, you can see a short film clip here!). Another was the beauty of the planted spruce forests we walked through, and how similar they were to the ones I grew up around in Scotland. Evenings were spent socialising, getting to know one another, and building relationships which will undoubtedly bring about further collaborations and some excellent science in the future.

We returned to Southampton on Friday evening, tired but enthusiastic about what we had learned and the work still to be done.

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