Instead what has happened is a bunch of lectures on various topics relating to the nature of the Arctic environment, the interactions between the water column (pelagic) and the sea floor (benthic) and then some super duper in depth discussions about the critters that live in the benthos and how they work. So, whilst it has been incredibly interesting and astonishingly educational it isn't so easy to write about because a bunch of kids taking notes in lectures.. well there's nothing new to that.
So instead I'm going to share a few of the things we learnt, and random points I thought were interesting.
Firstly we won't be seeing sea ice whilst we are here in Svalbard because of the Arctic sea ice retreat that you might have heard about. So that's a stark sign of global change. It's somewhat hard to deny that things are changing whilst up here, it's pretty clear.
The Arctic and the Antarctic really aren't similar, aside from being cold with ice. The biology is different, the seasonality is different, the amounts and age of ice is different etc. etc. Plus the Arctic has fjords, polar bears and no penguins, though it does have this thing that looks like a penguin (but it isn't!)
Some of the deep water in the Arctic can sit around for 300 years, whilst other shallower more fast moving water can be in and out in 10 years. I still find the idea of identifying water as "Atlantic" or "Tasman" etc. as a somewhat odd concept, surely water isn't so easily described, but apparently it can be, and it's actually a really important part of oceanography.
I thought it was quite cool that the terminal moraine from a glacier at the end of a fjord, if sufficiently shallow, can act almost as a fjord dam limiting water circulation and therefore drastically changing that fjords ecology. Moraines are awesome.
There was a lot of general discussion about the importance of studying the marine environment and particularly the benthos.. seeing as this is a benthic ecology course that isn't overly surprising. But so far, I'd have to concur. There are some really importance processes happening at the bottom of the sea, including carbon cycling (ie. all I can gather from this article is that they know it's an important factor.. but really not much more than that). Plus, there are some super duper crazy animals living down there, and if these guys can't be an inspiration for some creativve biomimicry then I don't know what can. Anyhow, point is, its probably worth looking into.
Then we got into a little bit of Geography, which was fun. Stuff like the intermediate disturbance hypothesis and a little bit of island bio-geography. Not feeling too far from home now!
There was a lot of discussion about the impacts of climate change and how they are going to change the ecology, and in some cases new species are already moving back into the Arctic because the environment has changed sufficiently. Overall, people are expecting a very different Arctic. A summer without sea ice will have a huge impact on the communities dependant on sea ice, not to mention on the communities dependant on the communities dependant on sea ice. And on it goes. There will be changes to the fisheries, to everything. The Arctic is at the fore of witnessing these changes, but it will only be time until similar changes are felt globally. When we won't find the species we used to find. It can be quite distressing hearing about the impacts of climate change, particularly on the big mammals that we tend to identify quite well with. Because of the lack of sea ice there are less areas for seals and walruses to raise their pups within reasonable distances from feeding grounds. (ie. imagine if all the supermarkets and cafes within your usual driving distance were removed and suddenly you had to drive twice as far, and then imagine it got worse next year, and the year after, not so bad if you live in the city, but for anyone already living on the edge.. well there's some expletives that can fit there. N.B a walrus CANNOT create it's own veggie garden as we can).
The scientific world did tend to think that the deep sea was dull, boring, the same everywhere (homogeneous), dull, boring and more dull. That was until quite recently when they discovered those black smokers mentioned earlier. Then they started doing things like watching what happens to a dead whale ("Whale Fall") on a patch of apparently empty sea floor. And what happened was kinda cool, if rather macabre, and brought a whole new understanding to what's happening at the bottom of the sea whilst we're not looking. If a whale falls in the ocean and there's no one to hear it, does it make a noise? Yep, something along the lines of "THUD - nom nom nom nom nom". So much for Zen.
Also, walruses are left tusked. Go science!
Next up, a bit of hard core biology for the geographer and preparation for a cruise.