Travel in covid-19 times

on plane

So, there you are as a first time cruise leader. On a plane, descending into Longyearbyen while overlooking the fjords and snowy mountains. Praying for the second time in one day.

After several weeks of intense preparation, we left Bergen on 28 June and travelled to Svalbard. In covid-19 times, the trip is challenging. This time it meant getting up very early, to be on time for getting our noses inspected with a long swab at the airport. This was the first time you pray that no one tests positive (or false positive). But everyone had limited their social contact the weeks before the cruise and we were cleared to continue to Svalbard.

It was very strange to pass through half-deserted airports last November on our way to Svalbard. But now in June, the first signs of things a normal airport experience were showing again: forgetting to take out that water bottle at security, repacking luggage for the so many-eth time. Only difference is that the crowds that pass like a blue sea of mouth mask, going about their usual airport business.

After a smooth trip to Longyearbyen, we were on our way into town when we passed our home for the next two weeks. R/V Kronprins Haakon was lying in the harbor. Everyone was very excited to see the ship again or for some of us for the first time.

The (scientific) plan.

The plan is that we sail to northern Svalbard and collect water and sediment samples. We collect these samples to investigate the history of the sea ice around Svalbard. In the AGENSI project, we develop new tools for reconstructing sea ice conditions in the past, even back more than 100,000 years ago. We will be analyzing DNA in the water column and especially in seafloor sediments. The DNA we are mainly interested in originates from organisms living in the sea and sea ice above. DNA, fossils, sediments eroded from land all end up on the seafloor and accumulates year after year after. By taking sediment cores and analyzing the ancient DNA in the deeper part of these cores, we are in fact analyzing the biosphere from years, decades, millennia and even more than 100,000 years ago.

We will in addition collect water and sediment samples for the Polish-Norwegian NEEDED project, which assess the effects of climate change on biodiversity in the Nordic Seas. And, also water samples to investigate the geochemical structure of the water masses will be analyzed as part of Nansen Legacy program.

Before the plan.

First thing to do onboard the ship, will be to find our cabins. It is one cabin per person, due to covid regulations. Quite luxurious on a research vessel, but it is one of the policies since the covid pandemic. Next will be to get to know the boat, go through safety information, cleaning the labs into spotlessly clean crime scenes (we are working with ancient DNA after all) and start installing our equipment in the labs. This was why I prayed on the plane – that all equipment made it on board, undamaged.

That is where we are at right now. If all goes well, we return to Longyearbyen in about 12 days, with enough samples to work a life time. When our internet connection allows it (that far north out on sea, internet coverage is not always available), we will try to post updates here. Time to get cracking (some sea ice)!

Follow where we are with the ship on Arctic Info: https://www.barentswatch.no/arcticinfo/vessel/257275000

Link AGENSI: https://www.agensi.eu/

Link NEEDED: http://www.iopan.gda.pl/projects/NEEDED/index.html