Finding Zen with the mosquitos; and other musings from the field

Amanda O’Byrne, technician on the Dusty project tells us about her trip @AmandaMerle1

When I tell people I’m coming to Greenland in July they often ask what is it like that time of year? Most already know about the 24 hours of light, the icesheet melt and maybe even about the tundra going into bloom. But what tends to surprise is when I describe the incessant mosquito population.

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Greenland flora selections spotted hiking down from SS906. Photos: Amanda

This July has been no disappointment in terms of our buzzing, blood thirsty friends/fiends. Mosquitos essentially leave us with three options:

  1. Cover yourself with DEET. This is reasonably effective, but it is hard not to be put-off by the coughing fit that ensues with spray applications. Thus, although occasionally necessary to maintain sanity, I try to leave this as a last resort.
  2. Cover yourself with impenetrable clothing. Here is where the battle of wits and instinct is won. Rain proof clothing is most effective, but turning yourself into a greenhouse is not always ideal. So you wear some trousers they can’t seem to get through, assuming you don’t forget to zip up the mesh lined pockets, don the mosquito head net and wriggle into some latex lab gloves. This is my field attire. This is my battle wear.
  3. Get bit. A lot.

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Mosquitos not birds. Photo: Rowan

For Suzanne McGowan, Rowan Dejardin and myself, this season’s trip to Kangerlussuaq entailed setting up mesocosm experiments. Our aim is to investigate the hypothesized ‘fertilizing’ effect of the dust being blown into the local lakes. By building mesocosms which seal a section of the lake from the surface to the benthic sediment from the rest of the lack we can add dust and measure the response. We can look at how adding dust might stimulate benthic epiphytic growth or increase benthic diatom presence, as just two examples. We also wanted to see how this response may vary between different lakes, especially between three lakes that appear to get differing natural levels of yearly dust inputs. Will a lake that has regular dust input show a lesser response than one which gets very little dust over the year?

Rowan and Suzanne installing the mescosms in SS17B Photo: Amanda

Although we set-up mesocosms in only three lakes, this still required several days of hiking. First the mesocosms had to be installed, which involved getting a little wet! After a couple of days of letting everything settle, we returned to add the take initial timepoint measurements and add the dust! After letting the mesocosms ‘cook’ for a couple of weeks we then took final timepoint measurements. We are currently taking our fourth hike out to each site to pull out the structures and leave the lakes as we found them.

With so much to do each time, sampling requires a division of labor. Since Suzanne is capable of balancing and manoeuvering in the small inflatable boat in a manner which would have undoubtedly seen me overboard, she took charge of collecting the water and sediments from the individual mesocosms.

Suzanne sampling the mesocosms with the small-boatsmanship of a true limnologist. Photos: Amanda

This means I got the filtering tasks. To some this would be the short straw, but I could not work in phytoplankton ecology if I hadn’t long ago made peace with the process of pouring water from one container to another and watching it drip through a filter. The quirk of this process in the Greenlandic summer is doing all of this through the veil of the mosquito head net. You also figure out tricks along the way. Like your feet work well to keep filter rigs from tipping over, and the pack frame can double as a portable lab table. Eventually the drip of the water, the squeak of the hand vacuum pumps, and the buzz of the mosquito cloud merge to create a sort of Arctic symphony. It becomes almost comforting in its regularity, until you are jolted from your reverie by a mossie which somehow found its way into your head net! Then panic ensues. All part of the fun of Arctic research!

Filtering fun. Photos: Amanda

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