Overcoming challenges is a big part of Arctic fieldwork

Project: Microbial carbon turnover and greenhouse gas formation from permafrost soils revealed by 14CO2 analysis, funded by the SIOS Access Programme in 2021.

by Janet Rethemeyer, University of Cologne

After a 2-week covid-19 quarantine spent in a hotel in downtown Oslo, we finally arrived on Svalbard on May 19, 2021.Our original field campaign plan was to capture CO2 emission from permafrost deposits in order to determine of the age of carbon being consumed by microbes in a Northern Svalbard peatland. Our field sites are located just outside of the community of Ny-Ålesund, in a basin along the Bayelva River, and our goal for the spring campaign was to capture the thaw period, from late May to early June. However, the spring weather in 2021 was atypical and there were still approximately 80 cm of snow covering the ground when we arrived! The ground was still frozen solid and temperatures remained below freezing throughout the day, even though we were under the midnight sun.

We attempted to take readings of CO2 emissions from on top of the snow, 40 cm down, and on the ground after clearing away the snow. We also placed the special depth samplers we brought, which were supposed to be installed in the ground to collect CO2 passively for several months, at a variety of depths in the snow.

Lab analysis showed our CO2 dates as modern, although previous samples at these sites were up to several hundred years old, so the snow likely contained mainly atmospheric CO2, because the ground likely was still too frozen to allow for CO2 release on a scale that our point sampling could detect. Luckily, we learned a great deal about making alternative plans, and making the best out of any situation, and are better prepared for our next field campaign!

image of a snow pit with instruments around the edge                              image of a snow covered mountain in the distance, with snow in the foregound and blue sky

Photos taken during the fieldwork. Credit: Sara E Anthony