We are a group of freshwater ecologists from the Biology Department at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota studying the effect of temperature and nutrient availability on metabolism and nitrogen fixation in geothermally active streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. This is a collaborative research effort with our partners from Montana State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Iceland, and the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries in Iceland. See links to our collaborators labs below.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Happy in Hengill

Liesa (right) and I (left) filling balloons with
acetylene gas to put in the chambers
Hello! I’m Annette, a St. Kate’s undergraduate student working with the Iceland team this summer. I’m a senior majoring in biology and I am especially interested in ecology. I’ve been learning so much from working with this incredible team. Each day brings new surprises and problems to solve, so we are always brainstorming and adjusting our plans. My favorite part is going out to the Hengill Valley to get samples from the streams. I love working outside, especially with all the nice sunny weather we’ve been getting! I am very grateful to be working in such a unique place with steaming hot pots, moss covered volcanic rock and geothermally- heated streams. I enjoy learning about the organisms living in these streams and the role they play in the food web. There are so many interesting aspects to be explored in these streams that it’s hard to pick just one to focus on. So far, I’ve been exploring the relationship between biodiversity and temperature.

Out in the field to measure nitrogen fixation

Everyone on the team has so much knowledge to offer and I’m taking every opportunity to learn from them. I’ve been helping Kate, a PhD student from the Montana team, with estimates of percent cover for each of the primary producers found in the streams we are sampling. This is done by recording what is growing at multiple random locations in each stream and used to determine the area of the stream bed covered by each species.  With this information, we can then calculate the rate of nitrogen fixation and metabolism for the whole stream, based on our measurements for each individual species. Liesa and I spent a lot of time problem solving in preparation for gathering nitrogen fixation measurements. All is going well, as we’ve been gathering those samples for a few weeks now and putting all our planning into action. I feel very lucky to be working with such wonderful people!

Watching the football game in downtown Reykjavik!
In our free time, Liesa and I have been hanging out with the other team members and exploring Reykjavik. On one of our days downtown we joined a crowd of 20,000 people to watch Iceland’s football team win and move on to the quarter-finals in the Eurocup! It was really fun to watch the game on a big screen in the heart of the city and join the crowd in cheering “Áfram Ísland!”

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Not Rotten Here… Anymore!

Jill (left) showing Annette (middle) and Me (right) primary producers!
Time is passing quickly here in Iceland and each day seems to run into the next or skip it entirely! This may partly be attributed to the midnight sun, but also to how busy and productive our days in the lab and the Hengill stream sites have been so far. Each day we are faced with new questions to answer, problems that need solving, and moments of chaos that somehow turn into cooperative learning experiences. Annette and I have been put on the task of building a mechanism to maintain constant circulation of water in chambers that will be used for measuring metabolism rates of algae and other organisms. We have overcome many engineering problems along the way and with creativity we have successfully built a mechanism that completes this task. We have attached magnets to computer fans that will sit on top of the test chambers. When the fans are turned on, the magnets on the fan will spin and in turn, spin a magnetic stir rod inside of the chambers to maintain constant circulation. The tests will begin shortly and we are confident that things will run smoothly!

A day off exploring Viðey island
I almost forgot to introduce myself… My name is Liesa Erickson. I am a senior, biology major at St. Catherine University, and I am more than excited to be in Iceland this summer as part of the 2016 Fixation on Ice research team! After the first couple of days here, I was beginning to miss Minnesota’s delicious tap water. Because geothermal activity heats the water in Iceland and often gives off a sulfuric scent, I was convinced that I would smell like a rotten egg for the next three months.  I decided that taking a shower would not be too much of a problem as the sulfur smell can be easily masked by a sweet smelling shampoo, but the smell of my breath was awful. And it just continued to get worse after brushing my teeth! If only you knew my relief once I discovered running the cold water for a little while allows for the purest, egg free smelling, glacier water to pour right out of the faucet!! No more stink for me. I’m sure the team appreciates it.

Jill and I collecting algal samples
Iceland has been very good to us! This summer has had some of the best weather that the team has had in the past years of being here. We can’t complain! One thing we noticed upon arrival was the lack of trees compared to the large forests back home in Minnesota. As Annette and I were arriving to Reykjavik for the first time, we realized the trees were missing and a few miles of driving had passed before we had our first tree sighting. Even so, the landscape here is beautiful and millions of purple lupines have begun to blossom across the country. Spending time in Iceland and the Hengill Valley has reminded me of how important our work is in preserving and understanding the nature around us. With that said, Jill and I have been working together to collect and identify algae in the streams. She has been teaching me the different primary producer and algal species and how to differentiate them from each other. It amazes me how diverse each stream is from one another, and I am eager to see how they change throughout our time here.