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Updates from the field. See the work BREATHE scientists Karley Campbell, Rosalie McKay and Janina Osanen are doing this spring in the Canadian Arctic

The BREATHE team has made the journey from Tromsø to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The community sits on the lower northwest passage in the Canadian archipelago and is home to The Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS). Alongside other colleagues of ECV-Ice ( and BEPSII ( the scientists will sample sea ice for biogeochemistry over the next five weeks.

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30/04/2022 First day on the sea ice! The scientists have chosen two locations on the ice to sample over the next weeks.  The ice is between 1.6 and 2 m thick and air temperature is around -20°C – but the wind can make it feel much colder. Work has begun to deploy self-logging sensors under the ice, which will take measurements of ocean turbulence, nutrients and light.


2/05/2022 One of the sample locations is near-to the Finlayson Islands where Brent Else (University of Calgary) has a remote lab set-up to record atmospheric CO2. You can see the tower of CO2 instruments in the distance behind the napping scientist! More instrumentation to measure atmosphere-sea ice CO2 fluxes are being installed as part of work by ECV-Ice.


5/05/2022 Sampling is well underway - at our current rate of sampling we are taking approximately 120 m of sea ice per week. Ice samples are collected using a core barrel that has sharp teeth at the bottom to cut into the ice as it turns. It is important to continually clear the slush-ice shavings while you core to avoid getting the barrel stuck in the ice. A stuck core barrel is a sea ice scientist's nightmare, and you can see Karley routinely raise the barrel while cutting to avoid this scenario.

6/05/2022 After every day on the sea ice collecting samples, the ice is melted and processed at the CHARS facility. A lot of the lab work involves passing the sea ice meltwater through filters (think specialised papers with known hole sizes) before storage and transport back to UiT for analysis. Here, Rosalie (back) is filtering for ice algal pigments and Janina (front) is processing samples for nutrients and dissolved organic carbon.


7/09/2022 We had an inspection of our nutrient and light instruments deployed on the sea ice. Fortunately, with a few repairs things should be up and running again soon.


9/05/2022 The conductivity and temperature of the water column is measured during every visit to the ice by Naoya Kanna from the University of Tokyo (with Janina assisting today). The water beneath the ice is between 50 and 80 meters deep (depending on the sample location) and is around the freezing point of seawater at -1.5C.


10/05/2022 Oxygen is a central parameter for the work in Cambridge Bay this year. It is studied so that we can better understand the activity of microorganisms living within the sea ice (i.e. algae & bacteria) and how gases move between the ocean and atmosphere.

(Left) Odile Crabeck (University of Liege) is measuring oxygen in seawater via the method of winkler titration. Here she looks for a colour change after adding standardised chemicals and incremental amounts of sodium thiosulfate to induce a chemical reaction; (Middle) a close-up view of an electrode that is deployed to measure oxygen at the ocean-ice interface, alongside current velocity, temperature and conductivity sensors that together are known as the underwater eddy covariance system; (Right) a lab-based set-up using 20 oxygen optode probes (each the size of a small pencil) to measure net uptake or release of oxygen by algae and bacteria within melted ice samples.


To study gases in sea ice like oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2), it is important to trap the gases within the sample as soon as they are taken. To do this, scientists use a commercial bag sealer - like one you may have to keep food fresh at home – vacuum sealing sections of the sea ice on site before transport to the lab.


11/05/2022 Good weather made for pleasant light measurements today! The amount of light reaching the bottom of the ice (where the majority of ice algae live) is measured before ice samples are taken. To do this, the light sensors are placed on a metal arm that can position them facing upwards under the ice. 


15/05/2022 The melt season has begun. While this means warmer working temperatures for the researchers (e.g. just below zero), it also presents a number of new challenges for the team. The compacted snow cover on the sea ice is transitioning to slush. It will become increasingly difficult to snowmobile on the ice - and to stay dry while working (this includes keeping electronics like computers used to download sensor data dry as well!). With warming of the sea ice, the cracks between floes will also start to widen and more and more seal holes will open. The commute out to sample sites will get longer to adjust to these changes.


16/05/2022 The BEPSII field school is running this week at CHARS. Karley gave a lecture on ‘Studying sea ice as a living & breathing system’ to the 30 students attending, talking about the impact of microbial activity within the ice on its biogeochemical properties. You can look at the slides here for more information.

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17/05/2022 Debate continues in the ice camp about which is the BEST saw for taking ice samples. Rosalie (left) prefers a Canadian bow saw while Sofia (right, University of Liege) opts for Japanese steel. Using whichever saw the scientists measure the ice thickness and take subsections for different analyses. On sunny days one must protect the algae from direct sunlight – you can see Rosalie cutting the core in the shade of stacked boxes for this purpose.


Today we also celebrated the national day of Norway with cake! General consensus was that cake breaks should become more frequent on field days, even if the cake’s aesthetic takes a hit on the snowmobile ride out.


21/05/2022 Today marks three weeks of continuous sampling! Here are some perspectives from the (wind-blown) scientists in the field today (Left to Right):


Janina Osanen

Research focus: MSc – Bio-optics

Thing you are looking forward to most after the field season. The smells and colours of spring.

Favourite Canadian experience so far (as a Finn). Definitely not Ketchup chips!


Rosalie McKay 

Research focus: PhD – Microbial productivity 

Most challenging aspect of this field season so far. The thickness of this sea ice compared to thinner floes I have worked on in the Barents Sea. There is a difference of >1m and that takes a lot of work!

Pro tip. Always have hand warmers at the ready, even if you think you can tough it out. Also, develop good napping technique as a passenger on the snowmobile


Odile Crabek

Research focus: Gas flux

Fieldwork first this year. It took 5 days to get here! There were a lot of problems with flights between Belgium and Cambridge Bay.

Favourite field snack. Any candy. Any time. Gummies are my favourite and we keep the lab stocked with them.


Sofia Muller

Research focus: Nutrient dynamics

Most surprising thing in your first field season so far. How fast the water freezes in the field! You have to be so quick to sample it before there are problems like clogged tubing.

What have you liked the most and the least about fieldwork? The most – to experience such a unique landscape and new culture. The least – cold hands and the mental fatigue of continuous sampling. It takes a lot of effort to work well as a team in this challenging environment, but it is also very rewarding.

What are you looking forward to the most afterwards. Hot showers and watermelon


Karley Campbell

Research focus: Biogeochemical interactions

Biggest challenge this year. Probably the number and range of sensors we are trying to use. Some are working well - others not – and a bear is trying it’s best to disrupt their operation at one site in particular.

Question you get asked most about fieldwork. Where do you go to the bathroom? Haha, as a general rule no peeing on the sample site! Out on the ice there is no place to hide so generally you just announce when you need to go and everyone diverts their attention.


24/05/2022 (Left) To get everything done (and to stay warm) while on site – all hands are at work. (Right) A glimpse of the commute to ice stations by snowmobile. With melt season underway, more and more ring seals are can be seen sunning themselves on the ice. Videos are courtesy of Sofia Muller.

26/05/2022 These last weeks, the team has been routinely taking samples of water from under the sea ice. This is done by deploying a water sampler (open at both ends) through an auger hole. Once it is lowered to the desired depth, a weight (also known as a messenger) is then sent down the rope - hitting the sampler and causing it to close and trap water. It is then hauled back up to the surface where the scientists take samples for gases, nutrients and algal chlorophyll. Positive temperatures like this day make this work much easier - but the water itself is still below zero Celsius and cold on the hands. 


31/05/2022 The last samples of the campaign have now been collected and instruments deployed under the ice have all been recovered. The recovery took quite a lot of effort due to ice between 1.5 and 2 meters persisting around the instruments. In most cases, recovery was done by drilling connected auger holes around the sensor in order to pull it up to the surface. Some of the sensors are self-logging, and now it is the first chance for scientists to see if/what data has been recorded over the last month.


03/06/2022 That's a wrap! The last of equipment has been packed and ECV-Ice members have begun their journeys home to cities in Canada, Belgium, Japan, and of course Norway.  The BREATHE team would like to thank the Norwegian Research Council, the Scientific Commitee on Oceanographic Research, CHARS, and the community of Cambridge Bay for their support this last month. Special thanks to Brandon Langan and Martin Leger for getting the team through the field season on and off the ice, respectively. 

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