AirMiMic – InterAct 2019

In Summer 2019 we will again spend time in SE-Greenland and Iceland to continue our research on geo-biological processes that drive algal blooms on snow and ice.

This year we have a large combined team. I am happy to again link uo with Alex Anesio and his team from Aarhu sUniveristy and also with James Bradley  from QWueen Mary University who is a visiting Humboldt Fellow in my groyo at the GFZ.

A more detailed description of the team to follow.

We are happy for the support from InterAct for part of our SE-Greenland field campaign (our blog will be mirrored on the InterAct blog site at ArcticResearch ), for part funding from the Humboldt Foundation for James Bradley’s travel costs, for the University of Aarhus for supporting Alex’s team and for the Helmholtz Recruiting Initiative @GFZ to complement the costs of the GFZ team.


Stay tuned for various glorious stories .


Summer 2016 – Black and Bloom – part 1

it is that time of he year again when me fidgeting is the norm not the exception because the summer Arctic field season is nearing.

This year it is Greenland and it is the 1st field season for a large NERC funded Black and Bloom project that will allow me for the next 4 years to do exciting and fun science with lovely colleagues.  For almost daily updates and links to various twitter feeds see the Black and Bloom website.



Overall and in a simple statement what we aim to do is to:

…..unravel how dark particles (black) and microbial processes (bloom) darken and accelerate the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet.


The projects scientific goals and objectives ore briefly described on our science website  where, following a successful field season. we will also post updates about our results as they come in.

S6 site

This summer there will be 3 teams or maximum 8 people are going  to camp on the Greenland Ice Sheet. We start from in Kangerlussuaq Kanger for short – means Big Fjord) and our field site (red dot on image at left) is located at 67o05’ N, 49o23’W, at an altitude of 1020 m and  ~ 150 m east of University of Utrecht’s S6 meteorological station  (background image from 12/0714 NASA Aqua MODIS).

In total we will spend ~ 6 weeks on the ice and the first 8 member team flies out onto the ice Sikorksy S61 in hangar ready with a Sikorksy S61 helicopter ()


Naturaly team 1 also had to sort out all kinds of logistical issues – like testing the speed of setting up our large tents…

mess tent

… sorting and repacking  our ~ 2.5 tonnes of kit shipped in advance, sorting liquid nitrogen shipments, testing communications, sorting our safety on the ice gear etc etc. etc etc … kept them busy 2.5days but this morning all is ready for take off…

From today onward communication with the Ice-bound team is only via a prearranged, daily satellite phone link to the remaining UK team.

good luck team 1.

Team 2 will join them in 2 weeks and team 3 in 4 weeks. We are all looking forward to a well set up and running camp by that time team 1 😉 – mucho pressure !!

Excitement is mounting!!.



image credit will be added later at end of summer season once all team members are back !




Alex’s Travel Jinx

It all started in December 2014 with a Brazilian-Swedish friend of mine visiting Potsdam, where I had, just 2 months earlier, started a new job at the German Research Centre for Geosciences – GFZ for short. It is thus less than a year since my travel trouble started.

But let me back up a little.

My deal is such that I will build up my new Interface Geochemistry group and labs at the GFZ and thus my new Potsdam/Berlin life progressively over the next 2-3 years. This way I can slowly bring to an end my existing projects in the Cohen Biogeochemistry Labs of the School of Earth and Environment in Leeds, where I still have a vibrant group of PhD students and postdocs who keep me happily busy.

Thus I am basically ‘allowed’ (by choice and love for the challenge) to live two parallel lives, do two (at times it feels like 2 x 100%) jobs and travel even more than usual (which some people though was too much already before).

This slow transition and the invariable yo-yoing between Berlin and Leeds requires me to fly the route Leeds-Amsterdam-Berlin back and forth on average ~ 4 times each month.

So now back to my good Brazilian-Swedish friend Alex (see previous Arctic posts for more info about Alex), who in December 2014 passed on his bad luck and jinxed my usual traveling luck. Alex seem to have the knack to be the most unlucky traveler EVER. If something can go wrong it will. At least that is what he tells me and that is how it felt the last 24 hours!

You are asking why?? Well most normal humans when they travel from Berlin by plane for ~ 24 hours would likely reach Sydney or Hawaii – i.e., travel ~ 10.000 km and get to the other side of the world.
Yesterday I managed to travel the less than 1000 km from Berlin to Leeds in  …wait for it … 24 HOURS !!!

Alex your travel jinx was very strong yesterday!! Really strong!!  Thanks My friend !! Your generosity is really much appreciated!!  
BUT TAKE IT BACK!! I don’t want it anymore.

You likely d not want to know why and what happened but I will tell you anyhow if you manage to read on and not get boooooooooored with my whingeing.

I usually fly with KLM. This is because there is no direct Leeds Berlin flight and in Leeds and Berlin I can get to the airport ~ 40-50 mins before we take off and all is fine and have lounge access so can work. This way I can also make the normally 6 hours door-to-door trip as speedy and comfortable as possible.

Now to yesterday! (it feels like many eons have passed and not 24 h)

My 1st flight was delayed because there was supposedly a storm in Amsterdam so all planes were delayed ! Even the outgoing ones so our connecting flights would most likely wait ! Ok these things happen !

Arrived in Schiphol and my connecting flight had left ! The storm had finished just 30 mins after it started !!!!

The world does not go under and when you travel a lot these things happen. Thus I thought, no problem, been there done that, got a collection of airline overnight kits to show for. The dinner, hotel etc were also no issues and speedily arranged.

However, and this is where the Alex Travel jinx really kicked in ! KLM could not re-book me on the early morning flight BECAUSE ALL OUTGOING FLIGHTS to the UK the next morning were full. It was not possible to get (even with a 1st class upgrade option) a seat in an early morning plane to Leeds, Manchester, London or Newcastle. They even tried Brussels or Frankfurt but than the connecting flights to Leeds were full . And I mean FULL – all flights were overbooked with at least 5-9 people on the waiting lists already !!!

Thus I was not alone – but in that situation I did not care about others to be frank – I just wanted to get home.

The only option they could find was to reroute me via … wait for it … Southampton !!!! YES. I traveled in the morning to Southampton than had to wait 4 h before my Leeds flight and arrive at 2.30 pm.

Not over yet. Naturally they also lost my luggage (and again I was not alone) so another hour in Leeds airport to try to sort that and thus arrived home exactly 24 hours after leaving with no luggage, rather pissed off, and tired.

Thus I can only say – Alex – Thanks, but you can have your Travel Jinks back !!

Spring and Summer 2015 – Svalbard here we come again

it is July and thus that time of the year again when I get antsy about leaving civilization behind and having some fun up North. It is summer and while this week I am still sitting in my new GFZ office I suffer from ‘what summer actually means’ – i.e., heat and sun. It is ‘nice’ but after living in the UK for more than 15 years it takes some getting used to ‘proper hot summers’.

But alas soon (counting the days) it will not matter as I will take off for my annual pilgrimage to the ‘top’ part of the world. I am off to Svalbard again for my yearly fun-work-trip to a colder region of the word but for me the blissful region.

Although this year I already spent a week in Longyearbyen (capital of Svalbard, Norway) in March when it was still all snowy I still need to go back to get my Arctic fill. In March  Steffi and I took a fabulous snow scooter trip from Longyearbyen to Tellbreen and sampled ~ 100 kg of fresh snow to analyze for all kinds of stuff…

Svalbard Spring 2015_1

snow scooter trail on the way back from Tellbreen after a marvelous sampling day; copyright Liane G. Benning

bags and bags and bags of fresh snow collected close to the top of Tellbreen - for scale (and safety) our mascot Bamby and the rifle ;-) copyright Liane G. Benning

bags and bags and bags of fresh snow collected close to the top of Tellbreen – for scale (and safety) our mascot Bamby and the rifle 😉 copyright Liane G. Benning

bags and bags and bags of fresh snow cawaintng melting and filtering in the UNIS labs copyright Liane G. Benning

bags and bags and bags of fresh snow awaiting melting and filtering in the UNIS labs
copyright Liane G. Benning

After melting all that snow at UNIS (and without mentioning the various puddles) we filtered it all through various filters and we got …. well not much (that is science for you). newerthelss, despite the few data we obtained or not, we learned a lot about what and how to do it better next time; the optical measurements worked, the biological and organic ones less so but there is always a next time.

Anyhow – now it is summer, much of the snow is gone in the lowlands and Svalbard is calling me again.

This summer mynSvalbard stay will only be for 2 short weeks that will be in two parts.

In week one we will be camping in Ebbadalen (Billefjorden) and our aim is to sample rocks along a sedimentary transect to study …. (see later)

Ebbadalen where we will camp the 1st week of the Summer 2015 Svalbard field season; from

Ebbadalen where we will camp the 1st week of the Summer 2015 Svalbard field season;

This part of the trip will in part be a trip down memory lane with friends from Norway and the USA. We have visited this site already ~  10 years ago.

the classic Norwegian 'short 30 min walk (AKA 2 h for normal people) to the  outcrop in Ebbadalen in 2005; copyright Marilyn Fogel

the classic Norwegian ‘short 30 min walk (AKA 2 h for normal people) to the outcrop in Ebbadalen in 2005;
copyright Marilyn Fogel

2005 crew at the

2005 crew at the “blueberries” outcrop in Ebbadalen;
copyright Marilyn Fogel

Steelie and Liane sampling

Steelie and Liane sampling “blueberries” at the outcrop in Ebbadalen in 2005;
copyright Marilyn Fogel

This year several ‘old’ friends (naturally NOT in age but due to the status of common ‘Arctic ‘war’ buddies) agreed to assemble again in Longyearbyen and take a trip down memory lane while going back to Eddadalen. We want to try to elucidate the problems related to the abiogenic or biogenic nature of ‘blueberries’ (see later blog) in the evaporite sequences in Eddadalen.

The team will consist of : the sedimentologist, Arctic all rounder and our safety guru Ivar (University of Oslo, Norway), the chaotic lovely Steelie (Carnegie Institution of Washington),  queen Thora AKA Marilyn and Chris (University of California Merced) as well as another BOS (Babe Of Science)  Pan (NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre). We will be joined by two new members (Anja Sundal arom Oslo Uni and Steffi Lutz from Leeds Uni) who will make sure we stay on track and do not divert too much into the past 🙂 . This is because our common aim is to have as much fun as possible, not be eaten by Polar Bears and do some great science.

In the second week Steffi and I will fly to Ny Alesund, where we will be stationed in the Sverdrup Station as guests of the Norks Polar Institute. Our aim is to collect rock samples from the forefield of Midre Lovebreen to complement samples and data for our Arctic Soils project and also to sample again snow and ice on the top end of Feiringbreen as part of Steffi’s PhD project (well these samples will be part of life beyond her PhD 😉 ).

Ny Alesund area with the two sites (Midre Lovebreen forfield) and top part of Feiringbreen marked from

Ny Alesund area with the two sites (Midre Lovebreen forefield and top part of Feiringbreen) marked from

More later.

for updates see also webcam link to Ny Alesund and Longyearbyen.

Summer 2014 Guestblog by Joshua Blacker (@6josh) – Arctic feldwork – Tarfala -“The End is Nigh” :-(

Week two: “The End is Nigh” 😦

We started the 2nd week with great enthusiasm after the first week’s sampling success and with the continuation of the marvelous un-Arctic-like-weather, ~20°C sunshine.

Liane and Alex on Storglacieren

Liane and Alex on Storglacieren copyright liane g. benning

By Wednesday evening we completed the sampling of the whole sequence in front of Storglaciaren. We established a nice sequence and with many samples collected biologically clean and in triplicate and with all the in situ measurements done at each site we were happy to have a great set of samples. In addition, we also managed to collect at two different sites two full 50 cm cores very successfully … these will be used to gain a depth profile of the sites with respect to changes in weathering and biological succession and thus complement the chronosequence data.

Josh at core site 2 copyright liane g. benning

Josh at core site 2
copyright liane g. benning

And that was not all; together with other researchers at Tarfala we had the chance to fly again in a helicopter and managed to sample another (also well dated by images and through clear moraines) chronosequence in the forefield of different glacier – Rabots (67°55’N, 18°29’E). The forefield of Rabots allowed us to sample an alternative sub-Arctic site and this will act as a perfect comparison to Storglaciaren and the glaciers sampled last year in Svalbard and the ice sheet forefield sequences that I will sample in a few weeks in Greenland. Rabots is very different topographically to Storglaciaren because amongst other major differences, the forefield of Storglaciaren is a lot steeper to both Rabots and Midre Lovebreen (Svalbard).

Rabots glacier is also well known because of a catastrophic military aeroplane crash in March 2012, which resulted in human fatalities and its wreckage including a large amount of hydrocarbon fuel was scattered on the surface of Rabots glacier and dispersed in its catchment. Glaciologists from the University of Stockholm who work at Tarfala Station continue to study the effects the hydrocarbons have  on the glacier and local ecosystem.

It is important to note that Tarfala has a great lab facility and thus when we returned our samples back to station eahc day we could immediately also process the samples. For the soil samples we measured pH and conductivity, we also measured bulk moisture contents and wet and dry soil colour …

soils for dry colour assessment using the Munsel chart

soils for dry colour assessment using the Munsel chart

After a very successful field-campaign, scientific discussion with some great company [including many selfies… honestly, I did not piss off my supervisors… 😉 ]

selfie on glacier

selfie on glacier

…. and fantastic weather (which even melted within short time Olaf the snow man that was build by Katja and Pia – station staff)…


Olaf the snowman


… sadly it was time to leave. We packed our equipment, removed our samples from the -80°C freezer, weighed and distributed the samples in the various ice boxes and again via helicopter we left Tarfala with some fantastic memories and the will to return at some point.


The glaciers of Tarfala Valley

The glaciers of Tarfala Valley

Summer 2014 Guestblog by Joshua Blacker (@6Josh) – Swimming in an Arctic lake – for fun!

Week 1 – – Swimming in an Arctic lake – for fun!

We arrive at Tarfala station after an enthralling Helicopter shuttle ride. On the approach we could see the research station nestled at the lowest part of a-typical glacial U-shaped valley. The landscape at first glance was an amalgamation of an Alpine/Arctic environment and thus we immediately saw that this would provide us with a unique place to study the initial stages Arctic soil formation.

The stations chef greeted us upon landing. He was a young chap with a Viking-like appearance bearing pagan medallions around his neck, a short scruffy beard and long hair. We unpacked our belongings and research equipment then conducted a field-recce of the Storglaciaren  forefield – this will be our primary field site.



Storglacieren and surrounding – from Jonsell et al., 2013

The forefield of Storglaciaren (67°54′10″N 18°34′00″E) was chosen as a field-site as the glacier holds the longest recorded continued monitoring of its mass balance in the world – they monitored this in detail since 1946. Using a combination of satellite imagery, aerial photograph and old maps we were able to date a succession of moraines left behind by the retreating glacier since the Last Glacial Maximum. This chronosequence (age-sequence) aids us to investigate how sub-Arctic soils form.

Tarfala Research Station  liane g benning

Tarfala Research Station copyright liane g benning

Over the course of the next two weeks we planned to collect a clear sequence of samples from the terminus of the glacier where newly exposed rock/sediment/minerals were visible and all the way to highly vegetated ‘mature’ soils. Furthermore, we also collected samples from the glacial surface (snow algae, cryoconite and other microbial samples) as well as outflow samples from the draining rivers to obtain an idea of what inputs chemically drive Sub-Arctic glacial forefield development.

At the end of day four/five we had collected approximately 2/3rds of the samples from our glacial forefield. To celebrate as a representative of the British team I decided to swim one of the many pro-glacial lakes that were fed by glacial melt water (and this promptly impressed the Swedish leader Ninis !) .

Josh Swimming in an Arctic Lake copyright liane g benning

Josh Swimming in an Arctic Lake
copyright liane g benning

As you can imagine the water was freezing, literally (1-2°C). Small snow lumps floated past as I attempted to maintain my cool and swim; a few days later even the ‘elders in the Bristish team (liane and Alex) took a swim – and even Alex – our local Brazilian was therefore forgiven for yelping like a wounded animal because he was not accustom to the cold water.

At the weekend we decided to take leisurely hike, but being scientists we couldn’t resist to combine this with more sample collection collecting – this time a little more icy – snow algae for Steffi (see previous blogs). We hiked up to Darfaljavri, a glacial lake and then 1/3rd the way-up Kaskasatjåkka mountain (2072m) to observe the spectacular views of Tarfala Valley and of the four glaciers situated within it.

Josh, Alex and Liane in Tarfala copyright liane g benning

Josh, Alex and Liane in Tarfala
copyright liane g benning

Although we came across plenty of green snow along (a precursor to the red snow) the red Chlamydomonas nivalis (red/watermelon snow algae) eluded us, as it was too early in the melt-season. Interesting fact: red snow algae produce carotenoid pigments (the same you find in carrots) to protect them from powerful solar radiance found on fresh snow that has a high albedo – their own form of sun cream… cool!

Red snow at Tarfala  copyright liane g benning

Red snow at Tarfala 2013
  copyright liane g benning

Sunday was our intended day of ‘tale it easier’, yet upon hearing that some of the station’s staff were going to find an ice cave I couldn’t resist. The trek to the cave was a fairly routine hike. As we climbed higher out of the valley it’s sides became steeper and more treacherous, we edged along its periphery using our crampons and ice axes until we spied the opening.

Josh entering the Ice Cave copyright Yoann

Josh entering the Ice Cave
copyright Yoann (French staff member)

Marvelous experience. More to come.

Summer 2014 – Guest Blog by Joshua Blacker (@6josh) – Arctic fieldwork – The bugs ‘rock’ in Tarfala

Summer 2014 – Arctic Fieldwork – Joshua Blacker (@6Josh) guest blogging

Part 1 – Arctic Sweden – The bugs ‘rock’ in Tarfala


Day 1 – “the joys of traveling”

So it begins, our journey into the land of the “swedes”. We arrive promptly at Manchester Airport at 6 am, equip with five over-cumbering pieces of luggage, a bazooka (1.5m depth probe) and toes that were itching to walk-upon Arctic soil and ice once again.

@ Joshua Blacker

one of the many pieces of our luggage showing our soil ‘poky stick’ AKA our 2014 bazooka on a trolley in Manchester airport  © Joshua Blacker

The first stop on our journey was Switzerland, Zurich, and after a brief moment deliberating whether we should stay or vacate the airport, we head for Zrich city centre. Liane, being well acquainted with Zurich (studied there for her PhD) took the role of tour guide for the afternoon. Zurich was beautiful, partially because the Swiss clearly took so much pride in everything (it was not surprisingly extremely spotless), but also because the city is situated in a valley surrounded by rolling mountains with a large lake in the bottom… and because of chocolate… and sunny weather

Sprungly chocolate cakes in Zurich 2014 @liane g benning

Sprungly chocolate cakes in Zurich 2014
© liane g benning

  ©  liane g benning

Josh and Liane at Lake Zurich, June 2014 © liane g benning


Our next flight Zurich to Arlanda, Stockholm was delayed and the next transfer was a nightmare – we arrived in Stockholm to find our luggage re-check-in was 1000000 miles away from where we picked it up from the conveyor belt – it was in a different terminal at the other side of the airport. We dashed through Arlanda airport and its many obstacles with our strange luggage… and the bazooka to find our next flight was also delayed… phew! We thought we will miss our flight but as it was also delayed we managed to actually meet our third party member – Alex Anesio A.K.A the pooper trooper, from Bristol.

Finally after 16 hours of traveling (almost enough time to reach the west coast of the U.S.A) we arrived in Kiruna in Arctic Sweden (68° N) – our final destination – to a specular rainbow.

Kiruna Airport rainbow @liane g benning

Kiruna Airport rainbow
© liane g benning