Au revoir Vallée de la Vézère

Back in France, in the Périgord, and in the beautiful Vézère valley, where the very last excursion of the course on human evolution is taking place. Having taught this course now for more than eight years, and after probably a total of 20 excursion weeks to Les Eyzies, it is time to move on and shift focus.

Twenty-eight students from Stockholm University and two from Lund University are attending this year’s autumn excursion, all eager to learn more about Neanderthals, Homo sapiens, their remains, encounters, tools, art, and way of living; about the formation of caves and rock-shelters, about the geology of the region, and how humans made use of geology by selecting the best flint for their tools, searching for manganese or iron oxides to be used for colouring and painting.

The sun is shining, the sky is blue and daily temperatures reach 27 °C during this week. The Vallée de la Vézère is really at its best.

It feels said to say good-bye to all the kind people I have come to get to know in and around Les Eyzies, and who have helped me in many various ways with the excursion: Madame Spadi in Beaune, where we always rented a small house and were always welcomed with a homemade cake; the staff at Abri Pataud, who allowed me to make my own little tour in the abri; Cécile and Florence at the Musée de la Préhistoire, who guided our students in the museum, in Le Moustier, La Ferrassie, La Micoque, and Laugerie Haute a million times and never seem to get tired of us; the staff and guides at the Musée de la Préhistoire, at Font de Gaume, Cap Blanc, and Les Combarelles, who gradually warmed up to us and then did everything they could to arrange things in the best possible way; the guides at Pech Merle and Cougnac, who were always in the mood for a good joke, even though some students did not behave the way they should have; the Plassard family at Rouffignac, who made the visits to my favorite cave each time a fantastic adventure; Philippe and Christine Jugie and their staff at Restaurant Chez Jugie in Laugerie Basse, whose confit de canard will be remembered for ever; the friendly people at Auberge du Musée, where we could sit and be connected for hours on end; Bernard Ginelli, reluctant at first to receive us, soon entertained us with his jokes, while demonstrating how to make bifaces; Roland our kind and friendly driver, who helped in all possible ways and taught the students some basic French; Francesco and Will for driving all the way from Bordeaux to Les Eyzies to give excellent lectures; and last, but not least, Jacqueline, with her knowledge of Sweden, who helped me to understand the French way of doing things. Thank you so much to all of you! I won’t say good-bye, actually, I will say au revoir!

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Tovetorp – a little jewel

Stockholm University has a number of research stations, which are all located in beautiful surroundings: the Tarfala Research Station in northernmost Sweden; the Askö Laboratory on the island of Askö in the Baltic Sea; Tovetorp, southeast of Stockholm; and the Navarino Environmental Observatory in Greece. These stations are mainly dedicated to research, but are also frequently used for teaching, meetings, conferences, and field studies, and are definitely worth a visit!

Last year I visited the Navarino Environmental Observatory, where the Bolin Centre for Climate Research had organised a PhD course, and last week I was able to visit the zoological research station Tovetorp, where members of the faculty board held their annual meeting.

Tovetorp is reached after a several kilometer-long drive on small forest roads. It appears suddenly, looking like a small village composed of the typical Swedish wooden houses, in the middle of fields, lakes and forests. Tovetorp ‘belongs’ to the Department of Zoology at Stockholm University, and it is here in this beautiful country side where several important research projects are carried out. Projects deal with different types of birds and their behavior, others study for example butterflies, fish, worms, and different types of mammals. The short tour around the station gave us a flavor of the research that is being conducted, and also showed how important this research station is for studying animals and monitoring their behavior in great detail.

One of the projects that has received quite some attention is focused on comparing the development and behavior of dog and wolf puppies. For this, the station has fenced in two large areas for the dog and wolf puppies, respectively. Thus wolf puppies and dog puppies live separately, but can ‘meet’ each other by watching and smelling each other across the high fences. The fences are pretty high, and the one containing the wolf puppies is actually a double-spaced fence, just to make sure that they can’t escape. By observing the development of wolf puppies, researchers hope to find out much more about dogs and their evolution. This sounds like a really fascinating project!

But – of course we did not come to Tovetorp to learn about animal behavior, we came here to spend two days discussing faculty matters! It felt nice to have a meeting here in the country side, surrounded by forest, fields and fruit trees; no street lights, and complete silence during the night, only to be woken up by a rooster crowing in the morning. In addition, we were served excellent food, which had been prepared by two really skilled local cooks! All in all, this is a great place to hold a meeting!

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Following the Icebreaker Oden

About a week ago, most of my colleagues started their long travel via Anchorage and Barrow to the Icebreaker Oden, who will transport them across the Arctic Ocean back to Tromsö and finally to Stockholm. Out of about 25 people in our corridor, 12 have left for Oden’s Leg #2, which means it is really really quiet here on floor 2.

Oden’s whole trip from Sweden to Alaska and back to Sweden can be followed at http://oden.geo.su.se/map/, where a detailed map is displayed. The map provides links to the daily blogs and also up-to-date information on Oden’s speed, air pressure, wind speed, wind direction, water temperature, and sea ice concentration.

Bloggers on Oden from floor 2 include Carina Johansson, Christian Stranne, Francesco Muschitiello and Martin Jakobsson, who have been documenting the trip since August 17. It is fun to read the different blogs, because each provides different and personal perspectives: general impressions of Alaska and Barrow, what has been achieved in terms of work (echo sounding to map the water column, seafloor and sub-bottom sediments), expectations, weather (from calm to rough sea), or, how life feels on board of Oden.

Oden left Barrow on August 21 and has now already arrived at the first coring spot and everyone seems to be really curious to spot the first deep sea mud! Maybe tomorrow we will learn how well the coring operation worked and how many meters of mud could be recovered.

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Life is not easy …

The last four to six months as a PhD student are probably the worst – real deadlines have to be met, manuscripts have to be finished, the thesis summary has to be completed, the thesis defense has to be prepared, and the supervisor is suddenly changing from being the friendly mother into becoming a demanding, questioning and sometimes angry parent.

What started out so calmly and nice some four years ago, with endless freedom and time for research, sports, friends, music and Facebook, suddenly turns into a seemingly never ending nightmare, with long working days and sleepless nights, and the advice to restrain from Facebook and to concentrate on the one and only thing: finishing the work!

The weeks leading up the thesis defense are probably the toughest. Questions such as – Will the committee and the opponent regard my work as sufficient and good enough to be defended? Will I be able to answer all the questions at the defense? How well will my lecture go? – will turn round and round ….

Then the big day comes and goes, the student is no longer a PhD student and a new chapter starts.

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Pedagogic prize – teacher of the year in natural sciences

Each year Stockholm University invites nominations for the best teachers of the year. Employees and students can nominate a teacher, who has shown excellent pedagogic abilities, who has shown and demonstrated a strong interest in further developing teaching and who just is an excellent teacher.

This year and also last year teachers from the section of Earth and Environmental Sciences received the pedagogic prize among all natural science teachers. Clas Hättestrand from the Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology was awarded this year’s teacher of the year, and last year it was Alasdair Skelton from the Department of Geological Sciences, who received the pedagogy prize.

I did a rough calculation on how many teachers in natural sciences received the price over the years and came to 19 persons since 1992 (no prizes were awarded in the years 2005, 2006 and 2010 – maybe no one was nominated?). Of these Geosciences and Biology had obtained most prizes (six each), with the runner up being Physics.

This is a great achievement for Geosciences and shows that we have really good teachers, who have a strong interest in teaching and in developing their teaching, and who are very much appreciated by their students.

So, who were the other awardees in Geosciences? Here is the list of the geoscience teachers who received the prize:

2014 – Clas Hättestrand, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology
2013 – Alasdair Skelton, Department of Geological Sciences
2009 – Ingmar Borgström, Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology
2004 – Otto Hermelin, Department of Geological Sciences
2001 – Eve Arnold, Department of Geological Sciences
1992 – Marianne Särkinen, Department of Geological Sciences

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The weeks after midsummer

Midsummer in Sweden is not only an important holiday, marking the longest day of the year; it is also the time of the year when life start to slow down. This is especially obvious when it comes to university life. The number of students decreases dramatically, the few campus restaurants gradually close, fewer and fewer people are at work and more and more offices remain empty. Each year geese take over all the green spaces where just a few days ago, students had celebrated the end of the term.

The weeks after midsummer are when most people in Sweden take their holidays, hoping for a nice summer with loads of sunshine and warm temperatures. Too often, however, the summer does not turn out as wished. Temperatures around 15-20 degrees C, rain and wind are a more normal Swedish summer than high temperatures and continuous sunshine. But – it does happen – we do experience gorgeous warm summers with little rain!

The weeks after midsummer and until mid August are special and are probably the quietest time of the year on campus; a perfect time to focus on research, and on all the unfinished work that had been piling up during the term. Time to read articles and to write manuscripts, and maybe prepare for the upcoming autumn term. Or time to relax, meet family and friends, go for long walks, take a sailing trip in the beautiful archipelago or pick mushrooms in the surrounding forests.

But for some the weeks after midsummer are still pretty busy. Stockholm University runs for example a few summer courses, mostly aimed at exchange students. And I know of several PhD students who will defend their work in autumn and who will need to work through the summer to get their thesis ready!

I wish all of you a really nice, relaxing and productive summer! Winter is not very far away!

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Where will they all go?

One of the larger events this year, at least for our Department, will be the SWERUS-C3 expedition to the Arctic. More than half of the researchers at IGV (Dept of Geological Sciences) will join the expedition, which is led by Martin Jakobsson (IGV) and Örjan Gustafsson (ITM). Our corridors and our department will feel empty with so many people gone! But then – who would not want to join this exciting Swedish – Russian – USA expedition with the Swedish icebreaker Oden from Norway through the Arctic Ocean to Barrow in Alaska and back again? For sure, the researchers will see icebergs and polar bears, but also a seemingly never ending ocean. It is however not the icebergs and the polar bears that are the focus of this expedition!

The expedition, which has been carefully planned for many years, aims at a better understanding of how global climate change will affect the East Siberian Arctic Ocean, a part of the world that is experiencing very fast rates of climate warming. The East Siberian Arctic Ocean is very special since it holds vast quantities of submarine (shelf, slope) and coastal permafrost and this permafrost in turn stores huge amounts of carbon and methane. What will happen to these greenhouse gases if (or when) the permafrost starts to melt? They will be released and will add considerable amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere! But how much and how fast? And how stable are these deposits, some of which are concentrated to the slope, i.e. the part between the shelf and the deep ocean? Up to now little is known about the stability of these methane bearing frozen layers.

The researchers joining the SWERUS expedition will certainly be able to watch polar bears, but they will probably be very busy most of the time during this three month long journey. They will continuously measure emissions of carbon and methane, will take sediment samples to investigate if some of the carbon may be buried, and they will take long sediment sequences to place the current warming in a longer time perspective. Maybe there has been a time interval in the past, when permafrost has melted and carbon was released into the atmosphere? Probably one will have to travel far back in time to find a situation similar to today’s rapid warming? The sediment cores will definitely tell us!

SWERUS will for sure provide updates on the expedition. Until now one can join them on Facebook and get first hand information on who, when, where and what.

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