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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Good prospects for geoscience students

The June issue of EOS featured a short article, which summarizes “The Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2014 Report”. This report, although based on a survey in the USA, is really good news for all geoscience students, because it predicts that there will be enough jobs available by the end of the next decades.

Of course it is hard to know how this survey translates to Europe, but given that most of our students easily find jobs today, prospects for the future may not be too bad. Energy and energy supply, raw materials, ores, water, natural hazards and environmental issues will certainly remain at the forefront and all these form part of geosciences.

For those of you who would like to read the full article and maybe even read the full report, here is the link:

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