Working in Abisko

Working in Abisko

By Hannah Beck

It’s taken me so long to assemble this post because I have been working in Abisko! Fitting three incubation experiments into four weeks—including setup and takedown, plus a whole weekend at Umeå University with the rest of my cohort and our collaborators—has kept me busy indeed! Eilea’s blog post urging us to remember to balance life and work was a lesson I really needed to learn, and I’m a bit embarrassed at how little I managed to actually act on it, especially in the land of lagom.

            My project in Abisko has been a sort of mirror to my project at my home university. At LSU, I’m studying sediment microbial respiration in the northern Gulf of Mexico, an area highly impacted by the Mississippi River. In Abisko, I’m studying sediment microbial respiration in three small lakes that have minimal human impact.

My first successful sediment core from Lake Almberga! My collaborator Jenny Ask (left) taught me how to use a gravity corer.

My experiment is set up as sediment core incubations. From each lake, I take sediment cores and water and keep them in a dark incubation chamber. Over the course of a week, I take water samples from the cores. Measuring things like dissolved oxygen and pH will help me find out how active the microbes are in the sediment, and how they affect the chemistry of the overlying water column.

My sediment cores arranged with circulation pumps in an incubation chamber.

At the last minute of planning our experiment, my collaborator and I added on a smaller light incubation for each location in order to measure primary production. This made me laugh at myself quite a bit; the Gulf sediments that I’m used to handling are essentially just sediment—there’s no algae layer between the sediment and the water, so I’d completely forgotten to include algae as a factor in my experiment design! This meant that I needed two field days per lake instead of one, and that the “20 extra” sample vials that I brought suddenly became “5 too few”. This is only one example of the many challenges that come with doing science in an unfamiliar location. I’m exhausted, but every single challenge has turned into something immensely rewarding—a learning experience like no other.

A sediment core from Lake Almberga, with distinctly visible algae layer and redox conditions. 

A sediment core from the northern Gulf of Mexico, looking very homogenous.

Essential Swedish vocabulary:

Lagom. This is the Swedish ideal of balance and harmony between work and pleasure, which is well represented by the prevalence of fika. Additionally, most Swedes get much more paid vacation time off of work than Americans do, and are generally resistant to working overtime or outside of normal business hours—this has been a very foreign concept to me, the workaholic American graduate student!

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