• Art & Science Research Group

FINNMARK - Part 1/2

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Story by Unn Devik / Video by Sasha Azanova—

Report from Finnmark –

Permafrost field trip with researchers Hanna Lee and Inge Althuizen

Friday 4th of September three art students, Erla Audunsdottir, Unn Devik and Sasha Azanova, two researchers from the Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), Inge Althuizen and Hanna Lee and MA biology intern at NORCE Els Ribbers, left Bergen heading to Karasjok, in Finnmark, to study the thawing of permafrost.

Saturday 05.09.2020

We wake up at 06.00 at Karasjok Camping after a long day of traveling. Outside the window by the breakfast table, birch forests stretch wide. Up and down the lean hills they thrive, sometimes met by evergreen pine woods. In hues of blue, we see Iškoras, the mountain on which the research site is located. It is reassuring to have the sun, the moon, the atmosphere and the oceans to strike a difference between night and day.

After packing our lunches and backpacks we separate in a pair of 3 into two silver rental cars starting the 45 min drive up to Iškoras and the 35 min hike that awaits us from there.

We are carrying quite a lot of wood. The permafrost site has partly submerged into ponds and boggy mires. In order to cross from palsa to palsa (thawed or semi-thawed permafrost ground, not yet sunken and transformed into mire), we need to make boardwalks to prevent damage on the research site and from our feet sinking into the ground.

Solar panels give power to run electrical equipment and measuring instruments.

Permafrost palsa and mires covered in water grass. Sinking boardwalk. Should we make more?

An open top chamber. This miniature greenhouse creates a microclimate that is approximately 2 degrees warmer than the actual climate.

Here you see two observation plots, an open-top chamber (OTC) and one for researching changes within regular temperature conditions(C). MA1 student in Fine Art at Institute of Contemporary Art, KMD, Sasha Azanova, is noting down the collar heights following researcher Hanna Lee´s dictations. The collars are the grey plastic cylinders in the ground. The collar heights when measured from 4 diagonal points calculates the volume of the entire collar for a more precise estimation of the concentration of greenhouse gasses within it. This is done by putting a cap on the cylinder, then waiting for a set amount of time to measure the release and concentration of greenhouses gasses within that set timeframe. Over time this data can give more accurate data of emissions stemming from the thawing of permafrost.

Note: The permafrost is not melting, it is thawing. Imagine taking an aubergine out of the freezer, it does not melt, it thaws – the same principle applies for permafrost.

The aesthetics of the OTC containers makes us feel that we are part of a settling project on the Moon or on Mars. Here we are currently searching for possible ways of making space-agriculture possible.

We are measuring the thaw depth to see how much permafrost is gone since late summer last year. This is the time of the year when the thaw depth is at its lowest – before the temperatures drop and the ground refreeze. Some places the ground had thawed 20 cm since last year!

This time we measure the water table depth, to see what the groundwater height is like. First, put a pole to monitor the water table into the soil (the red line is indicating the groundwater level). On the next image the frost probe is withdrawn from the hole. After removing the pole, wait until the water has stopped rising. Then you can measure the distance from the surface of the water to the top of the hole. Measure several times for greater accuracy.

The water table level changes with the season, in the spring when the snow is melting the water table depth will be higher than late summer when the ground has had some time to dry up. When the ground refreezes in the autumn, it is not possible to take measurements. Over time it is possible to observe seasonal and annual changes to the groundwater levels.

Inge and Hanna making their way between the shrubs in the setting light of the sun.

Haiku of the day

Legs stick to the ground

Late summer thawing is deep

Next year some legs swim


Still Photography: Unn Devik / Sasha Azanova

Illustration: Unn Devik

Read Part 2/2 of this Story by Erla Auddunsdottir

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