The first important event in my life that was related to the world underwater took place when I was a child, when my godfather brought me a book, bearing the name of Captain Cousteau, as a present. I remember where I was sitting. I remember what it felt like to read of the journey of Jacques Piccard to the Mariana Trench and back, using a submersible (a bathyscaphe) called Trieste. It made me afraid of getting caught in the jaws of a giant clam. I wondered if they existed in the Baltic Sea?
Last February took place at the Tvärminne Zoological Station the third edition of the Finmari researcher days. Finmari stands for Finnish Marine Research Infrastructure and it is a distributed infrastructure network of field stations, research vessels and multi-purpose icebreakers, laboratory facilities, ferryboxes, fixed measurement platforms and buoys of the Finnish marine research community.
Over two days, marine researchers presented their work with subjects ranging from plastic and noise pollution to climate change and biodiversity.
In the context of the newly launched communication project about the Finnish research stations (#tietaajarakastaa), the talks could be recorded in video. In this post you can see the first video, featuring researcher Pinja Näkki from SYKE, about the fate of microplastics in marine sediments. The rest of the talks will be available here.
NEW PAPER! Coastal ecosystems of the Baltic Sea are strongly influenced by inputs of material from rivers. Eutrophication and climate change are altering these inputs, hence there is an urgent need to understand the natural cycling of terrestrial material in estuaries. In a new open access paper in Biogeosciences, Tom Jilbert and colleagues from the Aquatic Biogeochemistry Research Unit (ABRU) studied the effect of riverine inputs of iron on sediment microbial processes in Pojo Bay, an estuary close to TZS. Sediments host rich microbial communities that carry out key ecosystem functions such as the breakdown of organic matter and recycling of nutrients. Because many microbes use iron in their metabolism, the natural input of iron minerals from rivers may be important in regulating the microbial functioning of coastal sediments. Tom’s work shows that dissolved iron in river water precipitates in the estuarine environment via a process known as flocculation, leading to higher rates of microbial iron utilization in nearshore areas. The abundance of iron in coastal sediments could have knock-on effects for other sedimentary processes, including carbon burial and the production of methane.
Tvärminne Zoological Station arranges a doors open event September 16, at 11 am to 17 pm. Clearly, as the name suggests, the event is directed towards the greater public. For decades, the event has been arranged every 5 years, and this is true also in 2017. The timing and interval allow us to acknowledge every 5 year milestone of the station’s existence, and this year we celebrate the 115th anniversary.
Over the years, it has become clear that the station’s activities are highly interesting to our guests. In fact, each time, one of the most frequent comments is that we should welcome the public more often. As much as we would like to, we unfortunately have to point out that the doors open event ties the resources of personnel and scientists not only that day, but for weeks beforehand, when we make preparations.
Nevertheless, we of course welcome the demand! In fact, last time the demand was so great, that we had about 1 000 visitors! (Keeping in mind that Hanko has only ca 8 000 inhabitants, and the whole region roughly 50 000, this is quite remarkable – in the Helsinki region a similar demand would translate into tens of thousands of visitors!)
We can only guess why there is such a great interest in our activities. One thing would probably be that the topics we study are attractive. For instance, most people who live in a coastal town have some connection to the sea, and hence also are interested in the state of the coastal waters. Also, our research is frequently present in the media, and obviously people want to learn more. I guess our visitors also realize that there is great added value in learning hands on about our studies (from enthusiastic scientists), compared to more passive media content (who wouldn’t prefer to see a live flounder rather than just reading texts and looking at photographs?).
A further added value – which I am not sure the visitors would know beforehand – is the fact that by far not all of our study subjects are presented in media. Especially I would say this goes for basic (but high-level), curiosity driven science. Typically, such topics do not have a direct connection to, say human activity or applied environmental issues. Nevertheless, it is satisfying to see that also these topics are met with great curiosity also by our users, when presented by our motivated scientists. Specifically, I have noted that terrestrial and evolutionary topics get the exposure they deserve, although they are not typically head-line stuff in local media.
I may sound a bit defensive when I suggest that we cannot welcome great numbers of visitors more often. This of course does not take away our responsibility to interact with society in the meantime. And naturally we do! Media was already mentioned – we do not stand on our heads to be available, but it is not far away. Social media are a given. We also welcome large numbers of visitors in smaller groups annually.
But can we get better? Sure we can. Quite recently, we have started to put more effort into online data – as pointed out the state of the sea is something that attracts a great interest. This goes hand in hand with both new technologies to collect data, and with an urge from society to make data open and accessible.
This does not come without challenge, however. Even if we can attract funds to buy new instruments, there are at least three additional bottlenecks. Firstly, the instrumentation requires know-how and manpower to be operated. Secondly, the data have to be validated and refined. (Nobody does anything with just a huge amount of numbers.) Thirdly, the output has to be presented in a comprehensive way, and preferably commented upon for interpretation.
Typically, public infrastructure funds have limited or no space for the human resources needed to tackle the above bottlenecks. Here, we have taken the approach that there are also private companies that share our interest in public outreach, albeit from a different standpoint. With regards to the sea, such operators would be shipping companies and harbors, and we have also been fortunate to initialize collaboration with two companies with the sea as the common nominator – namely Viking Line and Port of Hanko. In both companies, there is an understanding on not only the hardware-demand, but also on the bottlenecks that require human resources.
Openness have other sides than meeting demands from the outside. Lastly, therefore, I would like to point out that events such as the doors open also motivate us as researchers. It is nice to shift focus sometimes, and see that our undertakings also attract the interest from the world outside. Society, I think it is called.
Text: Marko Reinikainen, director of Tvärminne Zoological Station
A new research initiative at Tvärminne Zoological Station (TZS) brings together long-term research projects and conducts field and laboratory experiments, all in order to understand the function of the Baltic food web and how it is affected by environmental change. The research focuses on a community module consisting of blue mussels, eider ducks and white tailed sea eagles. This module forms a central part of the Baltic ecosystem and contains a keystone species, a mesopredator and a top predator and it links the marine and the terrestrial environments. We investigate the direct and trophically mediated impacts of environmental change within this group of closely interacting species representing three different trophic levels. Special emphasis is put on the trophic interactions surrounding the eider duck and how these affect its population development. The eider populations are in precipitous decline and the species was recently classified as endangered within the EU. We hope to understand what processes are driving the eider populations and to mitigate potential threats.
In 2017 Kim Jaatinen (TZS) and Markus Öst (Åbo Akademi) conducted their traditional fieldwork studying the Tvärminne eider population. This season was especially interesting and worrisome: the research group recorded an all time low in the population’s offspring production. Normally the 12 km wide research area produces between 1000 and 2000 ducklings, but this year only a mere 41 ducklings were seen in the standard duckling survey conducted at the end of June. Predation by sea eagles plays a major role in this low production but also other causes are under investigation.
The blue mussel study conducted by Mats Westerbom, Kim Jaatinen and Alf Norkko focuses this year on analysing the effects of climate change on the population dynamics of this species so central to the Baltic ecosystem. In addition to applying new analysis techniques to the long-term data, the group has continued work on monitoring recruitment of young mussels to the population. This year a new monitoring scheme was started, which aims at following spatial and temporal variations in the condition (i.e., meat content) of the mussels.
The findings of this year’s projects will all shed light on the impact we are having on the Baltic Sea and how its ecosystem will be affected. This knowledge may help us mitigate the bad influence we are having on our environment. Stay tuned for upcoming results!
Text: Dr. Kim Jaatinen, Tvärminne Zoological Station
Photos: Heikki Eriksson & Kim Jaatinen