Life under the waves

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?

The story continues in John Nurminen foundation’s blog

Never a boring day

Finnish Meterological Institute and their under water glider.
Finnish Meterological Institute’s under water glider.

A melting pot of environmental sciences – OR – “Full speed at TZS”. This is how many different user groups we might have in just ONE DAY!

Today there is a university course in biodiving, we have two different high schools visiting as part of their Baltic Sea curriculum, the Meteorological Institute (FMI Beta) just arrived to deploy their glider, the Metsähallitus continues their underwater mapping, this time doing archaeological work together with The Finnish Heritage Agency (Museovirasto) in the BalticRIM procjet. And tonight the research vessel Geomari from Geologian tutkimuskeskus (Geological Survey of Finland) will arrive. In addition, there are all the in-house research projects that are conducting their field sampling right now, with scientists from the University of HelsinkiUniversity of Southern DenmarkÅbo AkademiYrkeshögskolan Novia – RaseborgMonash University, Nature and Game Management Trust Finland (Luonnon- ja riistanhoitosäätiö), and probably a few others!

Never a boring day!

TZS boat house and pier full of people.
TZS boat house and pier full of people.
Sun is shining and the gear are getting dry.
Sun is shining and the gear are getting dry.

Text and photos: Joanna Norkko

Third Finmari researcher days at Tvärminne

Finmari seminar 2018 at TZS (photo: J. M. Cano).

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.

Iron from the rivers

Picture 1. (a) 2-D contour plots of dissolved (top) and particulate (bottom) Fe in the water column along the Mustionjoki transect (Stations A–<br /> K), operationally defined by filtration at 0.45 µm, June 2015. White circles represent sampling positions (vertical depth resolution = 5 m).<br /> (b) Data from “a” plotted against salinity, including trend lines for Fepart (polynomial) and Fediss (logarithmic). Linear conservative mixing<br /> lines (CMLs) are drawn between the high- and low-salinity end-member samples for Fepart and Fediss. The inferred dominant processes<br /> controlling Fepart along the salinity transect are indicated by the grey bars (T. Jilbert et al.: Impacts of flocculation on the diagenesis of iron, 2018).
Picture 1. (a) 2-D contour plots of dissolved (top) and particulate (bottom) Fe in the water column along the Mustionjoki transect (Stations A–
K), operationally defined by filtration at 0.45 µm, June 2015. White circles represent sampling positions (vertical depth resolution = 5 m).
(b) Data from “a” plotted against salinity, including trend lines for Fepart (polynomial) and Fediss (logarithmic). Linear conservative mixing
lines (CMLs) are drawn between the high- and low-salinity end-member samples for Fepart and Fediss. The inferred dominant processes
controlling Fepart along the salinity transect are indicated by the grey bars (T. Jilbert et al. 2018: Impacts of flocculation on the diagenesis of iron).

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.

Tom Jilbert with the bottom sampler.
Tom Jilbert with the bottom sampler.

New web-pages published

New www-pages for UH research stations are now open @

The University of Helsinki research stations (RESTAT UHEL) offer excellent logistics and support for research and teaching. With their long history the stations are able to provide long term environmental back-ground data sets from the Baltic Sea to the north of Finland. The stations have modern infrastructure to support a wide variety of research, from field studies to laboratory analyses. Accommodation and catering services make the stay at the stations easy and comfortable. RESTAT UHEL is one of the infrastructure platforms of the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE).

From the stations’ www-pages you can find the core information about the stations, pricing information and the latest news.

Communicating and caring about the Finnish Research stations

From Tvärminne to Kilpisjärvi photo: Niko Nappu 2017).

From 2018 a two-year project, funded by the Nessling Foundation, will create audio-visual content to communicate long-term research carried at Finnish research stations. The responsible of the project is JM Cano, data journalist and science communicator at Outgroup. The goals of the project are providing information about critical environmental issues and create awareness about the irreplaceable role of the research stations.

The project will deal with issues of paramount environmental and economic concern in Finland: the degradation of the Baltic Sea and inland waters, reindeer overgrazing in Lapland, and the loss of forest and peatland habitats with their associated species. All these topics are linked to human-induced climate change and land use, and of special relevance in the context of the current Bio-economy boom policy in Finland.

The information will be disseminated through social medial channels and will consist of videos, infographics and podcasts. This collaborative project aims at activating Finnish society towards the protection of nature and make more approachable the figure of the researchers. To do so, in addition to feature scientific information, the project will show the inside of the research process and portrait the researchers with their motivations and expectations.

We are all people travelling through space on the same planet, we all share needs, concerns and constrains. Evidence about the irreparable loss of ecosystems and biological diversity is out there and the persons uncovering and monitoring it are worth getting to know. Let’s not look aside, let’s mingle, get to know our environment and have a constructive dialogue. Knowing is caring.

Open house at Tvärminne Zoological Station in 2107.

Text & video: JM Cano

Coastal observatory – take a plunge to our under water world

Ålandsbanken, a finnish bank, has funded and supported different projects aiming for a healthier Baltic Sea for some years. This year 126 applications were submitted to the competition called The Baltic Sea Project. Twelve projects were chosen by the judges to proceed to the next stage, public voting. The winner of the voting is guaranteed the funding but usually several of the finalists will get funded.

Tvärminne Zoological Station took part to the competition together with DROPP with an innovative project from which you can read more below. Take a closer look at this and other competing projects and cast your vote today!


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!)

Tvärminne Zoological Station from air.
Tvärminne Zoological Station.

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.

Furuskär island just outside the station.
Furuskär island just outside the station.

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

The very important littoral zone from the air.

Environmental change on trophic interactions in the Baltic Sea

Eider duck has recently been classified as endangered within the EU (photo: Heikki Eriksson).
The eider duck has recently been classified as endangered within the EU (photo: Heikki Eriksson).

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.

Blue mussels covering the rocky bottom (photo: Kim Jaatinen).
Blue mussels covering the rocky bottom. The blue mussel is the main food item for eider ducks (photo: Kim Jaatinen).

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.

Bird number NS1A6243m ready to go (photo: Heikki Eriksson).
One more eider female measured, sampled and ready to go (photo: Heikki Eriksson).
Young eider ducks (photo: Heikki Eriksson).
These less than a day old eider ducklings are ready to go to sea (photo: Heikki Eriksson).

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!

A crushing wave. A typical element in the lives of the eider ducks and the blue mussels (photo: Kim Jaatinen).
A crushing wave. A typical element in the lives of the eider ducks and the blue mussels (photo: Kim Jaatinen).

Text: Dr. Kim Jaatinen, Tvärminne Zoological Station
Photos: Heikki Eriksson & Kim Jaatinen

Mobile nature observations at HiLIFE-stations

In order to introduce mobile data gathering tools, a web browser based visualization service was set up for the stations a few months ago. The service is aimed for any visitor at any of the stations; people can use their mobile devices to record their own nature observations. The observations made are visualized on a map below (fig. 1) in real-time. The idea of this project, besides introducing the tools, is to provide meaningful doing for different groups visiting or staying at the research stations. So far observations have been made by staff, researchers, different courses and sudden visitors.

Fig. 1. The mobile nature observations visualized on a map. A green marker means a positive observation and a red marker means a negative observation.

We used Open Data Kit –tools for data gathering and Google’s services in visualizing the data. All the tools used work seamlessly hand in hand. All the necessary tools have been installed and are available at the stations. Mobile data gathering tools can be used for example both in research and teaching purposes.

Using mobile devices for data gathering has some advantages against traditional field forms. With digital mobile forms, all kinds of data can be gathered simultaneously with one device. Besides of numeric data it’s also possible to record co-ordinates, take photos, record sound etc. With ready-made digital forms and pre-formatted answers to choose from, errors in writing down the data can be minimized. One big advantage is also that the data is sent directly to the server (or a spreadsheet) from the field. The forms work also off-line, which is very important in field conditions, also in a technologically advanced country like Finland there are numerous areas with no mobile data connection available.

Contact Lammi Biological Station for more information on the tools available. The nature observation system is at your disposal if you visit any of the five HiLIFE-stations.

There are also co-operation between Lammi Biological Station and some teachers around Finland. The idea is to use the mobile observation tools in school projects and public science projects.