After being introduced to traits based ecology earlier this year, I wanted to gain a better understanding of how plant functional traits links to larger ecosystem processes, such as carbon exchange between atmosphere, plants and soil. This is the reason why I participated in the carbon flux group. I learned a lot about carbon flux measurements and especially how sensitive the soil is to disturbance. This is especially interesting when you think about how climate change leads to more erosion, landslides and thawing permafrost in the Arctic. Processing carbon flux data is a lot of work, and we did not get around to link the data to the plant functional traits data. Luckily, the traits course is great on data sharing, and my fellow students showed huge interest for the collected data. Linking carbon flux data and plant functional traits data is therefore something that can be done after the stay on Svalbard
Svalbard can, like rest of the Arctic, be considered a desert as the cold air can’t hold much moisture. However, with a changing climate, the Arctic s becoming warmer – and wetter. This posed some challenges to our group because it often was simply too dark to measure photosynthesis. I learned to accept that no matter how well you plan something you might end up abandoning all your plans due to a change in weather.
As expected, most people on Svalbard, both locals and tourists, accepted that the planted is warming, and that it is due to human activities. Coming from mainland Norway, this is the same perception as I experience among people on the mainland. However, the reasons for being worried about the changes are somewhat different. On the mainland people talk a lot about negative consequences for food production and more immigrants as parts of the world becomes unliveable. The concerns amongst the locals on Svalbard were more similar to concerns of the locals in Peru – more landslides and melting glaciers.
I found knocking on peoples’ doors to survey them a bit intrusive, and I was more comfortable with interviewing people on the street. I also got the impression that the people we interviewed thought that was a nice way to be approached. The most memorable interaction was with a couple of tourists that brought the surveys to a hotel to fill them out indoor (it was a cold day). Due to some misunderstanding we could not find each other again, and we considered the surveys to be lost. Then, in the evening, we met the tourists by coincident on a remote road in the end of Longyearbyen when we were out fossil hunting. They had brought the surveys with them in case they would run into us. Since we did not bring the usual sunglasses that we hand out as a thank for answering the survey, we offered the tourists one of the fossils we found. My point with this story is not that we should hand out fossils instead of sunglasses, but I found it interesting that the tourists acknowledged the value of their answers to the survey and put effort into bringing it back to us.