Photo: Riko Noormets
Research vessel outside Seven Islands (Photo from the expedition in 2016.) Photo: Riko Noormets

The expedition includes researchers from the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), Stockholm University, Lund University, the University of Tromsø and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, in addition to a group of students from nine countries studying on the “Arctic Late Quaternary Glacial and Marine Environmental History” course at UNIS.

“This will be a unique opportunity for the students as well as researchers to collect new data using modern techniques from this scarcely investigated part of the Arctic” says Riko Noormets, expedition leader and Professor of Arctic Geology at UNIS, and continues: “The small Arctic islands we are targeting with our fieldwork are located only a few tens of kilometers north of the largest ice caps presently in Eurasia, Austfonna and Vestfonna.“

Follow up from expedition 2016

Landscape at Seven Islands (Photo from the expedition in 2016.) Photo: Riko Noormets

The expedition follows up the work from a longer expedition during 2016 to Seven Islands, where the focus was on mapping submarine landforms and the acoustic structure of the sediments from UNIS’ research vessel “Viking Explorer”.

“We mapped slightly more than 1300 km2 of seafloor around the Seven Islands.  What we see in the maps we create helps us to reconstruct the behavior of former ice masses that covered this area once upon a time. And eventually, it will help improving numerical models simulating future climate change in the Arctic”, says Nina Kirchner, Associate professor of Glaciology at Stockholm University.

Bouys measure near-bottom temperature

Deployed during the 2016 Seven Island expedition, a series of LoTUS bouys developed by KTH Royal Institute of Technology, measure near-bottom temperature variations around the Seven Islands. LoTUS buoys surface on a pre-programmed date and send the data collected back to KTH onshore-parties via Iridium link.

“We have already received data from LoTUS buoys that were deployed in Kongsfjorden and Billefjorden close to the fronts of calving glaciers”, says Noormets and explains that the data is now used to investigate the link between water temperature in the fjord and calving activity of the glaciers which terminate in the fjord. “The LoTUS buoys from the Seven Islands should surface and start transmitting data in a few months, giving us more than 2 years of data – if all goes well” he adds.

Autonomous vehicles map bottom of lakes

“New technology can help in areas which are notoriously difficult to access” continues Kirchner. During the forthcoming expedition, small autonomous surface and underwater vehicles will be used to map the bottom morphology of small lakes on the Seven Islands. These are, just as the LoTUS buoys, developed at the Maritime Robotics Laboratory at KTH. 

“It’s great to see that the efforts we’ve made to develop these autonomous platforms is paying off in valuable data for environmental research and it’s a great experience preparing for”, says Elias Strandell Erstorp, PhD student at KTH, who takes part in the expedition.

Also, sediment cores will be taken from these lakes. Together with studies of the glacial landforms and sediments in natural outcrops, and collection of samples for radiocarbon dating from the outcrops and from the elevated beach ridges, the expedition will add to the understanding on the growth and decay of  the vanished Svalbard-Barents Sea Ice sheet, and the Holocene environmental history in its northern sector.

“We are looking  forward to returning to the Seven Islands, to continue where we left off in 2016 and especially, to explore Storøya, which has not been visited by research parties since 1980”, Noormets and Kirchner conclude.

Read moore on the expedition in 2016.