Arctica gold in the Faroes

GO Sars PB2

GO Sars waits in Bergen before beginning the ARAMACC cruise to the Faroes. Picture: Paul Butler

We left Bergen at 17:00 Saturday 8th Nov, and took a 36 hour transit to first station (the seas reasonably calm considering the time of year), arriving at our first collection site off the SE of the Faroes at about 5am Monday 10th Nov.

10th November: With sauna, solarium and gym, GO Sars is a well equipped ship.  I’m not sure how much time we’ll have to use them though, since all the scientists will spend 12 hours of each day collecting and processing shells (and some are having to spend time in their rooms “acclimatizing” to life at sea).  For the past 24 hours we have been working off the SE side of the Faroes, at a grid of sites where Arctica has been collected before.  Here, we’ve collected a fair number of dead shells and a few live specimens, and also some shells from animals that died more recently (articulated shells* – these are cases where the two valves are still attached even though there is no animal inside them).  Most of the dead shells are of uncertain date; experience of other sites suggests that they could have lived anything from a few hundred to a few thousand years ago.  They are generally in good condition, however, and may easily contribute to a long chronology.

Shovelling Arctica NW2

Rob Witbaard (left) and Juan Estrella shovel a pile of shells – mostly dead Arctica valves – that have just been dredged from a site off the SW Faroes. Picture: Nina Whitney

Morning of 11th November: Switching the following night to a site off the SW of the islands, we struck dead Arctica gold.  The four dredges we hauled (for six minutes each) were brimful with shell material, nearly all of it single Arctica valves.  All told we may have collected 5,000 shells in these four dredges, suggesting that the sea floor in this area is covered in these shells.  Live material was less abundant (there may be a number of reasons for our not collecting live animals as efficiently as we might have, including the effectiveness of the dredge, or the possibility that at this time of the year many animals may burrow further into the sediment), but we did retrieve thirty or so live animals, and also a large number of articulated pairs, which can generally be assumed to be very recently dead*.





*This is important for chronology construction.  Shells from live collected animals with a known date of death can be used to anchor the chronology, while the articulated shells can be assumed from their condition to have died very   recently and should easily crossmatch with the live specimens.



Clams’ climate secrets prove elusive in the Arctic

Al Wanamaker and undergrad Aubrey Foulk sort through piles of Arctica islandica on a stormy beach.

Al Wanamaker and undergrad Aubrey Foulk sort through piles of Arctica islandica washed onto a beach after a storm.

This is the third and final post in the Discover magazine series by Randall Hyman about the Arctica fieldwork off Northern Norway.

This week, our heroes get some tantalizing results from 550 ft (166 metres) and find shedloads of shells blown onto a beach after a storm.

Reading between the lines

Irene with dye

Irene Ballesta Artero pouring dye into the clam’s containers before deployment.  The non-toxic dye will mark the shell with the time of deployment.

Here’s the second post in the Discover magazine series on climate work with Arctica islandica off northern Norway.   Al Wanamaker and Michael Carroll are looking for the most northerly populations of Arctica islandica, living at depths up to 180 metres.

Rob Witbaard and Irene Ballesta are also up there, deploying clams wired with activity loggers to look in great detail at the environmental factors driving shell growth.

You can also read about raised beaches, thought to be about 6,000 years old, that are covered with ancient shells.









Rob Witbaard and Michael Carroll help Captain Thorleif Hanssen redeploy Rob’s clam experiment.












The biggest Arctica ever !


Ben Allinson, Sarah Holmes and Stella Alexandroff in the coffee room at School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor with a 130mm Arctica islandica shell.

The other day we received delivery at Bangor of the biggest Arctica islandica shell any of us had ever seen.  To put this in context, up until now I’d thought they couldn’t get bigger than about 122mm at the widest point.  This one came out at a cool 130mm.  It was found on a beach on the Hebridean island of Lewis by Roy Bentham, a retired truck driver who takes a keen interest in our work.

Stella will be working on its sclerochronology, so as and when we measure the growth increments we’ll let you know how long it lived and whether we can fit it into a chronology.

- Paul Butler

Dead Clams Talking

There’s an excellent series in Discover magazine on climate work with Arctica off northern Norway.  ARAMACC ESR Irene Ballesta is out there right now, with Rob Witbaard, Al Wanamaker, Michael Carroll and other researchers from Bates College in the US.

Read the first post here


ARAMNACC student Irene Ballesta and Bates College student Maddie Mette examine specimens of Arctica islandica just collected at the study site off northern Norway


ARAMACC Summer School #1

The ARAMACC Summer School #1 was hosted from 16th May to 23rd May by School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University.  Expert instructors demonstrated and provided hands-on experience in a wide range of skills, some of them related directly to sclerochronology and scleroclimatology, others relevant to the general skills required to become an effective researcher (a gallery of photos from the Summer School is here).

IMG_3776cBefore the School started, the ARAMACC team met for the first time at the ARAMACC inaugural meal, which took place on the evening of Friday 16th May at the Garden restaurant at Plas Cadnant Cottage (home to the ESRs duiring the School).  A gallery from this enjoyable and memorable occasion can be found here.



Summer School (May 17th – May 23rd)

The Summer School included three principle modules:

IMG_3851cModule 1:  Basic shell processing techniques  Days 1, 2 and 3 (May 17th-May 19th)

Co-leaders: ARAMACC Visiting researcher Professor Alan D Wanamaker and Alejandro Roman.

This module was held in the main (Craig Mair) teaching lab at the School of Ocean Sciences. Working in small groups of two or three, the students learnt the basics of how to process shells for sclerochronology.  Some brought their own shells to work on, others used shells from the extensive collection at SOS.  The skills being taught included how to embed shells in resin blocks, how to cut them using a precision saw, how to grind and polish the exposed surface for optimal imaging, and finally how to etch the exposed surface and produce an acetate peel replica of the etched surface that could be viewed under a microscope.  On the Sunday evening, the group took a break from the lab, with a geological field trip to the dramatic scenery of Snowdonia guided by Professor James Scourse (pictures here).


Module 2: Sclerochronology and scleroclimatology  Days 4 and 5 (May 20th-May 21st)

Co-leaders: Professor Alan D Wanamaker and Professor Valerie Trouet                                        

In the second part of the School, the students learnt how to count and measure the growth lines from their shells using bespoke image analysis software, and then how to create chronologies using growth increment series form IMG_3867cmultiple shells.  Finally, guided by leading tree-ring researcher and climatologist Professor Valerie Trouet, the chronologies were compared with local and regional climate records, to try to detect any identifiable environmental signal in your shells.  This was an ‘eventful’ part of the course, with a number of challenging technical; problems that had to be overcome, but it was clear by the end that some interesting connections between shell growth and climate had been established.

On the evening of May 20th, the group came to a very stimulating joint public talk by James Scourse and Valerie Trouet, covering the centennial-scale history of the North Atlantic Jet Stream and the effects of North Atlantic climate on the coastscape of North Wales – see here for the details of this event. 


Module 3:  Research Management   Days 6 and 7 (May 22nd – May 23rd)                                     Co-leaders: Professor Chris Richardson, Professor Alan D Wanamaker and Dr Paul Butler               For the final module the emphasis switched to an introduction to the basic principles of research management, including the maintenance of personal logs and the PCDPs (Personal Career Development Plans) that will be maintained by all the ARAMACC students.  The session included practice at making a cruise plan, and guidance about what to do when things don’t go according to plan.






ARAMACC student accommodation at Plas Cadnant Cottages

Arctica and Michael Carroll feature on Norwegian TV


 Dette skjellet kan være så gammelt som 300 år - og har en lang klimahistorie å fortelle. Det forsøker forskerne nå å finne ut av. Foto: Allan Klo / NRK

Foto: Allan Klo / NRK

Here’s an item on the Norwegian nightly news program, featuring Michael Carroll and his work with Arctica off the northern Norway coast.  The piece starts at 6m 16s.

The lady speaking in Norwegian at the end of the piece is a program manager at the Norwegian Research Council. She’s saying how important it is to understand past climate history to determine what the effects of future changes will be, and that this research will provide an important piece of the overall puzzle.

Where the Wind Blows

Tuesday May 20th, Room G23, Thoday Building, Deiniol Road, Bangor

“Where the Wind Blows” was a a double-headed Public Lecture on the history of our unpredictable weather and how it is influenced by conditions in the North Atlantic ocean.  The event was sponsored by ARAMACC and the Climate Change Consortium for Wales, and the talks were given by Professor Valerie Trouet and Professor James Scourse.

Valerie Trouet works and teaches at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona.  She has written influential papers on many aspects of the climate system, including the history of the North Atlantic Oscillation, and was a visiting teacher at the ARAMACC Summer School 1.

James Scourse is Professor of Marine Geology at School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University and Director of C3W.  He is well known in the fields of glaciology and palaeoceanography, and is Principal Investigator on the ARAMACC project.

The two talks are now available to listen to on Panopto (you will need to download Silverlight to connect):

Valerie’s talk is available only as sound:

A tree-ring based reconstruction of North Atlantic jetstream variability over the last 250 years

while James’ talk can be accessed as sound as slides:

Climate and weather of the last 500 years: the NAO, storminess and the North Wales coastscape

See the poster here

ARAMACC Training – overview

ARAMACC provides a comprehensive network-wide training programme which will include the full range of skills specific to sclerochronology as well as the complementary generic skills required for a successful career in scientific research (B.3.2).

The experience, expertise and infratsructure of the ARAMACC partners will be exploited through a series of training events, offering a unique and exciting combination of outstanding training opportunities, including active participation in research cruises, use of state-of-the-art analytical geochemical equipment, experience of field and laboratory culturing experiments facilities and exposure to world leading climate modeling expertise.