The two Norwegian scientists could hardly believe their eyes on a dive on the far west of the coast of Spitzbergen in autumn 2004.
Right in front of NTNU Professor Geir Johnsen’s underwater camera a sensation was waiting for him: a colony of mussels had managed to attach itself to Sagaskjæret – the Saga Skerry – in Isfjorden.
Not since the early Middle Ages, when the climate enabled the Vikings to settle Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, have mussels established themselves as far north as Svalbard.
For mussels to survive they need temperatures well above those that have been normal in Norwegian arctic waters for the past thousand years. These shells were at least a year old, which means that they had survived at least one winter on the skerry, a fact that impressed the scientists even more than the find itself.
The discovery soon found its way into the columns of the local weekly “Svalbardposten”, then to international web-sites and news agencies. Journalists tended to present the return of the mussels as evidence of global climate change.
According to biology professor Geir Johnsen, however, the find in itself has no such significance.
“If we had found mussels on Svalbard for ten years in a row, it would have been different,” he says. But in the summer of 2005 the scientists found no mussels on Sagaskjæret. It remains to be seen whether they will find any this year.
Changing sea temperatures
Johnsen and his colleagues at the Svalbard University Centre, the University of Tromsø and SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture published their theories about the mussel find last autumn.
Referring to satellite and oceanographic measurements, they concluded that the return of the shellfish is due to oscillations in the temperature of the sea, given that the North-Atlantic Current transported unusually large volumes of water northwards in 2002 and 2003 and that this led to higher than normal surface temperatures west of Svalbard. In the summer of 2004, the water turned colder again.
The oceanographic measurements also showed that warm, highly saline Atlantic water found its way into Isfjorden in 2002 and 2003. The water was driven into the fjord by high northerly winds – such warm water is another prerequisite for the growth of the shellfish on Sagaskjæret.
Migration route recreated
Transportation of larvae from the coast of Norway by the North Atlantic Current is the only possible solution to the mystery of where these mussels came from. In Trondheim, SINTEF’s Dag Slagstad was ready to help his colleagues with the aid of a mathematical model of the ocean. Slagstad carried out simulations that showed that in the summer of 2002, mussel larvae drifting from the Vesterålen area would have managed to reach Svalbard in 60 days as “hitchhikers” on the current.
“This is at the very limit of the time that the larvae would have needed before they had to attach themselves to rocks. But some of them have obviously survived the trip,” says Professor Johnsen, who points out that the rare find is yet more evidence that biology is a finely tuned instrument.
“This find shows just how rapidly biological changes can take place when the external environment changes.”
Aase Dragland | alfa
Preservation of floodplains is flood protection
27.09.2017 | Technische Universität München
Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy