Whales and Winter

Sending warm thoughts to you all from the North, with Paris, Beirut, and all the world in our hearts and minds ❤ The Arctic Cathedral here in Tromsø has been lit up with colors the flag of France. Local political leaders have been gathering there this week to discuss aid efforts. It’s a beautiful gesture, but only the beginning of how much love we need to show. I hope that you are all doing well and are safe!

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The Arctic Cathedral of Tromsø. Photo credit VG News.

I have now officially been living 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle for almost 3 months. I get homesick sometimes, but in general I absolutely love it here. Every day I am still in awe of the natural beauty. I’ve seen the Northern lights so many nights that I’ve lost count! I own a bike with snow tires, a headlamp, a reflective vest, and 5 pairs of mittens. My main protein sources are mackerel, salmon, and pollock. Sometimes I dream in Norwegian. Is this real life?

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Beautiful Kaldfjord as seen from Kvaløya or “Whale Island”

“Mørketiden” or the “Polar night” is now approaching quickly. Currently the sun sets around 2pm, and it is getting noticeably darker each day. On November 28 the sun will officially will stop rising and it won’t rise again until January 15 😦 Luckily it won’t be completely dark: the “blåtiden” is something local Norwegians refer to as the ethereal blue light that is present during the middle of the day. Also the Northern lights have been exceptionally active this fall and hopefully will continue to be even brighter as it gets colder. If you’re interested, you can follow the activity (and see some amazing photos) of the northern lights in Tromsø here: http://norway-lights.com/#tromso. My camera isn’t good enough to capture the Northern lights, but luckily I have a talented friend, Anja Striberny, who takes amazing photos of them. All photo credit goes to her 🙂

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Tromsø at night! Photo credit Anja Striberny

My research project is going really well and I realize how lucky I am to be able to say that I love going to work every day. Right now I’m characterizing a novel species of methane-oxidizing bacteria isolated here in Tromsø. These bacteria are so cool (and picky) because they consume methane as their only carbon source. In other words, you give them glucose or some other multicarbon compound for food they refuse to grow. We care about studying methane-oxidizing bacteria because they are important biological filters for greenhouse gas emissions from Arctic peatlands. I will have to devote an entire post soon to describe the project! But in the meantime know that I am in a good place and I love my job!

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So lucky to be living here! Photo creds to Anja

This past week we had a mini-retreat in Tromsø with researchers in Arctic Infection Biology. We enjoyed a traditional Norwegian spread of smoked salmon and listened to some exciting scientific talks given by fellow researchers. But the best part of the retreat was the annual Christmas beer tasting. In true scientific style, we did a blind taste test for 10 different types of beer. Each beer was rated on a scale of 0 (undrinkable) to 5 (best beer ever tasted). Morten, a researcher with Arctic Infection Biology, brews his own beer at home so we were asked to guess which beer was Morten’s compared to 9 other store bought brands. Not surprisingly, Morten is a master brewer. His beer, a “Black Butte Porter” recipe, won the best taste rating overall and it was completely gone by the end of the night 🙂

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Humpback whales in Kaldfjord, Norway. Photo credit to Anja!

As if life could get any better, the whales have arrived to overwinter and feed near Tromsø! This past weekend a friend and I biked to “Kaldfjord”  to watch the orca and humpback whales frolic in the fjord. They are so close to the shore that we were able to watch them from the mainland. No boat necessary. We’re already planning another to go back to see them again this coming weekend. Enjoy Anja’s stunning photos 🙂

Sending all my love from latitude 69 degrees N!

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Orca whales in Kaldfjord! All praise and photo credits go to Anja Striberny

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Just frolicking in the fjord. Photo credits to Anja Striberny.

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