A frog in a north norwegian fjord

Four months, already! Time flies, but oh! so fast. It seems like there are so much things left to see and do. Four months since I’m here, and it seems like only one. Well not exactly. You cannot be fooled by the seasons, changing so quickly and contrasting so much. Goodbye northern lights and snow fights. Hello endless sunshine, and bright nights!

Ah! The joy of waking up with the sun at 4am, and not being able to go back to sleep (at least in my case) because it is already too sunny. As annoying as it is, it is also the charm of this little town.

Let’s leave the discovDSCN2345ery of Tromsø apart. The little blue mussels seem to thrive, at least the last time I saw them. Apart of course from the occasional sacrifices done for Science. I’m pretty sure they are doing fine, and spending some happy time in their little cages out in the fjord…growing slowly, hopefully. But how can I be sure, I have no idea how it feels like to be a mussel.

Biomarkers analyses are done in the laboratory, or well mostly done. Now the amusing (hard?) part is starting (or continuing). Understanding results, remembering the statistic courses, how to run statistical tests (finding the accurate one!), not becoming desperate when not finding why it is not working, reading articles to understand the statistics and the mussels!! And again, keeping the motivation up, finally finding the good test and achieving the first statistical treatment…and being so proud to do it. Yeah, the annoying, but gratifying part.

So much work to do, so much places to see, so little time left. The midnight sun is coming soon. As gorgeous as the darkness are here, up north, I am sure that the light will be just as wonderful.

Post by Apolline Laenger, Master student on the project.

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Bivalves in the Arctic (BIVARC) workshop soon!!

The BIVARC workshop will gather benthic ecologist, bivalves physiologists and ecotoxicologist (and many more!!) in a workshop with the main objectives to 1) Coordinate and facilitate existing research activities within and between existing projects, 2) Create synergies between activities to optimize resources and the scientific outcome of each single project, 3) Identify gaps in knowledge and potential for joint proposal/activities.

Interested in joining us in Tromsø and increase the pan-Arctic knowlegde in bivalves?  Contact Jasmine (jasmine.m.nahrgang@uit.no)!!

Click on the picture to open the preliminary programme

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Heart beating tango of mussels and temperature

Some exciting preliminary results from the Coopenor field work in the White Sea shows both littoral and sublittoral mussels having a heart beat well synchronized to the ambient seawater temperature. The heart beats increase gradually with increasing temperatures from March to June/July, and is on the way back down now in the winter.

cardiac response to temperature


I mostly noticed that my colleague Igor has a better chance to go for a swim at its sampling site that we do in Tromsø…3 to 5 degrees more in the White Sea do a huge difference for us!










(Figure and Picture by Igor Bakhmet).

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Experiments on the way…

Our Russian COOPENOR colleagues have started the experimental work at the White Sea Biological Station (Chupa Bay, Gulf of Kandalaksha, White Sea) of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. They investigate the effects of a siberian crude oil on sublittoral blue mussel Mytilus edulis and horse mussel Modiolus modiolus at different salinities (25 psu for both species and 15 psu for M. edulis).


The set-up is following the method of Frantzen et al. (2011), although the facilities are not allowing a flow-through system. Instead,  the organisms are kept in plexiglas tanks (40 animals per tank) and the seawater is partly changed on a daily basis to mimick the continuous decrease in the concentration of the water soluble fraction over time as well as the composition change of the water soluble compounds (PAHs), which we would have obtained by using the oiled rock column system.

Mytilus sensor

The group has long experience in measuring cardiac activity on bivalves and glued optical sensors (CNY-70) to the shells of the animals (photo) prior to the exposure start. In addition to cardiac activity registration, this experience will look into oxidative damage, antioxidants and hsp. This study will also provide some insights into the response of blue mussels to combined oil and salinity stresses.

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Everything is not THAT easy!!

Our project is going on and each new sampling point is a possibility for new innovative methods, some are time consuming, some are funny and others really expensive! The results are always a surprise either a positive one or a disappointing one. Here I will share with you 2 “case studies” of our first experiences on the project! But don´t get too excited…the heading says.

Brackish aftertaste

In February 2013, we had hardly started the project, but yet we were under high pressure to design an experiment of our BIO2008 students, which had already started the semester and needed to be linked to our project. As the project deals with combined stresses of both the environment (salinity, temperature…) and pollution (oil, heavy metals), we designed a exposure to look into the effect of both salinity and oil….assuming that our mussels in their natural habitat here in “Kvalsundet” were mainly exposed to high salinities. During the experiment, we acclimated the organisms slowly over 2 weeks, from an in situ salinity of 33 psu to 20 psu. Literature review had advised us that below 15psu, we may kill the animals.

The experiments went just fine, but the results did not show any amazing differences in responses between the salinities. A bit surprising. We left the matter there.

Now, having recorded light, temperature and salinity for the last 4 months, we got a surprise to see that the mussels were during certain periods daily exposed to extreme fluctuations in salinity. The figure below is one example: temperature in the air increased in the end of February, exposing the mussels to almost freshwater (5 psu) from snow melt during low tides.

salinity plot


This kind of results demonstrated how our salinity stress experiment with 20 psu was in fact far from what mussels in situ may experience in real…..

Now we will be much more prepared for the next years experimental work…

BINGO… or not

In our search for a method to measure growth of mussels in the field, we had several options, some good, some less good.

Our first choice was to measure the morphometrics of a group (n>100) of individuals of all size ranges that would be marked and caged. They would then be followed and measured again every 2 or 3 months. This was a tiresome methods and the marking and caging of each individual shell was not that straight forward, especially with the desire to avoid any confounding factors through for instance placing them in single small bags, which may create unnatural conditions…

The best way to mark them, we figured out, was to give them numbers with a marker. Black on black was unreadable, so a small white paint drop was used in order to have the contrast!

In the mean time, we also wanted a second, more accurate way to measure them and opted for a calcein bath: extremely simple, quick and reliable. The disadvantage is that you do not get the data out before you actually sample the animal and analyze the shells…a year later.










We combined both methods on the same animals and got quite funny looking shells then baptized the “BINGO” shells (in the calcein bath on the figure).

They were placed back in their cages for a month. Last time I went out, the mussels had lost their numbers! That was not a BINGO!

Well, the project is still at its infancy….we still have good time to improve!!!


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At the White Sea…

COOPENOR is a joint Norwegian Russian project where one of main aims is to compare the biology of bivalves across different regions of the Arctic. At the same time as we are doing our monthly sampling along the Norwegian coast, just outside Tromsø, Dr Igor Bakhmet, our Russian co-leader is at the White Biological station of the Zoological Institute of RAS (Russia) sampling tissues in parallel. Here he explains his work and focus from his field site in the White Sea:
Fig 1 The location
According to the aims of our project the natural populations of blue mussels (coastal) and scallops (shallow shelf areas) are studied at the White Sea Biological Station.


Blue mussels and scallops are sampled monthly, except in May and June, when the interval of sampling is increased to twice a month when they develop gonads and prepare for spawning.
The blue mussels are collected from the middle littoral zone and also from artificial substrates while the scallops are found at a depth of ca. 10-15 m on a natural bed.
The environmental conditions are continuously recorded using underwater temperature and light (illumination) loggers.
Igor explains that the investigation may be divided in different aspects including ecological and morphological, physiological, biochemical, genetic. Surely, all these aspects are connected with each other.
To estimate the ecological and morphological parameters of the animals, the bivalves are measured according to the following indices: length, weight, height, volume, soft tissue and shell weight; weight of gills, mantle and hepatopancreas (gut); stages of gonad development. Based upon  these parameters, condition indices of the mollusks may be determined according to Lundebye et al. (1997).
During sampling, pictures of the mussels’ mantle are taken to record their colour, as this may be a reliable indicator of the level of carotenoids and anti-oxidants (Petes et al. 2008).
In addition, the growth patterns of the blue mussels will be estimated with help of calcein-marked individuals (Ambrose et al. 2012).
The biochemical part of our investigation is the estimation of lipid composition of the animals over the year, as well as levels of antioxidants. For the physiological part of our project is included the registration of heart activity in animals in situ and evaluation of oxygen consumption.
heart rate fig
All experiments will be carried out during the whole year. We have started yet these works from the March in spite of rather severe conditions of the White Sea at the winter. 
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Cheers!!! A Project meeting and workshop will be organized!

Through the SSF Strategic Grants, the Svalbard Science Forum and the Norwegian Research Council have financed our proposal to organise a collaboration workshop on Arctic bivalves – The BIVARC project!

This is our great opportunity for COOPENOR and all other Arctic bivalve projects to meet, exchange and discuss their research. We hope that this will lead to an increased coordination of international projects located in the Barents Sea and Svalbard and create synergetic activities to optimize the scientific outcome of each single project.

The workshop will also enable to identify gaps in knowledge and potential for joint proposal/activities for the future.

When this will take place will be decided soon enough! Looking forward to that!


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