Het onderzoeksschip
Het onderzoeksschip

Midnight sun on Svalbard: expedition to phytoplankton

On 5 July 2024, five researchers from Radboud University will travel to the far north to research climate change on Svalbard. For a week, the scientists, led by earth scientist Wytze Lenstra, will take samples of the sea floor and water column in one of the fjords.

The archipelago is seen as a "natural laboratory" for studying the impact of climate change in the future: these Arctic regions are warming up to about four times faster than the global average. Research shows that Svalbard's glaciers are melting faster and faster and are likely to disappear in the future. Lenstra: ‘By looking at processes on and around Svalbard, we can get an idea of what the consequences of climate change might be for the rest of the world in the future.’


This fieldwork is part of a larger project for which the earth scientist did 10 weeks of fieldwork around Antarctica earlier this year. During that expedition he sailed on a German research ship along with a lot of scientists who all had different fields of expertise, but in July he will be all alone with his team on a Norwegian ship (the G.O. Sars). 'We are going to research nutrients in the ocean that affect the growth of phytoplankton (algae). This is important because growing phytoplankton produces oxygen and absorbs CO2. Moreover, phytoplankton is an important food source for animals in the ocean.'

To grow, these algae need various nutrients such as phosphate and nitrogen, as well as the trace metals iron and manganese. When one of these so-called micronutrients is not available, the phytoplankton cannot grow or absorb CO2. Lenstra: ‘In polar regions, the limited presence of iron and manganese often limits the growth of phytoplankton. Climate change can cause change in the availability of iron and manganese in the ocean and therefore in the growth of phytoplankton. We are going to investigate this around Svalbard.’

Midnight sun

Such fieldwork requires tight preparation. 'All our fieldwork gear has already been sent to Bergen in Norway to go on the boat. From there, the G.O. Sars sails to Longyearbyen on Svalbard where we will also board.' The week on the research ship will not be a vacation, says the researcher: 'On board we have to work hard, because there is only limited time to take as many samples as possible. During our stay it will be midnight sun, so it won't get dark at night. This makes it easier to work through the night, but also completely changes your natural rhythm.' 

After the fieldwork, the G.O. Sars sails back to Bergen where the researchers can collect their samples. 'Following this will be months of lab work to analyze all these samples. We expect to find new information that can help us predict the impact of climate change on polar regions. We also hope to say something about the effects of global climate change in the future.'

Contact information

For further information, please contact one of the researchers involved or team Science communication via +31 24 361 6000 or media [at] ru.nl (media[at]ru[dot]nl).   

Sustainability, Nature, Science