Thursday, 12 March 2015

One Artist's Mission to Find Plankton

Although I currently live in Finland most of the year, I live in Helsinki, in the South. However, during January and February this year I was lucky enough to have been placed up in the North of Finland, in Lapland at two biological research stations. Kilpisjärvi and Kevo are two of the most northern places with human inhabitants in Finland and is also home to the lemming, the reindeer and the wolverine to name a few 'others' that have adapted to living in -30 degree temperatures on a regular basis. Among the noticeable animals and plants in my surrounding landscape, there are other beings managing to live in the strangest places, including under 70 cm of ice in the lake. These creatures are Plankton and came in various shapes and sizes, phytoplankton, the plant based plankton and zooplankton the animal based plankton were not only present, but highly active and numerous even in this minus temperatures and in the middle of winter.

After lengthy discussions with Lydia, my scientist partner, and with equipment and a briefing of how to carry out an effective experiment, I walked out 50 metres from the shore and drilled a hole in the thick layer of ice enabling me to walk there. My mission was to do a bit of scientific research of my own and try to learn about these little creatures through direct visualisation and interaction with them. After only half an hour, and with numb fingers and toes I had a variety of samples from different depths from 1-20 metres down.

Sampling on Kilpisjärvi lake at -35 degrees.

Learning to use a plankton net like the one Charles Darwin invented of the Beagle Voyage in the 1830's

Once I had collected my samples, I spent quite some time with the microscope watching them swim about and engage with one another. I was particularly interested in the phytoplankton and alongside photographing and filming them,I spent some time drawing, like the Charles Darwin and other early ecologists would have done to learn the shapes and forms of each different one and enable me to identify them better.

Scanned in attempts to understand and identify phytoplankton better.. however, no sign of Emilinia huxleyi yet..

The first step on my journey to understand the science of theses little creatures and the equipment needed to collect them has began and the line between me and Lydia as 'artist' and 'scientist' is beginning to soften.

Charli Clark

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