Bjørndalen Integrated Gradients (BIG)

  1. What is BIG?
  2. The Isfjorden Adventfjorden (IsA) time series
  3. Vegetation and pollination monitoring and experiments
  4. Seasonal dynamics of reindeer across the landscape?
  5. Research in education and learning with BIG
  6. Files and Protocols

1. What is BIG?

Bjørndalen Integrated Gradient (BIG) is a cross-disciplinary approach to understand how short- and long-term climatic changes affect High-Arctic species and the system in which they are embedded.

BIG was established in 2019 by the Department of Arctic Biology (AB) at UNIS as strategic platform integrating biological research, learning and monitoring within and across the terrestrial, benthic and marine habitats at one location in high-arctic Svalbard. (figure 1; flow chart). Strategically, BIG will provide unique knowledge and education necessary for an integrated understanding of how the Arctic terrestrial, benthic and marine ecosystem are structured and functions under long-term environmental and climatic changes. Currently, BIG consists of several research projects along the Bjørndalen Integraded Gradient, including marine monitoring IsA, terrestrial vegetation and pollination monitoring as well as monitoring of reindeer spatial population dynamics (figure 2).

Figure 1
Figure 2

2. The Isfjorden Adventfjorden (IsA) time series station (2011-)

The UNIS IsA time series station is located in the mouth of Adventfjorden (figure 2) and is affected by the inflow from Isfjorden. It is thus an excellent Arctic model system for studying seasonality, interannual variation and the effects of a warming ocean climate. “Atlantification”, increased inflow of “warm” water from the North Atlantic Current, leads to less sea ice and warmer land temperatures. At IsA we are trying to understand how this affects the marine ecosystem. The station has been sampled on a weekly to monthly basis year-round since December 2011 by the Arctic Biology and Arctic Geophysics departments at UNIS. For more information and details, please visit the IsA home-page (link to IsA).

3. Vegetation and pollination monitoring and experiments

[Missing text]

Time lapse camera setup.

4. Seasonal dynamics of reindeer across the landscape?

This project monitors the consequences of the polar decline in sea ice extent for the vegetation, reindeer population and their interactions in the Bjørndalen ecosystem. Spatio-temporal changes in plant phenology, performance and growth will be analysed and contrasted with concomitant changes in the demography and landscape use of the local reindeer population. The reindeer has been counted in Bjørndalen annually since 1979 (figure 3, annual time series). As a first integration with BIG, we extended with seasonal counts in 2019 (figure 3b, seasonal time series), where researchers and students count the reindeer in Bjørndalen every week from February to October. Ground-truthing is supplemented with information from established time-lapse camera stations, focusing on the vegetation phenology on the landscape level as well as on plant species level. UNIS MSc and course (AB203, AB207, AB340/840) students participates every year in the field work and consequent analyses of data.

A reindeer from Bjørndalen

5. Research in education and learning with BIG

BIG participates not only in the learning of students at UNIS but also in the research of education and learning. The Centre of excellence bioCEED and the project FieldPass are currently involving BIG for their research.

bioCEED – Centre for Excellence in Biology Education

bioCEED develops biology educations that fill future needs in science and society.  This is achieved by connecting scientific knowledge, practical skills and societal applications throughout the biology education, and by bringing the strengths of the research culture into the educational practice. The goal is that the programs will develop basic academic skills and attitudes in students, while preparing them to solve important problems in science, industry, and society. Since 2014, bioCEED is a collaboration between the University of Bergen and UNIS. Further information may be found on the bioCEED home page.

FieldPass (2019-2022): How to assess the unassessable?

Constructive alignment is the golden rule for good course design – where we start with the intended learning outcomes and align teaching and assessment to those outcomes. Learning outcomes related to e.g.  practical skills like operation of field instruments cannot be assessed by written exams. FieldPass is an interdepartmental project funded by the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (DIKU). The overall goal of the project is to develop and research alternative forms of assessment that is suited for field related learning outcomes. We are currently developing and testing several alternative forms of assessment, such as virtual field guides (VFGs), reflection dairies, and practical certification schemes to test practical skills. Some of the tools we develop will also be tested by our cooperation partners at the University of Bergen.

By joining efforts in a single Svalbard location and across a gradient of connected Arctic ecosystems (figure 2), AB optimises through BIG the synergy between our habitat-specific projects, and thereby the overall faculty research output as well as the learning outcomes for students gaining authentic research experience through BIG.

BIG is funded through a range of sources but have dedicated funding through the Thon foundation (2019-2022).

Contact persons: Mads Forchhammer, Børge DamsgårdPernille Bronken EidesenSimone LangJanne E. Søreide and Anna Vader.


6. Files and Protocols