To Hell and back: sampling lakes and landscapes on the way to 66° 33’ N

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By Rich Chiverrell.

“If this is hell then you could say, it’s heavenly! Hell ain’t a bad place to be….” (Young, Young and Scott, 1977)

For 16-17 days of July 2012, John Boyle and I led a team from the School of Environmental Science (SoES) on a journey of 5000 km through Sweden and Norway sampling small lake basins from the boreal (coniferous) forests of the Scandes Mountains to lakes north of the Arctic Circle. The research was part of the ongoing Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT) ‘DYNAMITE’ (DYNAmic Models in Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscapes) Project, which has supported research and teaching cooperation between and Liverpool and Lund University (Sweden) 2009 – 2013.

I set off with Daniel Schillereff on the day Andy Murray lost the Wimbledon final depriving me of the opportunity to get depressed by the ‘state of British Tennis’, apart from watching the first 2 sets in a terrible pub near the docks in Harwich. We were the advance party taking a people carrier loaded with equipment and fine music from Liverpool to Harwich, the ferry from Harwich to Esjberg (Denmark)  (overnight) where we gorged ourselves on the Smorgasbord, you can never have too many prawns, mussels and langoustines. From Esjberg we drove to Sweden across the humongous bridges that connect the islands of Denmark and SW Sweden to rendezvous with the rest of the team, timed perfectly to avoid the loading of the second vehicle. In Lund we met with the ‘absentee professor’ on secondment to Lund for 12 months and the team grew to include John Boyle, Masters student Fiona Russell, and BSc undergraduates Rachel Devine and Dan Wilberforce, the latter three engaged in fieldwork for their respective dissertations.

After fine dining, hosted by Gina and Richard (Bradshaw), we set off for the North. Commencing in Lund, we followed a route that traced the retreat of the last Scandinavian Ice Sheet from marginal limits 11,500 years ago in southern Sweden to sites further north that became ice-free has recently as 10-9,500 years ago. Our aim was to examine the nutrient dynamics of these small lakes and catchments during the early millennia of the current interglacial where mineral weathering and depletion appears to govern phosphorus supply to the lakes regulating water pH and thus ecosystem functioning.  So starting with Holtjarnen (60°39’N, 15°56’E) 620km north from Lund the team journeyed 320km north to Abborrtjärnen (63° 53 N, 14° 27 E), at both these lakes we bagged 2 long (whole Holocene) sediment cores, shallow surface cores and loads of catchment samples. We also experienced the delights of saunas, cabins, ‘lurve beef’, mosquitoes and loud industrial German heavy metal music.

Meanwhile the final three members of the team, Lee Bradley (post doc) and PhD students Tim Shaw and Jenny Clear began their journey from Liverpool. Flying to Stockholm and catching the night train to Murjek, essentially a hamlet the middle of absolutely nowhere in the northern Swedish forest close to the Arctic Circle populated by more reindeer than people, the lucky three arrived at 8 am and settled in for the long wait to be collected @4pm, more or less. Luckily the station cafe opened serving a nice range of frozen bread and very good value coffee for some.

Further south the rest of the team made the best pace they could to collect them, stopping at strategic burger bars, supermarkets and Systembolaget (State run liquor stores) for three nights in Jåhkåmåhkke, north of the Arctic Circle. There we visited and cored Sotaure Javri (66° 43 N, 20° 34 E), and slightly south Nuortsap-javre (66° 24 N, 20° 27 E), both yielding plenty of sediment. We also expanded our food range to include Char, Elk and Reindeer, before moving west towards the Norwegian border to our last lake ~ Rammstein Javri (66° 24 N, 16° 52 E) and the delightful village of Jäkkvik, where John Boyle treated us to his speciality-de-maison of ‘burnt porridge’.

From there it was the route home taking a very ‘long-cut’ through Norway, four people (Dan S, Tim, Jen and Lee) leaving us in Trondheim. Whereas the rest took in the delights of Hell, the Norwegian mountains including the Jotunheimen (“Home of the Giants”), glaciers (Nigardsbreen), waterfalls, Hytte, Fjords and Stavkirke on the way back to Lund in SW Sweden. In Lund they all abandoned me to drive a car loaded with sediment and rocks back across Denmark and the UK. A stunning trip, great food and the best company…..


Young A, Young M and Scott B, 1977. Hell ain’t a bad place to be. Let there be Rock, Atlantic Records.


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