Swedish fieldwork, part 1

During March 2012 I ventured north to Abisko in Sweden to undertake fieldwork on behalf of Tim Reid and Richard Essery. This trip was made possible by financial support from INTERACT and Richard Essery. I worked with a Durham University student, Rob Holden, whose PhD is part of the wider research project titled Snow-Vegetation-Atmosphere Interactions over Heterogeneous Landscapes lead by Richard Essery.

I’ve written this post in quite an odd style… I suppose more as an extended set of bullet points. It seems like a good way to get across a broad set of ideas in an efficient manner! I’d originally planned for a single post on my trip, but as the quantity of content grew I decided to spread it across a couple. This post will deal with some of the background and a later post will detail the fieldwork. Hopefully the below helps whet your appetite!

Point of research

The purpose of my visit to Abisko was to take a large number of hemispherical photographs (hemi photos) of boreal forest canopy. The photographs can be used to quantify canopy density, and we can link this information to tree height data that has previously been measured from an aircraft over a wide area around Abisko. This allows us to estimate how much light penetrates the forest, particularly in winter when the ground is covered in snow. We can therefore provide better predictions of when snow will melt and improve estimates of surface reflectance, or albedo – a very important parameter in models that predict weather and climate.


I was based at the Abisko Scientific Research Station for my stay. This is located just outside the small village of Abisko inside the Arctic Circle at 68°21′ North 18°49′ East (below).

The research station is run by a permanent team of scientists and support staff. During the winter months visitor numbers are fewer than in winter, with only four residents for a period of my stay. With snow, empty corridors and science equipment this gave the impression of being in a mix of The Shining and The Thing, thankfully without the malevolent overtones! Like all good Swedish venues there were a number of saunas available, although I never took advantage of the lakeside one – mainly because it was wood fired and not on a timer.


Getting to Northern Sweden is a relatively long process given the short distance it is from my home in Edinburgh, approximately 1800 km in a straight line. Travel time was about 30 hours on the way out, flying first to London, then Stockholm and finally catching the overnight sleeper service northwards arriving at lunch time the following day. There is an option to fly to Kiruna, the nearest airport but these flights were more expensive than the train, requiring an overnight stop in Stockholm and a train ride from Kiruna to Abisko making the journey no quicker than using the sleeper service. Besides, taking the train and waking up travelling through a white frozen landscape is far more exciting than flying!


Hemi photo of the landscape (not a work one!) (Copyright Michael Spencer)

Reindeer herders (Sami) doing their work whilst I’m on the way to mine. (Copyright Michael Spencer)

Panoramic from the field equipment cache. (Copyright Michael Spencer)