Glögg and Holiday Tidings

Greetings once more from Sweden!

Christmas is definitely in the air here in Lund. There are beautifully decorated conifers all throughout town, all the shops have set up their Christmas window displays, and lights have been strung throughout the city centre. It seems that every social event I attend now serves ample amounts of glögg (mulled wine), which appears to be part of every European’s childhood holiday memories…I’m assuming they were drinking the non-alcoholic version back then…

Swedish Christmas trolls…they're sold in almost every store.

Swedish Christmas trolls…they’re sold in almost every store. Photo from another blogger’s website.

Of course, for us University students, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without exams…Oh wait, yes it can, since my course has no exam (she typed with a massive smile on her face). My heart goes out to my fellow U of T students, all of whom I know are studying day and night at the moment. I’d like to use my lack of December exam as a selling point for Swedish exchange studies, but in actuality I just got lucky with my particular course. Thus, the exam atmosphere is just as potent here as what I’m use to back home.

Since I have no exam to study for, you may be wondering what activities have been filling my time. Well, for seven days straight I have been working on an assignment for my Fisheries Ecology class. The assignment consists of an excel file with catch, landings, and discard information regarding the cod stocks in the North Sea from 1963 to 2012. Historically, these stocks have been heavily fished, and there is a large concern that this cod fishing industry is heading for collapse in much the same way as the Canadian cod fishing industry in Newfoundland collapsed back in 1993. So, my assignment then is to first construct a VPA (Virtual Population Analysis) model based off of this historical data. Second, when satisfied with my VPA, I must use the model to make short and long term predictions regarding catch and landings quotas, and about how the cod stock will change moving into the future. These predictions all vary when altering model parameters, such as fishing mortality, cannibalism, recruitment, and trawl mesh size. Meaning, it can be quite difficult to settle on a finalized model. Overall, I’m enjoying the assignment. It has taken me a lot of time just to create my models, but I have found it interesting to muck around with the predictions, and enjoy getting a better insight into the work conducted by fishery managers and fishery scientists.

Excelling in excel.

Excelling in excel.

In other, non-school related news, a recent storm named Sven blew through my little Swedish town (and apparently many other towns in several countries), bringing with it insanely strong winds. Seriously, I was riding my bike down hill against the wind and had to pedal vigorously to prevent myself from entering what seemed like a state of suspended animation. The following morning I awoke to a beautiful fresh layer of snow that has since turned into an icy pile of mush, which makes it rather difficult to get around town by bike. I mean, of course I could walk, or use public transit, but where’s the fun in that?

View from my apartment window after Sven passed through town.

View from my apartment window after Sven passed through town.

Finally, I’m currently in the process of planning my holiday travels. I have decided not to return home for the holidays, but instead use the time off to see a bit of Europe. At the moment, it looks like I’ll be heading to Italy, but I’ll wait until my next post to tell you more.

Until next time,

Abby

Allergies, Electrofishing, Trawling, & a Hike

Right, so where to start…? Oh, I know, how about we give a big ‘hurray’ to medical insurance!

The week of November 4th, I had noticed a rash slowly building on my face. I didn’t really pay that much attention to it until Sunday morning, when I woke up to tight, painful, bumpy skin. I (for some odd reason) thought it was heat rash, and that it would clear up if I just spent the day keeping it cool. The remainder of my Sunday was filled by me sitting in my bed, watching movie after movie, constantly rubbing an ice cube around my face to keep it moist and cool. I went to bed thinking tomorrow would be fine.

However, when I awoke on Monday, of what I could see of my face, the rash had become much worse. It was hard to tell though, considering my eyes were close to being swollen shut. Hmm. Not good. I still thought about going to class because I really didn’t want to miss a day out on the water bringing up the gill nets and sorting through the catch. But really, my face was quite painful, and I figured my classmates would think I was crazy for not going to the doctor. So, I went to the doctor.

To make a long story short, the doctor ruled the swelling and rash (small hives) down to an allergic reaction. Two weeks have now passed since the reaction took place. My face is completely back to normal, but I look at every piece of food in my cupboards and fridge with distrust, since I have no clue as to what initiated the reaction. My curtains, bed sheets, and pillows are also under my investigative eye.

Although I missed the first day of the field excursion for Fisheries Ecology, I did manage to make it out for the following two excursion days. The first day was spent electrofishing, while the second day was spent trawling in a small area of Øresund.

Electrofishing! Yours truly is in the pink coat. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Electrofishing! Yours truly is in the pink coat. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Electrofishing was hilarious. We were working in a small stream not too far from Lund. We took turns, working in pairs, to use the electrofishing equipment to catch the resident fish. A big plus about electrofishing is that the technique, when performed properly, only stuns the fish. This allows us to catch all the fish in our portion of the stream, keep them alive in a holding tank, identify, record lengths, and then free them back into the stream.

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Enjoying the view while waiting to start the trawl. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

 

Trawling in the small area of Øresund was good fun too. The trawling itself was only 15 minutes long, but we spent a few hours on the boat due to travel time. During our trawl we caught a lot of cod, haddock, whiting, and mackerel. We brought the catch back to the university lab and began the messy process of removing otoliths and stomachs, and searching through the organs to find the gonads so that we could sex each fish.

Stomach analysis. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Stomach analysis. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Now, since the fish were no longer needed after their otoliths and stomachs were taken, everyone at the gutting bench continued to fully gut the fish. At the end of the day we were all allowed to take home as much of this gutted fish as our little hearts desired. I do consider myself a vegetarian. I never purchase meat or fish because my money would then be supporting an industry I have huge issues with, which in turn means I would be supporting that industry. However, when presented with a massive container of fresh, already gutted fish, well, I’m certainly not going to let it go to waste.

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Fish that I brought home at the end of the day.

Finally, I would like to end this post by describing to you how I spent my Sunday here in Sweden. I was dressed, packed, and ready to go by 9am. I cycled downtown to the central station where I met up with nine of my classmates. We took the bus to the southeast coast and spent the morning hiking up hills and crossing through bogs. Around one, we decided to break for lunch. Everyone piled sandwiches, cookies, crackers, hot chocolate, chocolates, and fruit into the center of the extra large picnic bench. The following 45 minutes were spent gorging. After lunch, we packed up and started in on a two hour hike along the beach. It was the best hike of my life. Twilight was setting in, the waves were crashing, and thankfully the wind was pushing us forward, toward the little seaside town where we caught our bus back home. I quickly cycled back to my apartment, crammed my face with food (don’t judge, close to six hours had passed since lunch!), and then was back on my bike heading toward a sauna where I met up with three others from the hike. I now sit comfortably in my bed, exhausted and fulfilled, finishing the last of this blog.

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My morning view. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

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View just after lunch. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

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View at twilight. Photo credit: fellow classmate.

Until next time!

Abby

Breaking News: Swedish Professor Bakes for Students!

Greetings once more from Sweden!

Since I last posted, I have wrapped up my Marine Ecology course and am now a week into Fisheries Ecology. I must say, the end of Marine Ecology was unlike anything I’ve experienced in University ever before. On the final day of class, we finished the remainder of the individual presentations and then proceeded to watch a slide show created by one of our classmates. Over the duration of the course, this particular classmate had continuously collected photos from all our excursions and laboratory exercises. The resulting slide show provided many good laughs, and to top things off, our professor brought in cinnamon buns that he baked earlier that morning. WHAT?! I had professor Kenneth Yip last year for BIO230 and was amazed when he brought in Timbits for one of his evening lectures that had to run for three hours instead of two….But a professor baking his own treats, well, that is just a game changer.

As for Fisheries Ecology, well, I must say it is starting off a bit slow. I’m scheduled to be in class from 9:15am to 5pm every weekday, but each day this past week we finished up early. Now, you might think that 9:15 is somewhat of an odd time to begin class, and I would agree. However, I asked one of my Swedish friends and apparently the story behind this start time is that in the past, students would use the ringing of the cathedral bells (at 9am) as a signal to leave for class. Since Lund was so small (still is), everyone would arrive by 9:15, so that is when class would start. Anyway, forgive my digression. From 9:15 to noon we are given a lecture that introduces us not only to fishery concepts, but also to common equations used by fishery managers. The latter half of the day is then spent completing an exercise pertaining to the equations we were introduced to earlier. The mornings are what I am finding a bit slow, but I think that is commonly the nature of trying to teach mathematical equations. For me, I find math always makes more sense when I just get stuck into a problem. Then I can work out exactly what each variable means, and why I want to perform the corresponding operations.

Having said all that, this upcoming week is looking quite promising. On Monday, half the class will be boarding a small trawler to collect samples from areas of Øresund, while the remaining half will board a small boat to collect samples using survey gill nets. Then, on Tuesday, we will be going to some small streams to practice electrofishing, while recording length and weight data of the specimens caught. The remainder of the week will be used for data analysis in the lab.

In non-school related business, I managed to visit Kulturen i Lund, an open air museum located in the center of town. A friend led me to a new apple picking tree, also in the center of town, albeit slightly hidden. Oh! I also managed to venture to Malmö to see The Feeling of Going at the Malmö Opera theatre. The performance was amazing. A fantastic combination of music, singing, dancing, costumes, and a stellar set design.

Outside the Malmö Opera. Photo Credit: Malmö Opera.

Outside the Malmö Opera. Photo Credit: Malmö Opera.

Finally, the last topic I would like to mention is that I am doing my very best over here to salvage Toronto’s image as a cool, multicultural, and exciting city to visit in spite of Rob Ford. Seriously, it’s crazy the amount of times people brought up the topic of Ford in my presence over the past week. Toronto has so much to offer…and yet I think we are quickly becoming known as ‘that city with the crack smoking mayor’. *sigh*

Until next time!

Abby

Hydrothermal Vent Systems & Deep Sea Gigantism

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Hej hej!

With the final week of Aquatic Ecology on the horizon, things are beginning to wind down for me here in Lund, for the moment anyway. This past week had everyone in class working in pairs to create PowerPoint presentations regarding a specified aquatic topic. My partner and I were given the topic of deep sea hydrothermal vent systems. Although I could happily write my entire post regarding this topic, for your sake, I will restrain myself. Instead, I would like to recommend the James Cameron documentary Aliens of the Deep, which discusses in detail why hydrothermal vent systems are so unique, as well as how our understanding of these systems is providing great insight into the search for extraterrestrial life. I’ll be the first to admit that the beginning, and end, of this documentary is slightly on the cheesy side, but the actual footage and information is brilliant!

Other topics presented during the past week were regarding mangrove forests, seagrass beds, fisheries, aquaculture, marine mammals, seabirds, and climate change. Overall, the presentations were incredibly impressive and insightful, as well as a great opportunity to practice public speaking.

During this final week, I will be completing my individual project, a 15 minute presentation on an aquatic topic of my choice. I decided to look into the theories and mechanisms behind deep sea gigantism. As many of you may have heard, during this month there have been two publicized findings of deceased giant oarfish surfacing on the southern coast of California. Since these fish truly represent a gigantic life form, I decided to include them into my presentation as somewhat of a case study. However, there is a vast amount of unknowns about this species, mainly because of all the issues that come along with studying in the deep sea, i.e., a lot of habitat to cover, expensive research vessels, largely time consuming, etc. What can be especially tricky in studying such mesopelagic organisms (organisms that live in the middle bit of the water column verses living at the water surface or the ocean floor) is that they migrate vertically as well as horizontally in the water column.

copyright AP Photo/Mark Bussey

Copyright AP Photo/Mark Bussey. Photo showing one of the two fish that washed ashore in Southern California during the month of October, 2013.

However, despite all the challenges presented by the deep sea, researchers have slowly been collecting scraps of evidence to support the hypothesis behind how this giant creature ekes out a living in the depths of the sea. Possibly one of the most interesting facts I have learned is that the giant oarfish positions itself vertically in the water column, instead of horizontally like many common fish species. It has been hypothesized by some that this vertical orientation is an adaptation to avoid predation because it decreases the oarfish’s visibility in the water. However, more research on live specimens is required before any conclusions can be drawn.

Photo credit: Benfield et al. 2013. Stills taken from video footage of the giant oarfish swimming off the coast of Mexico.

Photo credit: Benfield et al. 2013. Stills taken from video footage of the giant oarfish swimming off the coast of Mexico.

For me, what I find to be the most interesting question is the purpose of the occipital crest (the enlarged fin rays at the head of the oarfish). Is it the result of sexual selection? Are there differences between males and females? Is it a sensory organ? Hopefully with time some of these questions will be answered!

Photo credit: Tubil. Artist rendition of the giant oarfish

Photo credit: Tubil. Artist rendition of the giant oarfish

Not much new to report beyond class. Still trying to get outside as much as possible to enjoy the fall colours… as well as the daylight hours, which are rapidly getting shorter and shorter. On Friday I caved and bought myself a proper pair of running shoes. I see so many runners when I’m out and about in Lund that I think some kind of weird subliminal message penetrated my inner psyche initiating this need to run, well perhaps more accurately, this need to jog ever so slowly… running will hopefully come later. Luckily, I’ve been told by many of the Swedish students that Lund is pretty good for being able to run/jog slowly all year round. It seems that the common weather trend here is that even if it does snow, the snow never sticks around for long. Cool. This ought to be quite different from the slushy, sloppy, and wet Toronto winters I have grown accustomed to.

I believe this is where I will end my post for this week. I’ll be looking forward to writing my next post, which will happen after my first week of Fisheries Ecology. Before I depart however, I would like to share with you a poem I recently read in Mark Kurlansky’s book ‘Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World’.

The codfish lays a thousand eggs
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what she’s done.
And so we scorn the codfish
While the humble hen we prize
Which only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise

– Anonymous American rhyme

Take care,

Abby

Buns, A National Park, and An Exam

Two words: Kanelbullens Dag.

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Translation: Cinnamon Bun Day. Some people may question why a country would have a national Cinnamon Bun Day…I however, am not one of those people. Instead, I wonder, why does Canada not have a day dedicated to the celebration of these delightful cinnamon swirls of buttery, doughy goodness? Kanelbullens Dag was on Friday, the 4th of October. To celebrate, a group of my classmates and I gathered together to bake some of these delightful treats using a recipe from the local newspaper. Since there were nine of us, we clearly decided to do the logical thing and double the recipe. The result: Several mini mountains of buns piled around the kitchen table. With the aid of cream cheese frosting, we managed to defeat the numerous buns and eventually everyone was able to roll themselves home.

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In other sweetness news, I finally got around to volunteering at my Nation….for the bakery of course. The Nations are the heart of Lund’s student life. When you register at Lund, you have to option to pay a small fee to join Stundentlund. By joining, you get to register with one nation, although you can attend any nation regardless of which one you registered for. All the Nations hold pub nights, dinners, sittnings (not a spelling mistake), lunches, brunches, game nights, movie nights…you get the idea. All of these event nights are run by students and rely completely on student volunteers. However, if you volunteer you get treated pretty well. While working, you will get a decent meal, possibly some booze (if you are helping for a dinner or pub), plus you will get a “thank you” ticket either to attend a sittning, get free entrance to a pub night, or have a free Sunday brunch. Working at the bakery was ace. I got to bake lingonberry cake, strawberry crumble, and jam filled cookies. Other volunteers worked on baking some bread and making us pizza for dinner that night. I worked just under four hours, and got to head home with a bag full of treats and a full stomach. A fair trade in my opinion.

As for school related business, this past Friday the 11th was my exam. So different from U of T. This is the only exam I will be writing for my Marine Ecology class, and as such, it is worth 50% of my overall grade. There is something nice about writing the exam while still having three weeks of class remaining. I guess I just like the thought of being able to work on my final two projects without having to worry about coming home and reviewing all my lecture notes. The exam itself was quite fair. It was about twenty short answer questions and we were given five hours to complete it. I found this to be astounding. From what I have heard, most Swedish exams are four to five hours in length. Not because the exam is massive, but because the professors want you to have time to think. Actually, we were even allowed to leave the lecture room for coffee breaks. There were no monitors outside of the classroom. It is completely a trust based system. Just one more reason why I continue to love Lund, and Sweden, more and more.

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Since my exam was on Friday, I decided to give myself a study free weekend. Instead, I did some baking, ate dinner with some friends, and took a hike in Söderasen National Park to experience the fall colours. Yes, there are definitely lots of similarities to Ontario’s fall colours (as you can see from the photos), but there are still subtle differences. These differences however, are difficult to name, yet easy to understand when out hiking.

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Until next time,

Abby

*All photos came from fellow classmates this week.

East Coast/West Coast Field Trip

Hey, welcome back!

As expected, the East/West coast field trip was a crazy good time1. Each morning started with getting on the  Lund University Aquatic Research Vessel and bringing in the fish nets that were laid out the previous evening.

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Lund University Aquatic Research Vessel, or more simply, a boat. Photo comes from a classmate.

My group ended up working closely with another group who had decided to study the morphological differences in spine and vertebrate count of Atlantic Cod, comparing the subpopulation found off the coast of Baskemölla (East location) to the subpopulation off the coast of Magnarp (West location). Once the nets were in, we worked as a team to remove, identify, measure, and weigh the fish caught. Additionally, any cod that were caught had their otoliths removed2, as well as their stomachs (for prey content analysis). This process of cleaning the nets took the majority of the day, and was actually quite tiring.

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Our hostel in Baskemölla. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

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Our morning drive to the dock in Baskemölla. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

Each night of the trip was great fun.  Prior to leaving Lund, everyone in class pitched 100 krona (~$17) into a dinner fund. We had six dinners to make while away from home, and conveniently we had six different group projects occurring. Each of the project groups were given one night to cook a meal using a portion of the pooled funds. The resulting dinners were epic combinations of stews, pastas, curries, bread puddings, apple cakes, apple crumbles, and steamed muscles3. 

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Our hostel in Magnarp. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

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The road leading to the dock, this time close enough to walk. Photo from Svenska Turistföreningen webpage.

Another notable excursion moment was observing bioluminescent plankton off the coast of Magnarp. The professors took groups of students out on the boat two nights in a row so that everyone had a chance to experience this natural phenomenon. We were able to watch as little sparks of blue and green appeared when agitating the dark water with our hands.

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Bioluminescent plankton. Photo credit to Adam Plezer. Photo found on the National Geographic website.  

We returned to Lund Sunday afternoon, and were back in class Monday morning. Every group had this past week to use the laboratory for data analysis, as well as report writing. My group was unable to reject our null hypothesis, which was a bit sad, but data is data. We carried on, presenting and discussing our non-significant results, while making suggestions for future studies. Overall, the combination of the excursion, with the data analysis and report writing, has been a great opportunity to get a taste of what conducting a field experiment is truly like.

Spending six nights in shared hostel accommodations during the excursion certainly made it easier to get to know my classmates. So it was only natural that after such a long week in the lab, a large group of us ended our Friday night with burgers and beer at Kalmar Nation, one of the University pubs.

1If this sentence makes no sense to you, please feel free to scroll down until you come across my first entry entitled “A Tale of Two Cities…Or perhaps, more of a comparison”.

2Otoliths, otherwise known as ear stones, can be used to age a fish in a similar fashion to aging a tree. When an otolith is broken in half, alternating light and dark bands can be seen with the aide of a microscope. Counting these bands allow for the age determination of the fish. However, be warned, this is MUCH easier said then done.

3A big thanks to the group studying benthic communities who spent the better portion of a day collecting muscles for our final dinner.

 

A Tale of Two Cities…Or perhaps, more of a comparison.

Greetings from the land of fika1 (“fee-ka”) and complex, yet efficient, garbage disposal systems! Seriously, there are eight different containers outside my apartment for sorting my trash into, which is great, except that the labels are in Swedish and the pictures are not very informative. However, I am a U of T student! Thus, I am highly capable of translating these Swedish words into English…eventually.

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(Fika! Photo credit:  flickr user ruminatrix)

I am here in Sweden to attend Lund University for their Aquatic Ecology program. The program is actually a two year master’s program, but I am able to participate for a year as a bachelor student. Currently, I’m only two weeks into the semester, but I am already so grateful for my decision to venture away from Toronto for a year.

Unlike U of T, I will only be taking one course at a time here. I find this quite appealing because it allows me to focus all my energy into the subject at hand. My current course is Marine Ecology. It runs from the beginning of September to the end of October. There are 25 students in the class, a mixture of Swedish, German, Spanish, Australian, British, and Canadian. The classroom environment is casual and relaxed, and since we spend monday to Friday from 9-4 together, there are ample opportunities to speak directly with the prof.

Possibly the greatest perk of this course, for me anyway, is the opportunity to complete actual fieldwork. In fact, as I write this blog several piles of folded clothes, rain gear, foot wear, toiletries, and snacks surround me. This is because I leave early Monday (Sept. 16th) morning for the east coast of Sweden, where I will spend three days collecting data on the Atlantic cod inhabiting the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. Then I will travel to the West coast of Sweden, where I will spend another three days, this time collecting data on the cod inhabiting the Kattegat, a region of the North Sea. As a student aiming to enter into master’s studies, this practical research experience is invaluable for me. Moreover, I feel especially lucky that I am gaining experience in the field I hope to pursue in my future studies. This is a drastic contrast to the research assistant positions I often applied for at U of T. Positions that would have me sitting in a lab for the summer practicing mainly my pipetting skills.

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(The entrance to a cow pasture while hiking on the West coast.)

But enough about education. The Swedish outdoors are absolutely beautiful, and my little city of Lund is perfect. Student life has a huge presence in town, which means there is always something to do. Everyone I have met thus far has been friendly, helpful, and inviting. Conveniently, I have been able to bike anywhere in town in under 20 minutes. Also, I managed to find an amazing falafel place that sells wraps for only 30 krona2 (approx. $5)!

1Fika – basically a coffee break that includes a cake-like sweet of some kind, possibly my new favorite thing.

2Sweden is expensive. Finding a something delicious, like a falafel wrap, for 30 krona is a rarity in these parts.