By Michel d. S. Mesquita, researcher at Uni Research, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, and Manuel Ballesteros, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, FRAM – High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment.
Hornøya, an island located in the northern part of Norway has been an important site for seabird research for at least three decades. Each year, scientists go there to collect data. For example, the more than 30 years of data collected on the common guillemot seabird, called ‘lomvi’ in Norwegian, is arguably one of the longest seabird time series to date. This makes it possible to study how the climate system has affected this species and how it may affect them in the future. Collecting data is therefore an essential research activity, especially when we consider the fact that common guillemots are an endangered species according to the Norwegian Red List of species.
Another relevant set of information will be collected this summer: weather data. We have installed the arguably first automated weather station on Hornøya. These data will complement our studies of the common guillemot and other species that live on the island.
Spatio-temporal relevance: the need for high-resolution data
The MOVECLIM Project at NINA studies the movement of common guillemots. Data from GPS loggers attached to the seabirds are collected each year, which provide the location of these seabirds at high temporal resolution. In order to compare these data with weather, we needed to collect weather information at high temporal resolution as well, which is not available from stations in Finnmark. We can now gather wind, pressure, rainfall, temperature, and humidity data at high temporal resolution thanks to the new weather station we installed on the island.
Also, spatial resolution is highly relevant. For example, while our weather station registered wind speeds of 15 metres per second on Hornøya, the weather station in Vardø, located roughly 6 km from Hornøya island, registered a maximum wind speed of 10 metres per second according to yr.no. In addition to that, the temperature was close to 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer in Vardø compared with Hornøya. This illustrates the variation of weather conditions in space even at short distances. So, when running limited area models at high resolution, the so-called ‘dynamical downscaling’ approach, one needs to take into account such variation and use weather observations collected at relevant sites.
Thus, the data from the Hornøya weather station makes it possible to obtain data at high spatial and temporal resolutions. These data can then facilitate the assessment of model simulations and provide insights into whether common guillemots are influenced by the weather or not.
Bringing the first automated weather station to Hornøya
The Columbia Weather Systems Orion weather station is portable and fully automated. It consists of a cylinder the size of a small water jar. It houses a sensor module that measures temperature, relative humidity, and pressure. On the upper side of the station there are three antenna-like sensors that measure wind speed and wind direction through ultrasonic technology. Also, a metal plate sits on top of the station and it measures the size and impact of rain drops, which then provide the amount of accumulated rainfall. The weather station is installed on top of a tripod that is fastened to the ground. It can withstand high winds, which are not uncommon on the island. The station receives power from a battery and the data are transferred wirelessly to a receiver connected to a computer.
The weather station was sent from Tromsø to Vardø and from there it travelled by boat to Hornøya. Then, we transported it to one of the research residences, located close to the lighthouse, on 13 June. There, we tested the station and installed the necessary software to make sure everything was working properly.
After that, we needed to select a site that was in accordance with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which means that the station should be installed away from buildings or trees. More specifically, it should be located at a horizontal distance of at least twice the height of the closest building. We found a site that matched the WMO criteria and that was close to the area where the seabird’s data are collected. Everything was then ready for installation the following day.
At night, bad weather hit the island. This would mean that the weather station would most likely have to be installed under unfavorable conditions in the morning; but this turned out to be a positive aspect of the installation, since we would be able to make sure the station was firmly fixed to the ground and that it would withstand high winds.
During the morning, the rain had stopped, but the winds were still high and the temperature was cold. We pre-assembled the weather station in the residence and then took it to the site we had selected the previous day. In spite of the windy conditions, the installation went well. When we returned back to the house, we obtained the first readings from the station. It registered 15 meter-per-second winds from the southeast, 4.8 degrees Celsius, and 70% humidity. The software also showed that the wind chill, which measures how it feels outside due to wind conditions, was of -2 degrees Celsius.
How the data will be used
As we mentioned before, the data collected this summer will be used to verify our climate model simulations in the MOVECLIM project. These are valuable data that can help us improve our model set up, which will then allow us to reduce uncertainty. Also, when these data are collected during the next field campaigns, they can form yearly time series, which can then be used to understand changes in climate on this island.
In addition to that, these data can also help us understand the movement and behavior of seabirds. For example, we want to study if weather patterns affect the route taken by these seabirds to find food, or if bad weather can make them more stressful, or whether other behavioral changes can be due to weather patterns. There are, therefore, several relevant research questions that can be explored with the use of the data we are gathering.
Plans for the future
The study of seabirds and how climate may affect them are important research themes, as we have shown in a number of publications (Reiertsen et al., 2012; Erikstad et al., 2013; Mesquita et al., 2015). We hope to obtain more funding to continue our collaboration and research work, such that we can understand more about the behavior of seabirds and the impact future changes in climate can have on them.
The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and SEAPOP funded the weather station we installed on Hornøya and the installation was conducted in collaboration with Uni Research Climate and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research.
Erikstad, K. E., T. K. Reiertsen, R.T. Barrett, F. Vikebø, and H. Sandvik (2013). Seabird-fish interactions: the fall and rise of a common guillemot Uria aalge population. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 475, 267–276. doi: 10.3354/me ps10084
Mesquita, M. d. S, K. E. Erikstad, H. Sandvik, R. T., Barrett, T. K. Reiertsen, T. Anker-Nilssen, K.I. Hodges, and J. Bader (2015) There is more to climate than the North Atlantic Oscillation: a new perspective from climate dynamics to explain the variability in population growth rates of a long-lived seabird. Front. Ecol. Evol. 3:43. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2015.00043
Reiertsen, T. K., K. E. Erikstad, R. T. Barrett, H. Sandvik, and N. G. Yoccoz (2012) Climate fluctuations and differential survival of bridled and non-bridled Common Guillemots Uria aalge. Ecosphere 3(6):52. http://dx.doi.org/10. 1890/ES12-00031R