FEASTing in Abisko

It promised to be a windy day with some scattered rain clouds, when we head out to mount Nuolja to join the FEAST-project.

FEAST stands for Functional Ecology of Alpine SysTems, a large-scale project to assess soil conditions in mountains worldwide. Such a noble joined effort I find hard to resist, so we signed up to add our study sites in the northern Scandes to the growing network. One day of fieldwork, collecting soil samples and associated species occurrences, would be sufficient to move global mountain ecology huge leaps forward.

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Measuring soil conditions for the FEAST-project

Of course we needed a representative mountain, one that would prove valuable in the global analyses. Our eyes fell on mount Nuolja, the 1200 meter high mountain peak overlooking the village of Abisko and the Abisko National Park. For decades, this mountain has been intensively studied by scientists from countless different disciplines in the Abisko Research Station, and it is safe to say that virtually no mountain above the polar circle has better data on all aspects of its ecology. CIRC, the Climate Impact Research Center of the nearby Abisko Research Station, now even re-installed long-term vegetation survey plots that continue century-old scientific traditions.

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Wooden poles of the century-old long-term vegetation survey are scattered along the whole elevation gradient of mount Nuolja

 

Nevertheless, despite all this amazing data, information on the soil functions was still largely lacking. The FEAST-project proved a great first step in the right direction to change just that.

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The vast open stony tundra at the top of mount Nuolja

The FEAST field day turned out to be a great success. We got some strong winds, I tell you, on top of that unprotected mountain, but we avoided most of the predicted rain. We managed to collect data for the two FEAST-experiments, with the first one looking at typical alpine soils along an elevation gradient and the second one focusing on snowbeds. Snowbeds are areas were snow persists long into the growing season, even when it has molten away everywhere else.

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Surveying plant species diversity in the FEAST-plots

The latter proved especially interesting on mount Nuolja, as the region just emerged from a year with extraordinary weather conditions. With little precipitation in winter and temperatures soaring in summer, even the most persistent snowbed on the mountain was far gone by the time we did the experiment. Extreme weather events that are getting far more common in the north nowadays as a result of the changing climate.

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Astragalus alpinus seeds on top of the mountain

Now all soil samples are packed and send to the UK, where they will be analyzed and compared with those from tens of other mountains all over the world. And then, finally, we can set some long-awaited steps forward in understanding the mysteries of the belowground world in mountains. And that’s truly going to be a FEAST!

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Working with a view: Abisko National Park and the Lapporten mountain range where always visible in the distance

 

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