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And we’re back!!

Hey Hey,

Missing those snow-capped mountains! Photo by B. Jacobson

Just a quick update to let you know what we are up to! After a long travel day Saturday and Sunday we arrived back in good old lively Durham, MA and jumped into laboratory work and analysis time! It was sad to leave Abisko and take down our flagging tape and pack everything up, but as one of us in the group likes to say “It’s never ‘goodbye’ it’s ‘see you later’!

To finish up the program we are creating posters to present next week at UNH, submitting abstracts to the American Geophysical Union to see if we could present our posters in their fall meeting. It is hard work and sometimes stressful but we are all making the most of our opportunities here to gain more laboratory and data analysis experience so there is something new to learn each day.

The summer days here are still unpredictable as always with hot humid days and rainstorms alternating. In this heat we often find ourselves pining for Sweden’s clean dry air and crisp temperatures. I for one, even miss the cold mornings.

Soil samples.

Anyway, all of us are pretty wrapped up in our projects, but hopefully we will be able to show off some more of them on this blog in the remaining week.

Cheers!     <—-learned this phrase at the London airport.


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Vegetation Diversity in Stordalen Mire

    Hi everyone, my name is Maria Paula and I am studying vegetation in Stordalen Mire in Abisko, which has been the site for a lot of research over the years.

I am very interested in botany, plants and ecosystem structural dynamics (some people may go further and replace “interested in” with words like “obsessed with” or “a fanatic of” so those who know me can fill in their preferred word), so it was a dream come true to study this in Sweden.

My project looks at the vegetation diversity and abundance across five ecosystems in Stordalen Mire: palsas, eriophorum-dominated fens, sphagnum peatlands, lakesides and lake heath.

These ecosystems I am studying differ a lot in several aspects, including water availability, limiting growth factors, and nutrient cycling. For example the palsas, which are mounds of permafrost with a thin layer of peat and specific vegetative species, are ombrotrophic, meaning they receive all their water and nutrients from precipitation. Stable palsas are generally drier, so there are a few species that initially colonize the mounds, such as Empetrum nigrum, Crowberry, which is tolerant to cold, dry and nutrient-limited conditions. With palsa aging or permafrost thawing the moister conditions allow further species colonization.

Stordalen Mire with one of my transects. Everyone knew my sites by the bright pink flags!

By identifying the species diversity and abundance on a quadrat-transect system , I hope to find how vegetation differs across these ecosystems and how the mire may respond and evolve in terms of vegetation as permafrost thaw and climate change impact continue. Even though on a cold day Stordalen Mire appears silent and lifeless, there is so much life everywhere with birds, insects, an impressive diversity of plants, rodents moose and reindeer, and everything is interconnected. So as the vegetation dominance and presence change, so will the whole ecosystem.

The subarctic ecosystem is a really interesting environment so I will be explaining some things as I introduce the study sites:


A mound of permafrost with a thin layer of organic matter (peat) on which plants grow. They are created when an ice lens is formed and frost heave puts uplifting pressure on the soil and the mound is created. The height of the mound preserves it, since the wind blows the snow off the surface and prevents the isolating affect of snow that would otherwise warm the palsa and induce permafrost thaw. In the summer months, the vegetation similarly protects the permafrost from thawing from the sun’s rays and heat.


There are various zones of permafrost, some areas have continuous, meaning it is almost completely present in the landscape, discontinuous (like Abisko) where it is mid-high present, and sporadic when it is mid-not at all present in the landscape.  With warming temperature and new climate change events, studies have observed a thawing of the permafrost in the palsas.

There is an interesting range of plants here, which include Andromeda polifolia, Rubus chamaemorus, Betula nana, Empetrum nigrum, sphagnums and lichens. Ombrotrophic, meaning the nutrients and water received are solely from precipitation.

Eriophorum-dominated Ecosystem

Eriophorum-dominated fen.

This ecosystem is known as the “encroaching fen” because it is creeping into the palsa environment as it becomes more humid. The two dominant species are Eriophorum vaginatum and Eriophorum angustifolium, two species of cotton grass that establish themselves quickly in wet areas in thick grassy clumps. The sites I picked were very clearly dominated by Eriophorum, but I could see just by walking around Stordalen that these grasses were encroaching in a lot of other areas and out-competing other plants. Abisko is supposed to be pretty dry in the summer, but with all the precipitation events the Eriophorum definitely got a competitive edge. Something to think about in terms of future climate change impact on the mire.

Sphagnum-dominated Ecosystem

Mostly sphagnum moss in these areas, some species preferring tight drier hummocks (Sphagnum fuscum) and others wet floating clumps (Sphagnum balticum). I noticed mostly the latter was dominant in Stordalen, perhaps because of the unusual precipitation event and late winter.

Sphagnum-dominated site.

The lake had two distinct parts, so I decided to split it into two distinct ecosystems:

Lake Edge

Slightly flooded over and wetter, it was dominated by plants like Salix lapponum, Equisetum pratense and graminoids like Carex sp.

Lake edge site.

Lake Heath

This is the shrubby area right beyond the lake edge that is generally drier and hosts a different range of vegetation like Betula nana and Melampyrum pratense.

Lake heath site.

The design of my research was to run six replicates of each ecosystem with a seven meter transect with 3 one-meter squared quadrat in each transect. I identified all the species in the quadrats and estimated the percent cover of each species

Transect-quadrat experimental design.

I had a wonderful time out in the field everyday in the beautiful Stordalen Mire and learned so much! I can’t wait to analyze my diversity and abundance data and draw conclusions on my findings!



I could not resist ending without some lovely plant photos!!!

Cornus suecica.

Sphagnum fuscum.

Salix lapponum.

Eriophorum angustifolium.

Rubus chamaemorus.

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Hiking Mount Nuolja

Tori at the summit. Photo by Lily Zhao.

Hello, Tori here! Because today was a day off for most of us, we took the opportunity to climb Mt. Nuolja, a nice hike with the trailhead located about 20 minutes from the research station.   We had been talking about hiking this mountain since our first day here, so it was a great way to spend our final day off.  The hike up was fairly gentle for the most part, but there were a few extremely steep inclines.

Lapporten from the hike down. Photo by Tori Ward

As someone who hates heights, I was tempted to turn around, but everyone made it to the ski lift landing.  At that point, there is also a cute café, where we stopped for hot cocoa and tea as it was fairly chilly at that elevation.  Once there, we split into smaller groups.  Dan began his hike back down the mountain; Becca, MP, and Sophie took the ski lift down; and Lily and I began a hike to the summit of the mountain before beginning our descent.

The view from the ski lift is gorgeous according to those who took it.

Heart Shaped Island in Lake Tornetrask.

Lily and I were extremely glad that we decided to climb to the very top as the view was amazing.  I had never hiked a mountain before, so I wanted to give 100% to my first effort.  We took our time exploring the view and were fascinated by the fact that we could see the entirety of Lake Tornetrask from that elevation.  On the way back to the station, we took a different path, which followed a water fall.  I liked this path better as it lacked the excessively steep portions of the other path, and the waterfall was beautiful.  We got lost for a short while but eventually found our way back to the path, which was fortunate as we later heard that our fallback plan of following next to the waterfall was quite treacherous. All in all, we had a fabulous day hiking and would recommend this hike to anyone visiting Abisko!


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Hydrogen Cycling on the Mire

 Hi everyone!  This is Tori reporting on my project so far. My project is focused on quantifying the cycling of molecular hydrogen up here in the subarctic.  I am so excited to finally be collecting data.  As a UNH student I had to submit a proposal back in January to apply for this program, so I was thrilled to finally start work at the site a few weeks ago after months of anticipation and preparation.  The goal of my project is to better understand where in the soil hydrogen is produced and the effects of different variables, particularly precipitation, on the consumption or release of soil hydrogen.  Soil hydrogen is important because soils store about 75% of terrestrial hydrogen, but the mechanisms of this storage are poorly understood. Additionally, hydrogen is a secondary greenhouse gas because its atmospheric behavior affects the turnover rates of primary greenhouse gases.

Stordalen Mire. Photo by Tori Ward

My project is focused on the effect of precipitation because the thawing of permafrost is likely to result in wetter soils.  Based on current knowledge of the reactions responsible for the release of hydrogen, it is anticipated that wetter conditions will release more hydrogen, but few studies have actually focused on soil moisture. In order to better understand the mechanisms behind soil consumption and release of hydrogen, I have been collecting data from 4 subhabitats at Stordalen Mire, which is located about 11 km from the Abisko Scientific Research Station.

These 4 subhabitats are palsa permafrost, a mesic sphagnum site, and 2 fully thawed sites characterized by eriophorum and carex.  At each site, I collect porewater, soil dissolved gas, and autochamber samples to be run for both hydrogen and methane.  The Reduced Gas Detector takes 4 minutes to run each sample for hydrogen, which has meant some long days in the lab, but they have resulted in a lot of data! J My project was also helped by the cooperative weather. Last weekend, the area received what may have been record precipitation in 48 hours.  Hopefully, I can get another good storm before we head back to the states!


Collecting dissolved gas from a Soil Gas Sampling Array. Photo by Ryan Lawrence

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Listen carefully for the bubble!

Hey Hey Everyone! I’ve been given this opportunity to tell you a little bit more about my project. I spent the first month of this program building my sensors in Dr. Ruth Varner’s lab at the University of New Hampshire. I really like building things so I was happy to rise to the challenge of combining the designs of the peat sensors and the lake sensors in order to build an effective thaw pond sensor. These thaw pond sensors had to be smaller than the lake sensors because the thaw ponds were much shallower than the lakes so the sensor had to be light enough so that the whole sensor wouldn’t sink but it could be below the water table enough that the hydrophone would be fully submerged. I eventually came up with a design that is smaller and lighter than the current lake sensors. One of the issues I was pondering over in the building phase was how was I going to install the sensors into the ponds and have them remain upright in the water?  When I went to the Stordalen mire with Dr. Varner and we figured out a way to ensure the sensors would stay upright in the water by using PVC piping with buoyant Styrofoam pieces on them, and then attaching the sensors to the piping. It seems to be working fine so far!

These sensors have been sampled almost everyday since they were installed and I have been able to run these gas sampled on the Gas Chromatograph here at Abisko in order to calculate the concentration of each volume of gas I sampled. There are six peat sensors that I also installed when we first arrived in Abisko. These sensors were deployed in areas close to the thaw pond sensors, but these sensors are measuring ebullition events occurring in the peat (hence the name). Since the peat remains colder for longer, we have yet to see any measurable methane flux captured in these sensors.

Deploying the sensors in the field in Stordalen Mire.  Sophie Burke.

The peat will warm up enough to see any ebullition events later in the summer and will keep producing methane later in the season than the thaw ponds and lakes because as it remains colder longer at the beginning of summer it also stays warmer longer at the end. Since the peat sensor excitement will be most likely occurring after I leave Abisko Dr. Varner has asked Dr. McCalley, a post-doc working at Abisko to sample the peat sensors and thaw pond sensors after we leave. Another exciting thing associated with Dr. McCalley is that she will be running the samples she collects for us on a Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL), which detects what isotopes of methane are present within these ebullition samples. This is very new technology with a new application, which makes it all very exciting!

Two of the six pond sensors successfully deployed  in Stordalen Mire.      Sophie Burke.

Based on the thaw pond samples I have successfully run through the GC here at Abisko, I have found that the thaw ponds samples contain between 10% and 30% methane. Considering I am sampling these sensors generally every other day, this is a significant amount. Lately though, Abisko has experienced a rather extreme weather event which resulted in an incredibly amount of rainfall. This has resulted in the mire water table to rise significantly.  An increase in water table effects the rate of ebullition from the thaw ponds, and I think over the next few days as the water table begins to fall I will be able to see a change in the methane flux collected by the sensors.



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Hungry Hungry Heath Plants

    Hey, Dan Ackerman here! I arrived in Sweden at the beginning of July prepared to study nutrient cycling in the fungal community. The plan was to collect samples of ectomyccorhizal mushrooms that form symbiotic relationships with plant roots, helping them access various goodies from the soil, such as phosphorus and certain forms of nitrogen, both vital plant macronutrients. However, a number of unfortunate factors made such a study an impossible dream. Last winter was a particularly harsh one in Northern Scandinavia. The snow melted later than usual, meaning mushrooms are not ready to fruit quite this early in the season. Additionally, an extremely severe outbreak of Northern Autumn Moth (Epirrita autumnata) caterpillars in the region this year has led to decreased plant production, which means the fungi are missing a large part of their carbon source, from which mushrooms would be formed. It was definitely a disappointment at first, but these things happen in field work.


Northern Autumnal Moth caterpillars (Epirrita autumnata).

So, in a crazy plot twist, I’ve decided to study the “diet” of Pinguicula vulgaris (A.K.A. the common butterwort), a carnivorous plant common in moist areas around Abisko. These little meat-eaters grow on bare ground in poor soils where no other plants dare to colonize. Their leaves, comprising a jaundiced-looking rosette laid flat on the ground, secret a sticky enzyme stew (good with rosemary or plain) that traps and digests insects with poor luck and those that have become fed up with living in such a harsh climate. To be honest, P. vulgaris is the ugliest plant known to science when it’s not flowering, but I find it to be among the most interesting, due to its alternative lifestyle.


Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris).

I’ve been gathering samples from two contrasting habitat types: moist sphagnum and sub-alpine heath. For each plant I collect, I will use a mass spectrometer to determine the nitrogen isotopic ratio for the bugs trapped in the leaves, the leaves themselves, the roots, and the soil in which the specimen is growing. Depending on how closely the isotopic signature of the plant parts matches that of either the bugs or the soil, I will be able to estimate what percent of the plant’s nitrogen is acquired from insect consumption versus uptake from soil nitrogen pools. I am interested in finding out whether the degree of carnivory differs significantly between plants growing in the two different habitat types. There hasn’t been much prior research on this topic, so I can’t wait to find out the results once we get back to New Hampshire. In the meantime, I’ll be here in Sweden squatting in bogs to pick partially-digested bugs off of plant leaves. Oh, the glory!



One of my research sites in Abisko.

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First Week in Sweden!!

Hello! This is Maria Paula, delivering the first blog post of the University of New Hampshire Sweden NERU program. Welcome!

So the group of students and mentors traveled all through Monday and most of Tuesday to get to Abisko, Sweden and although we were very tired we stopped for some group photos along the road, settled into the Abisko Station and went shopping for the very first time!

In Logan Airport

Shopping was definitely an immersion experience, since we had just gotten off the airplane in Kiruna and had to buy groceries, all of which were labeled in Swedish. But all of us purchased food and made some funny mistakes. I bought lactose-free milk and Lily bought fruit soup thinking it was fruit juice while trying to shop smart. But we laughed and learned plenty of new Swedish words. The weather that greeted us was unusually cold and windy but our enthusiasm in this new country could not be extinguished by severe weather or fatigue.

By the road on Lake Tornetrask.  M.P. Mugnani

But before I go any further on what we have been up to, allow us to introduce ourselves and the program!This is the first year of the Sweden Northern Ecosystem Research for Undergraduate (NERU) summer program which is through the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and was funded thanks to the National Science Foundation (NSF). Our director is Dr. Ruth Varner and we have several mentors depending on the subject disclipline: Julie Bryce, Ruth Varner, and Erik Hobbie. There are nine students from all across the United States in different universities, but we all came together at the beginning of June to create a research project to complete in Abisko, Sweden during the month of July. We are a diverse group with study interests including hydrology, soils, nutrient cycling, methane and vegetation. During all of June we worked at UNH, working with our mentors, learning about sub-arctic ecosystems and preparing our project and methodology. Now we have just finished our first week in Abisko and have each advanced in our projects and goals, setting up research sites, practicing methodology and on our free time, exploring this beautiful country with it’s 24-hour light days, snow-capped mountains, scenic landscapes and interesting culture and language.

And now you get to meet us!

    Hello! My name is Sophia and I am a senior at the University of New Hampshire, majoring in Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Ecosystems. I am from Belmont, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. I am very excited to be part of this NERU program and to be in Sweden doing awesome research! My project over this ten-week program involves methane (CH4) ebullition, or bubbling, from peat thaw ponds. Peat thaw ponds occur when frozen peat thaws, slumps, and allows for melt water to collect.

I have designed and built six acoustic sensors based on past research done in Sweden by Dr. Ruth Varner and others that will allow me to record ebullition events as they happen as well as allow me to sample the accumulated gases for further analysis. The sensors will be deployed in three thaw ponds in the Stordalen Mire, which is located 11km away from the Abisko Research Station. My main goal is to try and answer the questions: how does methane flux via ebullition in thaw ponds compare to the flux from frozen peat? And how much does this flux contribute to the overall methane budget from the Stordalen mire? I plan on submitting an abstract of this work to the American Geophysical Union Fall Conference in San Francisco, California as well as writing a senior thesis paper.

Hello. My name is Alejandro Macias and I am a biology major at Northern Michigan University. I was born in Spain but moved to the USA three years ago to get my bachelor’s degree. I love traveling and last summer I volunteered in Ecuador working with Andean bears and condors. I am also very interested in both, botany and mycology, and will be working on the plant communities, and ectomycorrhizal fungi across a previously established elevation gradient. Fun/Tragic fact: my bag got delayed two times in a row while traveling these last months, and now it got lost for good so I am now hiking through snow with my sneakers and plastic bags.

    Hi! I’m Rebecca Jacobson and I’m from Londonderry, New Hampshire. I’m a senior Environmental Science and Policy major at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire. While in Abisko, Sweden I will be looking at mercury concentrations and movement in vegetation and moss along the methane flux gradient. I hope to learn more about various field techniques, mire plants and see neat geologic landforms. A special fact about me would be that I’m really afraid of parasites and parasitoids including ticks, leeches and misquotes. I’m really excited for this program and to go to Sweden!!

Hi!  My name is Victoria Ward.  I grew up in Germantown, MD, near Washington, D.C. and have been attending the University of New Hampshire for the past 3 years working toward a Hydrology degree with a French minor.   My research in Abisko is focused on the cycling of hydrogen in Subarctic soils because it is a secondary greenhouse gas important in the cycling of primary greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon monoxide. The consumption and release of hydrogen by soil is currently responsible for about 75% of the global hydrogen budget; however, very little is understood about this process. When I have time, I love to figure skate. I started skating at age 10, and it has been a huge part of my life ever since!

    Greetings and Salutations! My name is Ryan Lawrence and I hail from the small, historic town of Scotland Neck, NC. Currently, I am in my fourth year pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at Elizabeth City State University, located in Elizabeth City, NC.

In order to enhance my undergraduate experience, I conduct research at the Center of Excellence for Remote Sensing Education and Research, where my primary focus includes glaciology, specifically tracking basal stress boundary changes in the Amundsen sector of West Antarctic. In general, I am interested in green house gas-climate interactions as it relates to the emissions and potential impacts of elevated carbon dioxide and methane levels in the atmosphere.

While in Abisko, Sweden, my primary research goal is to study the dynamics of carbon dioxide exchange and methane flux during respiration. With the increasing concern over climate change, it is my plan to learn about the potential role plants play in the carbon budget, which could enhance our knowledge of future carbon budgets and the feedback of climate warming in the Swedish sub-Arctic. I am a member of the American Geophysics Union, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., by way of the Beta Zeta Chapter, and the alternative hip-hop band TiME MOVES.

    Hello, my name is Maria Paula Mugnani, I live in Vermont and I am going to be a senior this year at Mount Holyoke College majoring in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Conservation. I like gardening, traveling, linguistics, literature and botany. I love everything to do with the outdoors and science!

My summer research here in Abisko examines the vegetation diversity and abundance differences as well as soil nutrient dynamics between four ecosystems on Stordalen Mire: palsas, Eriophorum-dominated fens, sphagnum peatland and lake edges. The mire is going under a series of changes due to events like permafrost thaw and climate change so it is important to study how the vegetation composition and soil dynamics are altering with these changes. I hope to get more fieldwork research experience and learn more about Sweden and sub-arctic plants! A fun fact about me is that I have snorkeled with marine iguanas!

    My name is Dan Ackerman, and I’m an environmental studies major at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. This summer in Sweden, I plan to use stable isotope analysis to study nutrient cycling along an elevational gradient. A fun fact about me is that I used to be the voice actor for a talking fish in advertisements for a seafood restaurant in Boston.

Hi, my name is Lily Zhao and I am going to be a senior   at  the University of Chicago in the fall. I grew up in   Chico, California and am going to be working in exclosure   plots here in Abisko, as well as collecting samples for my research project. The purpose of my research project is to examine reindeer diet in northern Norway and Sweden since 1909. I would like to see whether reindeer diet has changed over the last 100 years. This is an important question in relation to climate change and Sami herding practices. Warming has been correlated with an increase in vascular plant production, which has in turn been correlated with declines in lichen biomass. A dietary analysis will provide information as to levels of lichen versus graminoids, forbs, fungi and shrubs each reindeer was consuming during the summer and fall of the year that they died. Diet will be analyzed by measuring stable isotope compositions (13C/12C and 15N/14N). 15N/14N composition may also be used to indicate levels of physiological stress on the specimens. I am really excited to get field experience and learn more about the ecology of this region. My interesting fact is that I beat Daniel Ackerman in a cheesy bread-eating contest (note that he is 6’2”), and then (by the terms of the bet) he had to refer to me only as “Goddess Supreme” for a week!

     My name is Nancy Freitas and I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. This coming fall I will be a junior at the University of Arizona, where I am majoring in Environmental Sciences with a focus in Climate Change. I also play Ultimate Frisbee at the Uof A and I absolutely love my team! This summer I will be characterizing soil microbes at increasing depths in lake sediments through DNA extractions and sequencing. I will also be incubating the sediments at two different temperatures to determine the relative production of methane by these microbes. C:N ratios, and 13C and 15N isotopic signatures will be determined from the sediments, and will help to give me a better idea of the environment that the microbes are functioning in. And I learned how to row on Thursday, so I am one step closer to figuring out the lake ecosystem! An interesting and slightly embarrassing fact about myself is that I know basically every line from the movie Bring It On.. 🙂

A brief synopsis of our activities this week:

On Wednesday, we looked at our laboratory facilities and explored the station a bit before meeting a current Abisko researcher in the field who studies UVB in vegetation in chambers. In the afternoon we hiked to the Turist Station, which had field guides, a small museum and souvenirs like postcards to send to loved ones. Nearby was a beautiful canyon with a river, which was fun to explore for varied vegetation, landscape, and sheer rocks. On a hike in the Abisko River we could see the beautiful snow capped mountains and cross rocks along the water.

S. Burke

On the lake docks in the Abisko Scientific Research Station.   S. Burke.

On Thursday we had our first official field day in Stordalen Mire to work on our respective projects. All efforts, from learning how to row a boat in the lake to setting up equipment machinery and study site selection proved to be a new accomplishment in each our projects. The mire was beautiful with microenvironments of palsas, eriphorum and carex-dominated fens, and sphagnum peatland.

Canyon along Abisko River. M.P. Mugnani

Walking around was easy on the boardwalks and the land was flat and green with surrounding mountains and vast lakes. With the wind so strong and the mire so vast, one felt very small while working there!

Stordalen Mire.      M.P. Mugnani

On Friday it was much rainier and colder, but we all continued fieldwork, some of us going to the higher elevations, farther south in Sweden or in Stordalen Mire. Already with two fields days we have experienced how variable northern Sweden weather can be!

On Saturday we scattered to do various activities, some of us to our field sites and others to visit Kiruna, a town in Sweden about an hour away from Abisko. Sunday was very exciting, with a full group drive to Narvik, Norway to visit a fjord!

Nancy explores the Narvik seaside. M.P. Mugnani.

The landscape quickly became rocky but with the same snow-capped mountains. The change in countries was not only apparent by the landscape, but also by the housing architecture, with small colorful houses balancing on rocky ledges. The fjord was beautiful with vast mountains and clear water.We throughly enjoyed the sunny warm day and the clean invigorating sea air.     Until next time!



Narvik Fjord.

A Norwegian Troll statue we found along the way.