GEM Scientist of the Month - April

Lars Holst Hansen from Aarhus University, working for BioBasis Zackenberg.

Some people get triggered by the Arctic from early childhood, while others take their detours in foreign regions and ecosystems. This month's GEM Scientist of the month, Lars Holst Hansen from Aarhus University, spent many of his teenage years hiking and canoeing in the Scandinavian North. But with a Master in biology within behavioural ecology of South African birds, it was not obvious that he would end up working in the Arctic for the BioBasis program at Zackenberg in 2007.

This work includes planning and doing field work and processing data to be included in the GEM database. While in the field, his duties range from collecting arthropods, taking water samples, mapping vegetation with UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones) to counting flowers, Arctic hares, foxes and muskoxen. Although Lars does not consider himself a scientist, but rather a scientific technician, he has also acted as Deputy Scientific Leader for Zackenberg since 2009. After many years of experience working for GEM, it “feels good to be part of something larger that feeds into our knowledge on how climate change affects a model ecosystem like the high Artic"

Lars is known for his enthusiastic and captivating photographs taken while doing fieldwork. His photographs are used in scientific papers, presentations and posters of colleagues and in magazines, newspapers, on Danish and Finnish broadcast websites, while one photo was even issued as a Greenlandic stamp back in 2013. 

"I like how photography can be challenging, both from a creative and a technical perspective. By spending so much time in the field, I get so many great opportunities for wildlife photography and my images have been extensively used.  I feel very privileged to be able to spend so much time in the largest national park in the world and document the nature there."

For Lars, one of the most memorable field work experiences are capturing of muskoxen, which can weigh up to 300kg each. "Every second year since 2013 we have captured muskoxen for a side project to provide them with GPS collars. This requires a huge team effort and very specialized skills that we have developed over the years. While it can be quite challenging, we have managed until now and had lots of fun doing it. I am looking much forward to another capture mission later this year with this great little field team."

Possibly, due to his keen interest in technological progress in the field, Lars hopes to see more use of UAV’s in the future Arctic monitoring, like in Zackenberg where UAV’s have currently started to be implemented as a new method for monitoring, and where great progresses are expected. But on a larger scale, he adds: "The monitoring at Zackenberg has not even completed a full “climate period” of 30 years, but we have seen clear changes as documented in recent reports and publications. I hope that our work in addition to the work of others will be useful for informing political decisions to do something fast about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and even more radical measures as taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere."

Based on his experiences, Lars’ advice to the new generation of scientists is "Try and get involved with field work". Despite the hard access into the Arctic and harder working conditions, many student assistants have ended up falling for the Arctic and continued their work doing a master project or Ph.D. study. 

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