The Arctic fieldwork begins!

Happy Solstice everyone!

Team Drone arrives
Will, Gergana and Andy from the current Team Drone Crew on arrival on Qikiqtaruk on the 21st June 2017 – Jeff was off taking photos somewhere and miss the photo!

Team Drone has flown off from Inuvik and landed safe and sound on Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island yesterday. The sea ice is still moving around in the waters around the island.  Sam the ranger said it was piling up in Thetis Bay in an impressive way a few days ago. You can check out the sea ice conditions in this satellite image below and live on the NASA website.

Photos and accounts to follow of Team Shrub’s arrival when Park Biologist Cameron Eckert flies off of the island later today. Cameron has recently had some really cool bird sightings on the island over the past week including a Calliope Hummingbird feeding on a willow flower and a Cape May Warbler foraging in the tundra, those are the first sightings for the island and the Hummingbird is a first for the Yukon and Beaufort Region! He supposedly has an awesome picture of the hummingbird.  Can’t wait to see it!

Team Drone has put the food in the ice house freezer and rested after the busy period of field preparations in Inuvik and has even had a chance to go out birding with Cameron before he leaves the island.  I am guessing they will be getting going on field data collection today.

Let the fieldwork begin!

by Isla

Team Shrub at the Edinburgh Science Festival

April has been a very exciting time for Team Shrub in terms of science outreach – we have teamed up with digital artists and videographers to communicate the key findings of our research in the Arctic to an audience from Edinburgh and beyond. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Simon Sloan, Archie Crofton and ASCUS to go beyond traditional means of science communication and use beautiful photographs, data visualisations and hands-on workshops to prompt discussion on the rapid environmental changes occurring in the Arctic. In addition to our wonderful collaborators, our outreach work is hugely benefiting from the excellent photography skills of our own Team Shrub members Sandra Angers-Blondin, Jeff Kerby and Anne Bjorkman. The Edinburgh International Science Festival was the perfect occasion to bring together beautiful photos with cool artifacts from our fieldwork for an event under the theme of “Arctic from Above” – Team Shrub’s first exhibition!

Arctic from Above

Preparations for the exhibitions were filled with much joy and trepidation – with drone imagery, shrub rings, photos of tundra plants and wildlife, tea bags, muskox fur and more, the exhibition encompassed many of the reasons why we love Arctic research!

Weeks of careful consideration of themes, colours and order culminated in an exciting chance to share our work with everyone who came along to the opening nights. With many questions and discussions, the exhibition room was buzzing with curiosity and enthusiasm. We were thrilled to see so many people engage with the dramatic changes the Arctic is experiencing, and ask meaningful questions – it is always refreshing to think about your work from a different perspective, and we really appreciated our chats with the exhibition visitors.

The Summerhall War Memorial Gallery is a wonderful home for our creative outputs, and there is still plenty of time to check out the exhibition before it closes on the 12th May! The vibrant and diverse atmosphere of the Contemporary Connections events, among which our exhibition “Arctic form Above”, is also captured in the video below. In the video you can also see moments from our second contribution to Contemporary Connections – a visualisation of shrub growth by Simon Sloan!

Contemporary Connections: visualising data in innovative ways

Sandra’s shrub ring photos and growth data served as inspiration for digital artist Simon Sloan to create a captivating video of shrub growth through time. It was fascinating to see data represented in a new and different way, and we hope to be collaborating with Simon again in the future to continue pushing the boundaries of innovative science communication! We were very impressed to find out that behind the beautiful imagery there is… code! Of course, our own R code sometimes results in abstract renditions of data visualisation, but that’s usually the result of a coding error, not a purposeful desire to create patterns and shapes where there would usually just be data points. The next Edinburgh Science Festival event in which Team Shrub participated, “Dialogues with the artists” gave us a glimpse of how we can highlight the beauty in data through graphic design software and the Processing programming software.

Check out the video about the exhibition featuring Team Shrub:

Dialogues with the artists

Through a series of talks by scientists and artists and follow up questions, the public got the chance to learn how collaborations between two seemingly very different disciplines – science and art – come to be, and what are the challenges and benefits of such work. We enjoyed learning about our fellow Edinburgh School of GeoSciences researchers including Seb Hennige who study Scottish deep-sea cold-water coral reefs and their artistic collaboration with Hannah Imlach entitled ‘From the Dark Ocean Comes Light, among several other great art-science projects. Isla and Sandra talked about the key themes of our research, what it’s like to work in the Arctic, as well as how we collect data. Following from the introduction to the dramatic environmental changes occurring in high latitudes, Simon shared what it’s like to bring out the creative side of data – turns out there is data clean up and formatting regardless of whether you are using the data for research, or art! It was fantastic to see how we can go from shrub ring photos and rows of numbers via processing code to a captivating video of shrub growth!

Communicating through video

We have also teamed up with motion designer Archie Crofton to communicate the big questions that we are investigating in our research.  Archie has put together a series of video clips inspired by our drone ecology research using drones to link on-the-ground measurements of tundra vegetation change to satellite observations of the greening Arctic.


Our art-science collaboration has inspired us for more outreach and we are very keen to continue fostering a discussion on Arctic change among the wider public! We would like to thank the Global Environment & Society Academy Innovation Fund for helping us bring these projects to fruition.

Our next two outreach events at the Edinburgh Science Festival will be a more hands-on experience of what it’s like to use shrub rings as indicators of environmental change through time, as well as what it’s like to be a drone pilot and what new horizons drone technologies open up for ecology!

Contemporary Connections: Exploring the Art in Data – Saturday 1 April – Friday 12 May 2017 at Summerhall

Tundra shrubs – Arctic time machines, with Sandra Angers-Blondin – Wednesday 12 April 2017 11:00 and 14:30 at the ASCUS Lab in Summerhall

Researching with Drones: Meet the ExpertsSaturday 15 April 2017 10:00 AM at Our Dynamic Earth

By Gergana

A fortune pastry for Team Shrub

Today in lab meeting we ate a traditional Bulgarian pastry baked by our very own data manager and soon-to-be PhD student Gergana Daskalova.

Сладка баница (or sladka banitza) is a new year’s tradition in Bulgaria, it is a pastry that is both sweet and salty representing both the good and the bad in life and it contains pieces of paper cooked in with fortunes written on them! Sure, it isn’t quite the new year anymore, but it is a bit of a new beginning for Team Shrub with new students joining the lab for the summer’s field season or as dissertation students for next year.

As the most senior member of the team, it was my job to slice up the pastry and distribute the fortunes. So, to find out what is in store for members of Team Shrub, read on…



  1. You will discover an amazing super-efficient dplyr trick by chance. – Awesome! We hope that is one amazing dplyr trick per team member, so that we become even more super-efficient programmers. Perhaps, one day we can write a Coding Club tutorial with all of our new coding tricks!
  2. As many stars in the sky, that much money in your wallet (or research funding). – Yay! Future research funding! We don’t know when that funding will arrive, but I guess it is time to get some proposals submitted.



  1. You might not be looking for treasure, but you will find some regardless – perhaps during fieldwork, or whilst frolicking around in the outside world. – A treasure! I love treasures – either actual or metaphorical.
  2. A big research grant is heading your way – lots of exciting research and deep thinking (or even deep machine learning) in your future! More potential funding in our future and maybe some deep machine learning!!! How exciting – though again, I better submit some proposals so this has a possibility of coming true!


  1. Your spirit will be free and you will enjoy exciting travels in new places! – Exciting travels. I hope Sandra remembers to bring her camera to take some more wonderful photos!
  2. Excellent organization skills will help you strike a great work-life balance and you will know just when to say no and when to be super ambitious! – Oh, the illusive work-life balance, and knowing when to say no, sounds like something many folks on Team Shrub are striving towards!


  1. A manuscript of yours shall get accepted in a fancier journal than what you originally envisioned. – An even fancier journal for Gergana’s first manuscript submission perhaps?
  2. A beautiful, logical and novel storyline for a manuscript will form in your head, and you will be organized enough to write it down before you forget it. – Another manuscript fortune, that bodes well for Gergana’s publication record.


  1. Love and joy, both of which sincere, will follow you everywhere you go. – Oh how nice. So many positive things!
  2. Excellent health and a great state of mind will help you be happy and accomplished. – Wow how positive yet again. Sounds like Cameron is going to be a great asset to the field crew this summer!


  1. You shall make great progress towards striking the balance between being very ambitious and knowing when it’s enough for your work to be “good enough”. – We could all work on that, particularly the perfectionists on the team!
  2. Bravely go forward, good luck will follow you at each step! – Nice one, that does bode well for Sam’s dissertation plans.


  1. After many years, your wish finally comes true – better and more diverse food options on KB! – Wow, all of our dreams would come true if this were the case. After having been to the University of Aberdeen this week and sampling their delicious on campus food, we are feeling very jealous!
  2. Exciting nature experiences shall provide you with inspiration and motivation! – Probably, while Haydn is on his Easter cycling holiday.


  1. Strong will take you forward in life! – Strong will and perseverance. There is a lot of that on Team Shrub.
  2. A chance encounter leads to an exciting opportunity for collaboration from which novel contributions to science will arise! – Hmm… perhaps this is referring to Andy’s current travels to Brazil to fly a drone over the rainforest.


  1. Amazing! You will have time to be lazy and relax! – Ah, we could all probably use a bit of relaxing with our busy schedules of late!
  2. Brilliant ideas shall pop into your head at unexpected times. – Cool! Bodes well for Jakob’s PhD analyses! I hope we all have some brilliant ideas over the next year.


  1. You might have given up on a certain manuscript or goal, but unexpected help and inspiration will give you the drive to finally accomplish those tasks! – Nice. Nina can probably use her future inspiration in her new job!
  2. Your communication skills will be top notch – be it manuscripts, emails or presentations, you will be clear and concise, and your efforts to develop those skills will pay off! – Top notch! Those communication skills are also going to come in handy with the new job.  Congrats Nina!

So it sounds like it is going to be a very productive and ambitious, yet relaxing and balanced year for Team Shrub. Thanks to our new team members for coming along to the lab meeting, thanks to those who attended in spirit and thanks to Gergana for making the Сладка баница! Don’t forget to burn your fortunes before next year so that they all come true.

By Isla

Inspiring Young Scientists

This week, TeamShrub and Airborne GeoSciences were at Our Dynamic Earth for the Inspiring Young Scientists Event ‘The Universe is Your Oyster’. There were 2201 guests at the event including youth of all ages and their parents on the 16 and 17 October 2016.

At our table we had a selection of drones, a flight simulator, photographs and videos of our Arctic adventures, and everything from our Tundra Top Trumps game, Thermokarst the Dragon to the TeamShrub mascot of Otto the Walrus! Just next door were other folks from the School of GeoSciences with jelly volcanoes, cabbage juice and fun activities to illustrate ocean acidification, ocean currents and volcanic eruptions. Down the way, Sophie Flack had a table with her “carbon sink”, an actual sink with tropical plants planted in it, illustrating an eddy covariance town in a tropical rain forest.

It was a very fun event, and hopefully over the two days we managed to inspire some young scientists! Thanks to Andy for organising and coordinating the TeamShrub display and to Andy, Sandra, Jakob, Haydn and Tom from AirBorne GeoSciences for proudly donning their purple TeamShrub t-shirts to represent Arctic science using drones at the event!

By Isla

Here is the video that Dynamic Earth put together about the entire event, TeamShrub features at minute 2:15.

Sandra’s research on the RBGE blog

Check out Sandra’s awesome post on the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh webpage:

Reading between the rings: detecting competition between tundra shrubs using dendrochronology

Typical of Sandra’s work, it is beautifully written with gorgeous photos accompanying the excellently explained science.

Sandra's photo
Shrubs have been expanding in tundra ecosystems over the last half-century. On this photo, dense, knee-high dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa) has become dominant on previously lichen-covered land in Umiujaq, Northern Québec.

by Isla

Piping in R – a celebration of Robbie Burns Day

This week for TeamShrub Lab meeting we did Isla’s intro workshop to piping in R.  I discovered piping nearly a year ago and it has changed my coding life!  No more nested loops for me, well maybe not quite as many.  I am still on my way to learning all the functionality of dplyr, but in case you haven’t discovered the wonders of piping and dplyr here are a few useful links.

Intro to dplyr

Here is a blog on the concept of piping in R

Here are a couple of blogs that put piping and dplyr together!

And finally here is Haydn’s piping joke converted to dplyr for Robbie Burns Day.

RobbieBurnsDay <- the haggis %>% do(“in”)

Do you get it?  Piping in the haggis!

by Isla