Oulanka Research Station – an Arctic melting pot

Most workshops in the project ‘Visualizing environmental change’ have been held at the Oulanka Research station. Oulanka Research station is a regional unit of the University of Oulu, situated in Kuusamo, north-eastern Finland. The station is located in the Oulanka river valley within the Oulanka national park. Established in 1966, the station functions as a multidisciplinary unit with a responsibility to coordinate the university’s activities in the north-eastern Finland. Research at the station focuses on freshwater ecology, long-term ecology and manipulative long-term natural experiments (ecosystem level climate change research). The station is also the hub for university’s various field courses and offers a large number of very long time series data sets for research and teaching uses.

The research and educational facilities of the station provide an inspiring environment for researchers and teachers, courses, seminars and conferences. In addition to lecture and seminar rooms and computer facilities, the research station has a research laboratory and a student laboratory as well as recreational facilities. In addition to basic laboratory equipment, there are facilities e.g. for DNA extraction, a spectrophotometer, FIA-analyzer, microcentrifuge and sampling equipment for terrestrial and aquatic fieldwork. The student laboratory has advanced optical microscope and micro imaging systems. The main microscopes have cameras and can be used with a computer and the image can be projected onto a screen. Several student stereomicroscopes can also be fitted with user’s own DSLR cameras.

The surrounding Oulanka National Park represents nature in the northern boreal forest zone. The hilly landscape is dominated by Scots Pine and Norway spruce forests, which have remained virtually untouched since the felling took place there in the early 20th century. Partly due to calcium-rich bedrock there are many rare species in Oulanka National Park. The difference in temperature between the high rising fells and low river valleys make an ideal environment for a versatile range of species. The vegetation of the herb-rich forests is especially abundant. The park and surrounding areas are a major biodiversity hotspot.

Oulanka is the National Park of flowing water. The area is traversed by two large rivers flowing east, the Rivers Oulankajoki and Kitkajoki. The River Oulankajoki is the heart of Oulanka National Park and the Kiutaköngäs rapids one of its main attractions, just a short walk away from the research station. Steep sided ravines and river valleys, which traverse the park, have been named one of Finland’s National Landscapes. Currently Oulanka National Park is being considered to be added on the United Nations list of world heritage sites.

The sights, the unique natural features, the changing seasons and, together with the very high biological, geological and topographical diversity provide an excellent setting for photography and other visual work around the Oulanka Research station. The northern lights, the crusty snowdrifts, the midnight sun and the autumn colors provide visual attractions all year round. Furthermore, the proximity of locations with various human activities (forestry, mining, urbanization, invasive species, excessive grazing by reindeer) that affect nature provide contrast with the pristine park areas. These were taken advantage of in planning the workshops in the project to take place during different seasons and times of the year.

The Oulanka Research station is located in a somewhat remote location, with a distance of 55 kilometers to the nearest town Kuusamo, 25 kilometers to the Arctic Circle, 13 kilometers to Russian border and around 200 kilometers to Rovaniemi, the home of Santa Claus. This means the workshops had to be well planned in advance to have everything necessary available at the workshops, and it also meant that there were no external distractions preventing the participants from focusing on the work at hand. The research station and the surroundings afforded for a unique environment for interdisciplinary work and for exploring the environmental change in the Arctic hands-on.

 

Text by Riku Paavola, director of the oulanka research station, Photos by jari ilmonen, alexander lembke, riku paavola and antti tenetz.