The station activities
posted by Till Bovermann on 3 December 2023

From 26.8.2023 to 16.9.2023, I had the pleasure and huge privilege to be an artist in residence at the Biological Station in Kilpisjärvi for the Kilpisjärvi Science trails project of the University of Helsinki. This text is about my Station activities and planned further work, the third of three blog entries about my time in Kilpisjärvi. Read about Revisiting Microworlds and livecoding in the first post, and Impacting, infrastructure and dynamic field recording in the second post.

My experience as a field work apprentice

Early in my stay at Kilpisjärvi Biology Station, I had the pleasure to meet Silja Veikkolainen, Maija-Susanna Sujala, Hannu Autto, Oula Kalttopää, and Anu Ruohomäki. All of them are in various ways associated with the field work that is conducted at the station.

There are three different situations into which the field work can be categorised: It is usually conducted

  1. by researchers that travel to the site to collect data by themselves,
  2. by the station’s field team as a service to external researchers, and
  3. by the station’s field team for the station’s own datasets.

There are complexities and overlaps between these groups because external researchers may gather data for other colleagues and the field team may only partially work for a researcher. This means they don’t have to visit the station multiple times a year.

I had the pleasure to tag along several collection runs, which I will briefly describe below.

Visiting the project LIFEPLAN site

According to their website, the LIFEPLAN project aims

to establish the current state of biodiversity across the globe, and [use those] insights for generating accurate predictions of its future state under future scenarios.

Silja, the station’s field team intern for the summer 2023, was so kind to show me around the data collection site and introduce me to the various measurement devices.

Observing Silja changing the batteries of a ranger camera and microphone for the Lifeplan project

Similarly to more than 160 participating sites all over the world, the data collection involves soil sampling, several audio and camera traps, a cyclone trap to collect spores from the air, and a Malaise trap to collect flying insects.

Servicing the cyclone.

Before analysing the data, it is collected and prepared. This is done by sequencing the acquired biomass’s DNA and carefully and manually categorising auditory and visual data.


Collecting Birch seeds

One of the oldest long-term data collection at the station is the birch seed collection. Every last day of the month during summer, the field team changes the bags from about 15 funnels that are set up in the nature reserve known as Saana herb-rich forest. They are then counted and the results filled into a database. On my day with Silja, we visited the site and collected the content of the bags.

 One of the several funnels to collect birch seeds. A long-term study started more than 20 years ago.

Test fishing

Every year, either the field team or Kimmo Kahilainen and the participoants of his field course catch fish from Kilpisjärvi using nets. They then classify the fish based on their species, measure their length, weight, and age, and finally analyse their stomach contents. The team puts three nets in the lake overnight for several days, each night at a different depth.


It was at this morning that we also collected the plankton samples form Kilpisjärvi lake I mentioned earlier.

…and measuring.

Butterfly trap

At the beginning of summer, an external researcher sets up a trap in the Saana herb-rich forest to capture butterflies. The trap consists of a light bulb, a funnel, and a freezer. When the butterflies are caught, they fall into the freezer. The trap must be checked every week to see what has been caught. The captured butterflies are then frozen and sent to the researcher for further analysis.

 Essentially, the butterfly trap consists of a lamp with a freezer situated in the forest.

Collecting bilberries

Similarly to the birch seeds, bilberries are collected and counted from specific plots at Saana fell since the 1970s. Of the original 6–7 plots, three are still harvested every year. Each plot is divided into approximately 50 by 50 cm subplots.

Our task was to pick all bilberries within each of the subplots and put them into paper bags that are labeled according to plot and subplot. The subplot at which I collected berries together with Anu was supposed to have a semi-high fence around it, however, it was trampled by reindeer. The different subplots had quite varying amounts of berries in them, partly because some contain larger rocks, partly because of other plants overtaking the area.

Anu picking bilberries.

It took about an hour for the four of us to do the picking on the three plots. After collection, the berries are dried and counted and the result put into a data table that has all the entries dating back the 1970s. The whole effort is broken down into approx. a hundred numbers per year, each representing the berry count of one subplot.

Having been part of it now, I can see the value of the study, especially from a long-term perspective and I would be curious to see the accumulated data.

Microclimate, ITV, and biodiversity

I had the pleasure to meet Julia Kemppinen and Pekka Niittynen from Oulu, respectively Jyväskylä University during my stay at the station. As physical geographers, they are conducting several studies in which they measure plant growth and their intraspecific trait variation (ITV) and match it to external factors like near surface and soil temperature, soil humidity, and soil nutrients, but also snow depth and annual snow melt date. ITV is essentially a value indicating variation of traits like growth height, leaf size, or leaf dry matter content between individuals of one species. 

Apart from a lot of manual labor involving the specification and measurement of plants, Julia and Pekka have 460 loggers spread over the greater Kilpisjärvi area collecting temperature and soil data in 15min intervals. This data needs to be read out once a year, which means that every logger needs to be visited and the data downloaded by a USB connection.

Artificial mushroom to measure and log temperature and soil moisture.

On my last day at the station, I accompanied Julia on her trip to a logger of a colleague of hers to download its data. It was a refreshing walk with deep discussions about motivations and personal backgrounds, research culture, and sustainability issues arising from research tourism, the habit of researchers to travel to sites with only little ideas on sustainability and the reduction of environmental impacts of their fieldwork, e.g. by handing over data collection to local teams.

Conclusion and Outlook

I am very happy with how the residency turned out. It gave me the chance to reconnect with my microworlds project and explore them further. I also got to establish connections with the station, its staff and their daily research practices. Being particularly interested in artistic research and its methods, as well as the interrelations between art and science, I was able to get a glimpse into the daily work of researchers and their field work practices.

I will take home some of my findings.

On top of that, I was able to revive my artistic practice and go back to sonic wilderness live coding. I also got to form new ideas on how to continue and extend my field recording and photography practices. I am very curious to see how the material I collected will behave once I start to edit it.

Lastly, I’m excited for the next stages of my artistic practice. I’ll be editing the recordings I made during this residency, which will be the basis for hopefully many future artworks. I’m especially looking forward to continue my work on the microworlds project and possibly to collaborate on future projects with the Kilpisjärvi Biology Station.


All in all, the last three weeks were a wonderful experience with lots of encounters with human as well as non-human entities. I was happy to find so friendly and helpful people here. My special gratitude goes to my housemate Susanna, who is responsible for the cleaning at the station. Her friendliness and heartiness combined with the Finnish attitude to give space spread a wonderful atmosphere over my stay. Her cakes were the best.

Additionally, I’d like to thank the rest of the house crew for their moral and concrete support; there was always a smile to exchange, namely Kalevi Laurila (caretaker), and Mervi Haapala (kitchen staff) and crew.

Writing wrap-up reports is hard.

Furthermore, I would like to thank Silja Veikkolainen (field team intern) for her patience by which she endured my strange questions, Maija-Susanna Sujala (field team) for her pro-active support in my field research babysteps, Hannu Autto (service coordinator) for his networking support and general friendlyness, Oula Kalttopää (field team) for his practicality and helpfulness, Anu Ruohomäki (research coordinator) for her curiosity and lifeliness, Julia Kemppinen and Pekka Niittynen (geographers) for their openness and honesty, and Pirjo Hakala (station manager) for always making the impossible possible.

Apart from the direct contact to people related to the biological station, I was very happy to receive support and valuable insights into how to live and work in Kilpisjärvi by nature photographer Merja Paakanen. Particular thanks go of course to Leena and Oula Valkeapää without whom I would never even had the chance to begin to grasp the many layers of political and (other-than-)human influences involved in the region.

From the Bioart society, I would like to especially thank Maija Fox (former intern and helping hand), Lisa Kalkowski (producer), Milla Millasnoore (communications), Piritta Puhto (managing director), Erich Berger (former director), and Yvonne Billimore (current artistic director), I cannot stress enough, how valuable their work is in general, and how much help they are in terms of producing residencies and activities related to the Bioart Society in general. You are awesome.

From the team of the Kilpisjärvi Science Trails project, I would like to thank Ditte Taipale and Sini Bäckström for their remote support and general friendlyness and helpfulness. It was very nice working with you on this project and I am grateful for the trust you had in me and my artworks.

Finally, I would like to thank Anu Pasanen who thankfully drove me from Rovaniemi up to Kilpisjärvi, Mila Moisio, without whom I would have never even have known about Kilpisjärvi in the first place, and Anja Riese for her unconditional support and general wonderfulness.