Arctic Sunlight and Microbial Interactions 2014

Update

Archived LIVE PolarConnect Event with Regina!
Regina held a live event on Tuesday 8 July 2014. You can access the video, slides, and audio in the PolarConnect Archives.

What Are They Doing?

A thermokarst failure on the tundraA thermokarst failure on the tundra Tremendous stores of organic carbon frozen in permafrost soils have the potential to greatly increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Permafrost soils may thaw sporadically and melting ground ice can cause land-surface sinking called "thermokarst failures". These failures change the rate and amount of carbon released with the unanticipated outcome being that soil carbon can be mixed-up from a depth and exposed to sunlight as the land surface is altered. Sunlight can photo-degrade or break-down organic carbon and alter the carbon's ability to support bacterial respiration to produce carbon dioxide. Whether sunlight and UV exposure will enhance or retard the conversion of newly exposed carbon to carbon dioxide is currently unknown—this study is providing the first evidence that this alteration will be amplified by photochemical processes and their effects on microbes.

The research team is trying to understand exactly how sunlight and bacteria degrade dissolved organic matter by determining how fast these processes convert newly released dissolved organic matter to carbon dioxide, compared to dissolved organic matter already in surface waters. The team is accomplishing their research objectives with a series of laboratory experiments to determine rates of photodegradation and microbial processing of dissolved organic matter from different sources, and a series of landscape comparisons and sampling transects to characterize dissolved organic matter degradation in small basins and large rivers extending from the headwaters to the Arctic Ocean. Ultimately, this research will attempt to answer questions such as whether carbon export from tundra to oceans will rise or fall and how reactive the exported carbon will be. The team hopes to be able to measure the ultimate impact of impending disturbances, including climate change, on the net carbon balance of the Arctic and its interaction with the global carbon cycle.

Where Are They?

Toolik Field Station, AlaskaToolik Field Station, Alaska The research team was based out of Toolik Field Station, an 8-10 hour drive north from Fairbanks, Alaska. Toolik Field Station is operated by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has hosted hundreds of researchers and students every year since 1975. From the field station, the team traveled to their sites by foot, truck, boat and occasionally by helicopter.

Journals

Tundra and Brooks Range
End of Toolik Adventure I am now back in Livermore, California and have been putting off writing this journal post. I guess I want to feel like I am still in the Arctic! Some things I especially miss: The camp view of the Brooks Range, especially when seen with morning coffee on the patio. Brooks Range The incredible Arctic light. Toolik Lake in evening The immensity and variety of the tundra. Tundra Flowers Many People to Thank This start of collaborative work with Rose Cory and George Kling and staff has been an extraordinary experience, and I look forward to continue...
River ice
Measuring Fluid Dynamics in the Field So far I've seen research being done to document types and prevalence of microbes in water systems, the characteristics of water at different parts in the watershed, and how what wavelengths of sunlight are found at different water depths. Each variable by itself presents interesting research questions. However, a more complicated piece is added to the puzzle - How does water flow affect carbon release into the atmosphere? The Kuparuk River watershed includes Toolik Field Station and surrounding areas. The Kuparuk starts in the Brooks Range and ends in...
C-OPS to measure light waves
Dr. Cory's Groundbreaking Research As described in my post "Arctic Sunlight and Carbon Release", the tundra is a large carbon sink, storing decayed plants and animals in the frozen ground. As soil thaws and carbon moves from the ground into the watershed, carbon enters water as a dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Researchers study what factors affect the release of carbon dioxide (CO2). The cornerstone piece of Dr. Cory's research is studying how sunlight interacts with (DOC) to convert carbon to CO2 in streams and lakes. One important piece of information the team must know is how deeply...
Field work
Science Investigation in the Field As a science teacher, I've always required by students to complete an independent science research project. Students did not need to enter a science fair, and I am proud of students who challenge themselves by entering a science fair competition, regardless of the outcome. With this assignment in mind, its been interesting for me to watch the processes scientists at Toolik go through as they are designing and carrying out their own science investigations. Ask the Right Question and Hypothesis For students, the hardest part of their science project often...
Walking to Sag
Studying Carbon Release in the Arctic What is carbon's source? The PolarTREC project I am assigned to, Arctic Sunlight and Microbial Interactions 2014 studies the release of carbon from arctic waters to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. The easiest way for me to explain the research is to give a step-by-step explanation. First, consider that all living things contain carbon, and carbon accounts for about half of an organism's dry mass. That is, if all of the water were removed from us, or plants or animals, half of what remains is carbon. When the living things die, some of...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates:
15 June 2014 to 6 July 2014
Location: Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Photochemical and microbial processing of newly exposed carbon in the arctic ecosystem

Meet the Team

Regina Brinker's picture
Livermore Schools
Livermore, AZ
United States

Regina Brinker is a middle school science and engineering teacher in Livermore, California. She believes that it is her job to have students become so interested in science and technology that they want to continue studying these fields in high school and beyond. Mrs. Brinker engages students through hands-on inquiry and collaboration. Projects range from raising trout eggs, monitoring a pond's ecosystem, sending ping pong balls into space, and building robots and ROVs to international exchanges. Mrs. Brinker's students monitor seasonal changes of campus trees; this makes them better observers of the world around them. Development of this project inspired Mrs. Brinker to create a TED-Ed talk on phenology.

Through work with PolarTREC, Mrs. Brinker plans to give students a better understanding of the interrelationships of Earth's systems. Ecosystems don't exist in isolation. Mrs. Brinker wants her students to know how our collective actions influence climate change, both locally and around the Earth, and then choose to act responsibly.

Rose Cory's picture
University of Michigan
Ann Arbour, MI
United States

Dr. Rose Cory works in the Arctic where climate warming is thawing frozen soil which may release tremendous stores of dissolved organic carbon to the Earth's surface. After having been trapped for millennia in the frozen soils this new carbon then becomes part of the modern carbon cycle. Dr. Cory finds that exposure to sunlight accelerates the return of this dissolved organic carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, which may further increase the rate of global warming. Because climate change is influencing our planet's evolution, understanding the fate of newly released carbon will help predict our future as a planet and society. Read more about Dr. Cory and her research here

George Kling's picture
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
United States

George W. Kling is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. He primarily studies aquatic ecology and biogeochemistry, and his research has focused on carbon and nutrient cycling, on using stable isotopes to understand trophic interactions, and on the integration of lakes and streams in a landscape context. His recent research has examined the role of microbial diversity in ecosystem function. He has worked internationally on arctic lakes and streams for approximately 25 years, and on tropical lakes in Africa.

Kling's scientific outreach to the public through interviews about his research on climate change and on the killer lakes of Cameroon includes articles in magazines and newspapers (e.g., National Geographic, Smithsonian), T.V. and radio broadcasts (e.g., CNN, BBC), and television films (e.g., BBC, Discovery). He has met regularly with U.S. Congress members to discuss issues of climate change and scientific integrity, and was lead author of the Union of Concerned Scientists – Ecological Society of America publication 'Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region' (2003). Kling is an associate editor for Limnology and Oceanography (2001-), an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1997-), and received a National Academy of Science Young Investigator Award (1993), a NSF Presidential Faculty Fellowship (1995), the United Nations Sasakawa Award (Certificate for Disaster Reduction, 2001), and the ASLO Ruth Patrick Award (2007).

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Latest Comments

every time there is a thunderstorm will there also be a tornato?
every time there is a thunderstorm will there also be a tornato?
Morgan, I think that you are on to a good solution. Today I hiked into the hills behind the field station. Several experiments are set up out there. There are some small turbines set out. I don'...
Hi, Lucy. I wish that you were here! We went to a thermokarst yesterday. I poked a thermometer into a ground opening and got a reading of 5ºC. The top of the soil was 10ºC. I didn't take other...
Thanks! There is so much going on at Toolik, that time is the only limit for posting.