Microbial Activity in Thawing Arctic Permafrost 2012
Cristina Solis and her team held a great webinar for the junior docents at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. If you would like to view the archive of the event, explaining the science of their research project, feel free to check out the PolarConnect Archives.
What Are They Doing?
Underlying the northern arctic coast of Alaska is a thick layer of permafrost. As water melts and pools on top of the permafrost, thaw lakes are formed. Much of the North Slope of Alaska is covered in such thaw lakes. As they decompose organic material, the bacteria and other microorganisms living in thaw lakes produce either carbon dioxide or methane, depending on the conditions. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 22 times that of carbon dioxide, and increased microbial activity in thawing permafrost areas could lead to changes in the atmosphere due to the increased release of methane. This research was important to better understand the factors controlling competing microbial processes in carbon-rich tundra soils and how microbial activities interact with biogeochemical cycles (the way specific chemicals move through living and non-living processes on Earth). This information was used to help understand the impacts that changes in climate have on tundra soils.
To collect their data, the research team combined research methods from biology, ecology, and biotechnology. In 2012, the team performed experiments to determine the role that bacterial processes play in the production of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases from peat soils. They collected data in the field including gas flux measurements, soil cores, thaw depth, water table depth, pH, and dissolved oxygen content. Additionally they monitored bacterial respiration and conducted related lab experiments.
Where Are They?
The team worked at a variety of different field sites near the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) where they lived and conducted lab work. BASC is located just outside the community of Barrow, on Alaska’s North Slope near the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean. Barrow is a small community of approximately 4,500 people, accessible only by airplane. The climate is polar, with the daily minimum temperature below freezing 300 days a year.
Meet the Team
In addition to teaching life and physical science, Ms. Solis has also taught math, leadership, cooking, and even belly dancing in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Ms. Solis earned her Masters from Columbia University in New York City, earned her Bachelor's degree from Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, and completed a study abroad at Oxford University in England. Always looking for ways to improve her practice and grow as an educator, Ms. Solis actively participates in professional development with organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE), and the World Forestry Institute (WFI). In 2009, Earthwatch selected Ms. Solis to assist in research on coastal ecology in the Bahamas. Ms. Solis is currently a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Teacher Fellow.
Lars Angenent is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. His research interests include the conversion of organic waste into bioenergy, the development of biosensors, photobioreactors and bioaerosols, and the creation of biocomputing devices that are based on microbial electrochemical technologies. Learn more about Dr. Angenent's research at his faculty webpage [http://angenent.bee.cornell.edu/DrLarsAngenent.html]
David Lipson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at San Diego State University. His research interests include soil microbial ecology, plant-microbe interactions, and linking microbial diversity to ecosystem processes.
Ted Raab is a Senior Investigator in the Carnegie Institute of Science at Stanford University. His research interests include plant physiological ecology, analytical chemistry and spectroscopy, synchrotron-based imaging, and cryosols.
Elliot Friedman is a PhD candidate in Dr. Angenent's Lab at Cornell University. His research focuses on engineering applications of microbial electrochemical technologies. He designed and constructed the biosensors being used in the Arctic.