Microbial Changes in Arctic Freshwater


Archive of PolarConnect Event with Lauren from Alaska!
Lauren hosted a great event on Friday, 27 June 2014. Check out the audio, video, and slides in the PolarConnect Archives

What Are They Doing?

Spring thaw on the tundra outside of Toolik Lake, AlaskaSpring thaw on the tundra outside of Toolik Lake, Alaska Microbial diversity has recently been found to show a pattern of organization at various scales. The research team attempts to answer three basic questions about microbial diversity and dispersal, focused on the long-term aspects of dispersal events and climate change: 1) How does environment influence microbial community composition and rate of function? For example, how quickly they convert organic material to carbon dioxide. 2) How are distribution patterns of microbial communities in lakes, streams, and soils influenced by the dispersal from local water flow? 3) How are the shifts in microbial community composition related to shifts in environmental conditions over time such as those caused by climate change?

To date, the researchers have found that microbial communities in lakes and rivers change dramatically through the seasons but reassemble on an annual basis. They have also found that community composition in soil and surface waters shifts within days in response to environmental fluctuations in temperature or dissolved organic matter composition. They have also found that upland terrestrial habitats act as landscape-level seedbanks for lowland aquatic systems. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a greater understanding of the controls on microbial community composition and function over space and time.

Where Are They?

The view from Toolik Field Station, AlaskaThe view from Toolik Field Station, Alaska The research team was based out of Toolik Field Station, located on the Dalton Highway in the northern foothills of the Brooks Mountain range. The station is 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, and helicopter.


Byron at Wolverine thermokarst
This quote from John Muir helps to capture why everyone needs to care just a little bit more about the changes happening in the polar regions of the Earth. What happens in the Arctic... There's another great saying I learned from Dr. George Kling, a co-PI on this project. Unlike the saying "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," the same is not true for the Arctic. He called it the Anti-Vegas Rule. What happens in the Arctic, does NOT stay in the Arctic. The Arctic, and Antarctic are far from closed systems. Yes, they seems far away, and unfamiliar to most of us (though hopefully you have...
Lauren and Ethan sea kayaking
The Journey Home When I last updated I was waiting for my husband Ethan to make his way to Fairbanks for some Alaskan adventures! Here's some of the fun we had... Denali Star We took the Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Anchorage. This was a really fun way to travel across the massive expanse that is Alaska! We had some amazingly clear weather and were able to clearly see Denali, aka Mt. McKinley. It is often cloaked in clouds so we were fortunate to get to see so much of it and the rest of the Alaska Range. Denali from the train Talkeetna, AK We spent the night of July 4th in...
Dining hall sendoff
The Migration South Begins We made the drive down the Dalton yesterday back to Fairbanks. Byron left Sarah behind at Toolik to collect the remaining samples for the season. When all is said and done she will collect around 400 (we collected just over 1/4 of that to the point when I left, so she has a bit of work yet to do!). The great send-off from the dining hall as we drove away. We had a great send-off from the dining hall. It was a fogged in and drizzle-filled morning, and that weather held for much of the 9 hour drive. Upon arriving in Fairbanks we had a send-off dinner with the PIs...
I love the Arctic
Wrapping up my time in the Arctic I love the Arctic! Today is my last full day at Toolik. Byron, Hannah and Sarah completed day 2 of the bacterial lakes survey, bringing our sampling total up to 115 samples collected during my time at Toolik! I stayed behind and helped filter for different water chemistry tests when they came back to camp at lunch and in the afternoon. I also attended a Talking Shop talk (a regular Tuesday evening Toolik event) where two filmmakers from the BBC who are up here filming some footage for a future show about Alaska discussed their experiences in wildlife...
Toolik Lake
What does it all mean? I've tried to introduce you to Byron's microbial research over the course of my stay at Toolik. I want to take this journal to try and relay what some of his findings have been, and why this should be something that we care about even if we don't all live in the Arctic. The Goal Byron initially set out upon this particular project as a biogeography project, he wanted to better understand what different microbes were found in these Arctic waters, and if they varied from place to place. He was simply exploring uncharted territory that was previously unaccessible due to...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

15 June 2014 to 3 July 2014
Location: Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title: NSF-LTREB – Long Term Research in Environmental Biology: What controls long-term changes in freshwater microbial community composition?

Meet the Team

Lauren Watel's picture
St. Mary's Academy High School
Englewood, CO
United States

Ms. Watel has been teaching at St. Mary's Academy in Englewood, CO since 2009. During that time she has taught biology and environmental science to grades 9-12. She also serves as the faculty advisor of the Environmental Club and a 10th grade advisor. St. Mary's Academy is a JK-12 school, and Lauren teaches in the high school division which has an all-female student body. Lauren received a BA from Colorado College in biology in 2007 and a MEd in curriculum and instruction from the University of Washington in 2009. She also completed a graduate resident teaching program culminating in a certificate from IslandWood in environment, education and community in 2008. Lauren enjoys spending her free time traveling, biking, hiking, and skiing with her husband Ethan and dog Ralph.

Byron Crump's picture
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR
United States

Dr. Byron Crump has worked in the Arctic for over a decade exploring the biodiversity and ecology of bacteria and other microbes in lakes, streams and soils. Microbial communities are essential components of every ecosystem on the planet, and in recent years we have learned that the most abundant organisms in natural microbial communities are unrelated to the cultured organisms studied in the lab for the last 100 years. Microbial communities contain an extremely deep diversity and an immense genomic potential of novel functional genes. Dr. Crump is currently conducting a multi-year study of microbial community composition and growth rate in arctic lakes and streams on the North Slope of Alaska to measure how diversity and growth vary over time and are affected by global change. You can read more about Dr. Crump's research [here](http://people.oregonstate.edu/~crumpb/index.html).

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Latest Comments

Hello, In my research group and startup company we are using eDNA for detecting animals in water. We currently use a peristaltic pump with the sterivex filters but I'd like to try with a syringe for...
Where do I begin, Lauren? Thank you taking us on this "wonder-filled" journey. I have appreciated your comprehensive reporting from the trip preparations to the helicopter ride to the explanation of...
What an adventure you shared with us! We learned so much from what you learned and shared with us. Well done x
I 've always thought that there is nothing more wonderful than a nap in the sunshine. But you make that sublime surrender to shut-eye on the expansive tundra almost a transcendental experience....
Sandy, you are correct that the permafrost- which is no more than about 1 ft below the surface keeps them from being able to dig the tanks into the ground. I am ready for a longer soaking shower, or...