Nitrogen in the Arctic Ocean Ecosystem


Lollie is back in the Arctic and had two trips to Barrow, Alaska in 2011. The first trip was January 23 to February 2 and the second trip was April 24 to May 1. Besides through her PolarTREC journals, you can also learn more about this field work through the project website, Arctic Nitro here!

What Are They Doing?

The research team sampled the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean to investigate how microbial creatures affect the productivity of a coastal Arctic ecosystem. They traveled to the field site via snowmobile and sampled the seawater through a hole drilled into the sea ice. The seawater collected was used to look at competition between autotrophs, organisms that make their own food, and heterotrophs, organisms that cannot make their own food, and for nitrogen (N) in the waters near Barrow, Alaska.

The field work took place over the course of three seasons (two years) to give researchers the opportunity to investigate the coastal water ecosystems in different seasons, winter and summer, and with different amounts of daylight. The sources of nitrogen vary when there is no daylight in the winter, from the summer where there is nearly 24 hours of daylight.

In ocean ecosystems, microbes dominate many of the processes and are the major producers and consumers of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. Understanding the role of microbial communities in the Arctic ecosystem is an essential part of predicting the impact of climate change on Arctic food webs and other natural cycles.

Where Are They?

The research team was stationed at the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium also known as BASC. They traveled to sampling sites on the sea ice by snowmobile during the dark arctic day. Weather conditions were challenging as they traveled to the ice edge of the Arctic Ocean.

Barrow is located on Alaska’s North Slope near the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean. Barrow is a small community of approximately 4,500 people. The climate is arctic, with the daily minimum temperature dropping below freezing 300 days a year and 24 hours of darkness during the winter months. The community is primarily inhabited by Inupiat Eskimos, and is not accessible by road.

Expedition Map


Credit: Lollie Garay/ArcticNitro
Tara and Steven begin the coring. We returned to the ice after lunch today for ice coring. Tara and Steven were set to drill up 5 different cores. Adriane and I went with them and UMIAQ team members Brower and Elroy to give Adriane another chance with her underwater camera, and to give us both a chance for more photos. I asked Steven and Tara to explain the coring project- this was their response: “There is active biology in the sea ice. As sea ice forms, most of the salt from the ocean water gets squeezed out, and the remaining ice is essentially fresh water, but there are very salty...
Credit: Lollie Garay
Last Day at Ice Camp Friday (4/29) was spent processing samples from Thursday’s fieldwork, as well as prepping for the last day of water sampling on Saturday. I spent some time with Tara and Karie (Yager Team) talking about the scope of the project before they headed to the lab. Tara (Dr. Connelly) is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia whose research focus is on the utilization of nitrogen by heterotrophic bacteria. Karie is the Research Professional who runs the Yager research lab at UGA. Both have had amazing experiences in the Polar Regions! Tara spent 6 mos. wintering...
Credit: Marc Frischer
Silly hat day at ice camp! The last two days have been long and cold! The sun rose at 5:06 on the 27 and set at 11:44. Several of us, armed with cameras, set out to capture the sunset over the ocean. It’s been interesting watching the sun travel around the horizon. By mid day it’s pretty high in the sky, but it stays low on the horizon and even at sunset you just know its peeking over the rim of the horizon. Soon, it won’t set at all. Update on the whale watch: another was brought ashore today! Yesterday Adriane and I were driving through town and we came upon a family that was cutting...
Photo credit: Lollie Garay
Reflections of the day The bright sun was sparkling on the snow and ice as we wound our way through the intruding ridges of the frozen ocean. The temperature was -10 F when we set out, and the chill in the air was invigorating. As we made our bumpy way on the mile and a half trail to ice camp, the evidence of heavy ridging surrounded us. Snowmobiles between the ridges. By all accounts, everything went well with the sampling. Adriane and I spent most of the time working with the underwater cameras we both brought. Several of the UMIAQ team members helped us secure them; and Zac sat...
A polar bear sculpture on the ridges!
The ArcticNitro Team has reunited in Barrow for spring sampling. It doesn’t seem possible that it’s already been three months since our last trip. It was good seeing everyone again, both on the science and support team. Unfortunately, Tish Yager was not able to make the trip up this time. However, Adriane Colburn, a new faculty member in the Art Department at UGA has joined the expedition. I’m told she’s done some very creative work with her field experiences in the Polar Regions, and I’m looking forward to working with her here. We held the first logistics meeting this morning and finalized...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

24 April 2011 to 1 May 2011
Location: Barrow, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Nitrogen in the Arctic Ocean Ecosystem

Meet the Team

Lollie Garay's picture
Redd School
Houston, TX
United States

Lollie Garay teaches Integrated Earth/Space Science at the Redd school in Houston, Texas. Her educational mission is to get students, teachers, and the general public excited about learning by modeling a "can-do" attitude!

In 2007 Mrs. Garay spent 7 weeks in the Antarctic Seas conducting oceanographic studies with Dr. Tish Yager and an international research team through PolarTREC. Since then, she and Dr. Yager have teamed up on a joint global oceans study that will translate Dr. Yager’s carbon sequestration research into classroom activities and educational outreach.

She feels that her previous PolarTREC experience transformed her way of thinking and has opened up a whole new world of experiences for her students! By immersing students in real-life research and project-based learning, Mrs. Garay strives to inspire interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related careers, especially among under-represented groups. When she isn’t working on multiple projects, she and her husband Rey enjoy traveling, reading, and sharing new adventures!

Tish Yager's picture
University of Georgia
Athens, GA
United States

Dr. Patricia (Tish) Yager is an associate professor in marine sciences at the University of Georgia. Her expertise includes biological and chemical oceanography, marine microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. Her research focuses on the feedbacks between climate change and marine ecosystems. Her field research combines microbial ecology and community structure with inorganic carbon chemistry. She has spent several seasons working in Antarctica, and also studies microbial communities in the Amazon River. For the project in Barrow, Alaska, Tish will be the lead-PI responsible for project oversight, coordination, and synthesis. To learn more about Dr. Yager, please visit her [faculty biography page](

Marc Frischer's picture
Skidaway Inst of Oceanography
Savannah, GA
United States

Research in Dr. Marc Frischer's laboratory focuses on the role of microbial diversity in marine environments, the development and application of the tools of molecular biology in plankton ecology, and the discovery and ecology of parasite and pathogens in marine organisms. The impact and consequences of climate change on living marine systems focuses much of the ongoing research in the Frischer research group. A large emphasis is placed on the development and evaluation of new methods, particularly those that can be used in situ. In addition, a focus of the Frischer laboratory is the adaptation of molecular biological tools to a wide variety of questions in applied marine sciences, biotechnology, bioremediation, and invasive species issues.

Deborah Bronk's picture
The College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Gloucester Point, VA
United States

The Bronk group is focusing on defining the competition between phytoplankton and bacteria for available nitrogen. As part of our study, we are doing experiments with humics, which are the tea colored compounds that run off the land when permafrost melts. These humics can decrease the amount of light in the water, which phytoplankton need, while providing a source of carbon, which bacteria require. As the permafrost melts, we hypothesize that bacteria will be able to outcompete phytoplankton for nitrogen more often.