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01/15/2012, 12:00 AM by Lollie Garay
Noon in Barrow<br/><br/>Credit: Tish Yager
Noon in Barrow
Photo Credit: Tish Yager

Jan 15 2012

Temp:  -34.4C   (-30°F)

Wind Chill: -45.5C  (-50F)

Sunrise/Sunset:  1:02 PM/2:07 PM

The skies are clear today and twilight will illuminate the landscape for about an hour before the sun “sets’ again to plunge the day into night. That’s one of the most intriguing things about the Polar Regions for those of us not used to it!

Inside, the team is preparing for the first sampling on Tuesday. It’s always a beehive of activity as bottles for collection are labeled; containers of all sizes are marked and packed with materials and equipment; and calibrations are made.

Team members onsite include Dr. Tish Yager, grad students Colin Williams, and Niko Finke from UGA; Marc Frischer and Tech Victoria Baylor from SKIO; and Debbie Bronk, postdoc Rachel Sipler, and grad students Steven Baer and Jenna Spackeen from VIMS.

Marc reports: “ Steven is going out on the ice this morning with the UMIAQ crew to set up the ice camp at the near-shore station.  Ice conditions are still iffy.” Not only is it important for the ice to be thick enough to support the fieldwork, they can’t go out if the ice is shifting, actively creating pressure ridges.

SMORE Georgia had these questions for Marc:

S: What are pressure ridges exactly?

Marc: “Pressure ridges are pieces of ice that pile-up on each other, usually blown around by storms and wind.  They form just like mountains form on land due to tectonic processes.”

K: I'm intrigued. I know that they went … to collect DNA and RNA data, but for what exactly?

Marc: “The reason we are going to such great lengths to collect DNA and RNA samples in this project is to test a specific question we have about how bacteria in the Arctic ocean will respond if a lot of the nutrient that are currently frozen in the permafrost are released into the ocean as the Arctic melts.”

“The DNA and RNA markers (genes) we are looking at are needed for bacteria to use (assimilate) NO3.  The gene is called “assimilatory nitrate reductase”.  The abbreviation is “nasA”.  By looking for nasA DNA we are able to tell if the genes are present and what type of nitrate assimilating bacteria are present." 

"RNA lets us examine the nasA genes that bacteria are actually using (expressing) and allows us to quantitatively determine if there is any pattern to bacterial utilization of NO3 in waters off of Barrow. ‘

“An important question that we are trying to answer in this project is what will happen to the productivity of Arctic planktonic systems (life living in coastal ocean water) if the permafrost melts?  Our hypothesis is that one of the consequences of a warming Arctic, melting of the permafrost, and the release of vast amount of frozen ancient carbon in the form of peat will be an increased demand by the bacteria for nitrogen in the chemical form of nitrate (NO3)."

 "The reason this might happen is because the carbon locked in the peat lacks nitrogen and for the bacteria to use it, they need an additional source of this limiting nutrient.  However, for phytoplankton, the algae that forms the very base of the food web that produces all the big stuff we like so much (fish, seals, polar bears, whales, etc) NO3 is also the limiting nutrient."

 "It is our hypothesis that when all that permafrost derived carbon enters the Arctic coastal ocean bacteria will start using more of it and phytoplankton growth will be limited.  Thus, the amount of big animals that the Arctic will be able to support in a future warmer Arctic ocean would also be reduced.”

“So far we’ve found that it is ubiquitously present and expressed though it is hard to tell yet if there is a seasonal pattern.  Time and additional experiments will tell if bacteria begin to use more NO3 as more permafrost carbon is released. “

Hope to have some photos to share in the next post!









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