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Last ice microbiomes and Arctic ecosystem health


Principal investigators

Alexander Culley (Biochemistry, microbiology and bio-informatics), Warwick Vincent (Biology)


Dermot Antoniades (Geography), Denis Boudreau (Chemistry), Raoul-Marie Couture (Chemistry), Jesse Greener (Chemistry), Connie Lovejoy (Biology)


André Bégin-Drolet (Université Laval), Catherine Girard (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi), Lionel Guidi (Centre national de la recherche scientifique), Alison Murray (Desert Research Institute), Marc Oliva (University of Barcelona), Laurence Yang (Queen’s University)


MOSAiC and Alfred Wegener Institute, T-MOSAiC and University of Lisbon, Nunavut Research Institute, Nunavut Field Unit, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Polar Continental Shelf Program, National Biodiversity Cryobank of Canada, Centre for northern studies, Centre d’optique, photonique et laser, National Institute of Polar Research, Natural History Museum, German Research Centre for Geosciences, Laboratory for Cryospheric Research, Canadian Light Source, FlowJEM


Conservation policies for the fast-changing Polar Regions are an urgent global priority in the face of ongoing climate change, yet little attention has been given to the microbial communities that underpin high latitude ecosystems and dominate biodiversity and functioning. To address this gap in understanding and knowledge transfer, we target two conservation areas at the top of Canada: the Last Ice Area (LIA), the band of thickest ice along the northern coast of Nunavut (under interim protection as the Marine Protected Area Tuvaijuittuq), and the adjacent land-based conservation area of Quttinirpaaq National Park.

Our approach will be from an integrated microbiome perspective on the structure, functioning, climate sensitivity and monitoring of diverse microbial ecosystems. The project has three interlocking modules, with emphasis on technology innovation, novel approaches connecting disciplines, and knowledge exchange among laboratories and partner networks in the large-scale international projects MOSAiC and T-MOSAiC. In the Marine Module, we will test hypotheses about the genomic diversity of microbes in LIA sea ice and coastal waters, including ice-covered bays and fjords, and develop an innovative opto-microfluidic system for field flow cytometry to characterize and quantify aquatic microbes. In the Ice Module, we will evaluate the microbial, including viral, diversity of glaciers, ice shelves, ice domes, and perennial snowbanks on the landward side of the LIA, and develop an advanced microfluidic bioassay system to assess the environmental responses of microbial biofilms. In the Lakes Module, we will address questions about microbial connectivity, conceive novel biogeochemical models for lake oxygen dynamics and sulfur cycling via in situ and metagenomic studies, and apply a suite of methods, including paleo-DNA, to place the LIA region in a long-term historical context. The project will yield new transdisciplinary perspectives on cryo-biomes, and will provide extensive training across research centres on Arctic environmental issues of broad significance.