(Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences-Microbial Ecology Laboratory)

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A poem about our sub-Arctic research


Methanogens are very small–

understanding them ain’t so banal.

Their customary dwelling place

is deep within the anaerobic space.

Typically occurring in reduced anoxic environments,

they’re also found in subglacial sediments.

The greenhouse gases they can release

keeps us scientists at unease.

And so many sanguine people hope

to study them in full scope,

in order to build scientific models

that can prevent global debacles.

At the Rich lab we collect peat,

to understand all the heat

contributing to the thaw gradient

at which the permafrost is ambient.

Widely distributed are these methanogens,

they’re also found in Spitsbergen.

High up in the Arctic,

or way down in the Antarctic,

Methanogens are of high importance–

they play a role in the Earth’s disturbance.

There are many reasons to study permafrost,

one of them being the economic costs.

So let’s quantify soil-atmosphere gas exchange

to further assess this climate change!


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Environmental Microbiology in the High Arctic

Swimming in icy cold fjords, Summer barbecues at 4C, insomnia under the midnight sun, polar bears roaming about… I was in no doubt that I was somewhere like nowhere else on Earth. If I was even on Earth at all. The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) is the world’s northernmost institution of higher education, located at 78º N in Longyearbyen, Norway. There, I fell in love with the amazing landscape and the diversity of life! The fauna and flora of Svalbard includes more than 1,800 marine invertebrate species, 1,200 terrestrial or freshwater invertebrate species and over 170 higher plant species in addition to the 21 mammal and 28 bird species.

While it is a stunning environment, the high Arctic is is harsh, and the challenges microbiologists face in the high Arctic were due to low biomass, unknown target, unknown selection pressures, the remote fieldwork, low activity of microbes, contamination, and typically only getting one initial sample.


photo 1 photo 2

The general course description as advertised on the University Centre of Svalbard’s website can be found here: http://www.unis.no/STUDIes/Arctic_Biology/ab_327.htm

Course outline

    • 4 lectures per guest lecturer
    • 5d lectures and seminars (some evenings)
    • 7d laboratory practicals (3 themes)
    • 7d fieldwork (3 themes)

Major Topics Covered

    1. Eukaryotic Microbiology
    2. General Ecological Principles
    3. Cryoconite, Glacier and Aerial Microbiology
    4. Terrestrial Microbiology and Nutrient Cycles
    5. Molecular Microbial Ecology (a and b)


    • David Pearce, University of Northumbria & UNIS, Aerial Microbiology, Glacier Microbiology, Hot topics in Arctic Microbiology
    • Malu, University Centre of Svalbard, Arctic Microbiology
    • Giselle Walker, Laboratoire d’Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, Protistan biogeography and ecology  & Biogeochemical cycles
    • Pete Convey, British Antarctic Survey, Terrestrial Ecology of Arctic and Antarctic systems
    • Antonio Alcami, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid & National Center for Biotechnology (CNB), Viruses in polar marine environments & Metagenomics of viruses in water
    • Chris Laing, University of Exeter, Modeling & Adaptation to low temperatures
    • Lise Øvreås, University of Bergen, Arctic marine microbial diversity & Molecular microbial ecology (soil and marine)
    • Arwyn Edwards, Aberystwyth University, Cryconites & bacterial communities of Svalbard glaciers; Bioinformatics
    • Chester Sands, British Antarctic Survey, Systematics & Bioinformatics
    • Matthias Zielke, Bioforsk Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, Arctic microbial ecology, C & N-cycles in Arctic soils
    • Marek Situbal, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Microbial communities on glacier surfaces and ice sheets