What Are They Doing?

Underwater microbial community in Lake Joyce, Antarctica
Underwater microbial community in Lake Joyce, Antarctica
The oldest fossil life on Earth consists of stromatolites, which are the remains of complicated communities of bacteria captured in rock. On modern Earth, similar communities still grow in places that are too harsh for worms, snails, and other grazing animals to live and eat them. Lakes in Antarctica with liquid water below a few meters of ice almost always support these communities. Thus, they provide the opportunity to study the ecology of microbial communities like those on early Earth billions of years ago.

The research team studied the communities in Lake Joyce, Antarctica in several different ways. They took images of the stromatolites in Lake Joyce and reconstructed the 3D morphology of microbial mats in the lake. They also characterized the environment that the stromatolites are growing in and studied how the morphology of the stromatolites varies mud deposition and calcite mineral formation. They also directly sampled the stromatolites to study the distribution of photosynthesis, calcite mineral formation, and mud incorporation.

They expect this study to make several important contributions to understanding early life on Earth. Morphological studies of the stromatolites will provide insights into how microbial communities build intricate structures and how variations in environment and ecology affect morphology. Results will also help researchers understand how microbial communities influence calcite mineral growth and how this affects stromatolite morphology. Results will be directly applicable to better interpreting ancient stromatolites, providing insights into ecological and biogeochemical processes on early Earth. Finally, a better understanding of the processes by which microbial communities build stromatolites will aid in the search for evidence of life on other planets, such as Mars, where landed missions have access to sedimentary rocks.

Where Are They?

Lake Joyce, Antarctica
Lake Joyce, Antarctica
The research team first traveled by commercial airline to New Zealand and from there took a military transport plane to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The team then flew by helicopter to Lake Joyce in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound and form the largest relatively ice-free area on the Antarctic continent. The perennially ice-covered lakes, frozen alpine glaciers, and extensive areas of exposed soil and permafrost within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures and limited snowfall.

Latest Journals

Did our sediment traps work? Its been over a year since my science team and I have left The Ice and returned to North America. However, that doesn’t mean that our science is finished! I thought I’d give you a follow up to our field season from last year. A Recap One of the major goals of our…
The Microverse There are microbes everywhere, and most of the time, we think nothing of them. They live all around us, on us, and inside us. They also make up the communities at the bottom of Lake Joyce. Megan and Anne are the microbiologists on our team, and their passion for studying these…
Some Final Thoughts All members of G-063 are now either home, or on their way home... I've been putting off this journal telling you that I made it, partly because I don't want it to be over! I'll add a couple more posts soon that I didn't get a chance to finish... but for now, here are some of…
There have been many times during this field season when I catch myself thinking "This is the most exciting/bizarre/adventurous thing I've ever done". I think I'm having one of those surreal moments right now. As I write this, I'm riding an LC-130 back to Christchurch. It's a smaller, propeller…
Dates
-
Location
Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Project Funded Title
Microbialite Morphology in Lake Joyce, Antarctica
Lucy Coleman - Teacher
Teacher
Natomas Charter School

Although Lucy Coleman grew up camping a lot, it wasn't until after college that she discovered a lifelong passion for helping others appreciate and understand the natural world. For a few years, she spent summers as an interpretive park ranger in Glacier National Park and the school years teaching environmental science at outdoor schools in California. From there, it was a natural transition to settle into a very rewarding teaching career at Natomas Charter School's Performing and Fine Arts Academy, where she's taught life and physical science to 7th and 8th graders since 2001. She enjoys developing interdisciplinary curriculum that connects science with technology, language arts, math and art. Ms. Coleman is especially passionate about climate education and finding innovative solutions to environmental problems. Every day, she appreciates her students' love of learning and discovering new things.

When not teaching, Ms. Coleman makes fast tracks for the wild and roadless places of our planet. Although she and her husband love having overseas adventures, she thinks there's no finer place than the Sierra Nevada in the summertime! In addition to backpacking, her favorite pastimes include trail running, sea kayaking, cross-country skiing, gardening and reading.

Dawn Sumner - Researcher
Researcher
University of California, Davis

Dawn Sumner was an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology, when she became interested in geology. She subsequently moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to work with Dr. John Grotzinger and others on 2.5 billion year old carbonates in South Africa. Dr. Sumner finished her PhD in geology in 1995, after which time she returned to the California Institute of Technology as a Postdoctoral Fellow. In December 1996, Dawn joined the Faculty at the University of California, Davis, and she is still a professor there. Most of Dr. Sumner's research has focused on understanding environments on early Earth and the early evolution of bacteria, including photosynthesis. In recent years, her research has expanded to include studying modern microbial communities growing in ice-covered Antarctic lakes that are analogs for ancient life on Earth and possibly elsewhere in the solar system. In addition, she is a member of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, helping the rover Curiosity explore ancient environments in Gale Crater on Mars. Dr. Sumner regularly shares her research and adventures with the public and is dedicated to helping students of all backgrounds prepare for careers in science. More information about Dr. Sumner can be found here.

Tyler Mackey - Senior Graduate Student
Senior Graduate Student
University of California, Davis

Tyler's introduction to field-based research was as an undergraduate student on the frozen shorelines of Lake Superior, working with modern frozen beach processes to better understand deposits left by ancient beaches. Modern environments provide a key to earth history, and Tyler enjoys exploring the relationships between the two. Since coming to Davis, his research interests have expanded to include diving over modern microbial communities at the bottom of ice-covered lakes in Antarctica. These microbial communities grow into complicated shapes due to the relationship between microbial behavior and their surrounding environment, and these relationships frame interpretations of ancient microbial ecology from deposits in the rock record. Tyler is pursuing graduate studies with the end goal of a career in teaching and research, where he hopes to give students the opportunity to engage and explore the world in new and unexpected ways.

Microbialites In Lake Joyce Antarctica Resources

Overview

In a “March Madness” game of survival of the fittest, will your microbe and its genes survive the test of changing conditions on Planet Earth and beyond? Students choose genes from a “toolbox” and pit their microbe against their classmates’, using critical thinking and argument writing to determine the microbe with the best chance of success.

Lesson
Antarctic
Less than a week
Middle School and Up
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This one hour webinar is a great look at the PolarTREC 2014-5 Antarctic expeditions. Each teacher presents on the research projects, implementation in the classroom, and outreach into communities.

Event
Antarctic
About 1 period
All Aged
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Overview

Analogs are used in science investigations to better understand systems we can’t access ourselves. In this lesson, students explore the Dry Valleys of Antarctica to better understand microbial communities on early Earth and what might have been possible on ancient Mars.

Lesson
Antarctic
Less than a week
Middle School and Up
Download, Share, and Remix

The report is written by teacher participants upon return from their field expedition portion of the PolarTREC program. It summarizes the benefit of the expedition to the teacher, a description of activities, and a summary of how teachers plan to link this experience in classrooms and communities.

Report
Antarctic
All Aged
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This article summarizes the research of cyanobacterial mats in Lake Joyce during the 2014 field season. It describes the importance of the mats to better understand Earth history and understanding of other planetary systems. Additionally, it describes the sediment trap experiement that will conclude in the next field season.

Article
Antarctic
Less than 1 period
Middle School and Up