What Are They Doing?

Are microorganisms metabolically active in glacier ice? To address this exciting question, the research team traveled to the McMurdo Dry Valleys – one of the harshest environments on Earth – to study the biology, geology, and chemistry of basal ice – the dynamic layer of ice closest to the bedrock at the base of a glacier. The team used a tunnel cut into the side of Taylor Glacier to reach the basal ice layer. Data collected from field measurements and laboratory experiments helped researchers understand the connections between available nutrients, geochemical properties, and gas composition. This information helped determine if evidence for metabolism of microorganisms living in the ice could be found, and to link this to the types of cells present.

In addition, the research team investigated the similarities and differences among microorganisms in different types of ice within the basal ice zone. Some layers in the basal ice zone are clear and have little sediment. Other layers have high concentrations of debris. The basal ice zones of polar glaciers show similarities with the layered deposits evident in images of the northern ice cap on Mars. The findings from this project may be of interest to scientists studying potential habitats for microbial life on Mars and on the survival in of microorganisms in ice because the frozen environments in Antarctica and Mars may have many similarities.

Where Are They?

The team camped on the shore of Lake Bonney, a permanently frozen saline lake in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound (77°00'S 162°52'E) and form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4,800 square kilometers) on the 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, limited snowfall, and salt accumulation. Lake Bonney is also the terminus of Taylor Glacier, where the team conducted fieldwork in an ice tunnel they carved using chainsaws.

Latest Journals

So you might have thought that I disappeared, but I didn't. I have just been enjoying beautiful New Zealand. I spent a couple of days with Amanda and Shawn in Christchurch and then we went off in different directions. Amanda and Shawn went North towards the Kaikoura Peninsula and Matt and I went…
For the last couple of days I have been preparing to leave for Christchurch and then enjoying civilization once I got here. My journey home started with bag drag. Bag drag is when you drag all of your stuff up to Building 140 to be weighed and palleted for the plane the next day. I even had to get…
One of the cool things that you can do while in McMurdo is that you can sign-up for Delta trips. Deltas are big wheeled buses that are used to transport people across the ice. I took one to happy camper school and they are fun because the wheels are huge and you are so far off the ground. They are…
For the past two weeks Amanda and Shawn have been busy in the lab prepping and conducting their experiments and today they would find out if they were successful. They left the field a couple of days ahead of us so that they could get a head start on cleaning, melting, and filtering almost 300lbs…
Dates
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Location
McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
Project Funded Title
Biogeochemistry and Geomicrobiology of Taylor Glacier Basal Ice
Lindsay Knippenberg - Teacher
Teacher
South Lake High School

Lindsay Knippenberg is a science teacher at South Lake High School north of Detroit, Michigan where one of her primary goals is to get her students involved in the community. She has bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in environmental science from University of Michigan-Dearborn. As an undergraduate student Ms. Knippenberg participated in a research experience for undergraduates (REU) studying harbor seals in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Since that experience, glaciers and the organisms that live in cold climates have fascinated her. Even though Ms. Knippenberg lives in the city, she loves to get away and reconnect with nature by hiking, camping, snowshoeing, and kayaking. She also enjoys photography, attending Detroit Tigers games, traveling with her husband, and taking her dog Yoda for walks. She hopes that through her experiences with PolarTREC, she will inspire her students to pursue careers within the field of science and also inspire them to step outside of their comfort zones and not be afraid to take risks and have new experiences.

Mark Skidmore - Researcher
Researcher
Montana State University

Mark Skidmore is an assistant professor of geology at Montana State University. Dr. Skidmore’s field research takes him to glaciers in Antarctica, the Swiss Alps, Alaska, the Yukon, Iceland, and Washington. He also conducts low temperature laboratory studies of microbial activity at near freezing temperatures. His current research focuses on the biogeochemical cycling and geomicrobiology of glacier systems and biogeochemical processes associated with geologic carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration. 



Microorganisms in Antarctic Glacier Ice Resources

Overview

Even in Antarctica ice will melt. As the sun stays higher and higher in the sky as summer progresses, the warm sun causes the ice to melt. The questions that we are going to ask are: 1) Does clean ice (no sediment) or dirty ice (has sediment mixed in it) melt faster? and 2) Would the ice melt if all the sunlight were reflected away?

Lesson
Antarctic
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
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Overview

We know that we have lots of microorganisms growing where we live, but can microorganisms like bacteria also live in the harsh, cold, dry climate of Antarctica? Part of our research project in Antarctica is looking at the microorganisms that live in the Taylor Glacier.

Lesson
Antarctic
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
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Overview

For this experiment, we are going to melt dirty ice (ice with lots of sediment/dirt in it) and clean ice (ice without sediment) from the Taylor Glacier. After we melt the ice, we are going to test the melt water for pH and conductivity, and then determine how much salt is actually in our ice samples.

Lesson
Antarctic
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
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This Live from IPY! Event was was held with Lindsay Knippenberg who discussed her recent research on the Microorganisms in Antarctic Glacier Ice expedition in the Dry Valleys.

Article about Lindsay Knippenberg's PolarTREC expedition to Antarctica.

Article
Antarctic
All Aged
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