NEEM basal ice, assessing the attributes of a cold, deep, dark ecosystem
Little is known about the diversity of microorganisms and range of habitable environments that exist beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet. This project will characterize geochemical and microbial (bacterial and viral) properties of basal ice from a 2537 m deep ice core in North Eastern Greenland (NEEM). The ice core project is led by the Center of Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark with funding support from NSF and 12 other partner nations. The 2.3 m basal ice sequence contains 12 discrete debris-rich ice layers, with intervening clean (debris-poor ice). The debris-rich layers reflect interaction with the ice-sheet bed, and the incorporation of basal debris. The research has three primary objectives: 1) Characterize the cell density and phylogenetic diversity of the microbial community, 2) Determine likely biogeochemical weathering processes occurring in the subglacial environment, and 3) Model the interaction between these measured parameters. This work will integrate with results from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, where data on the physical structure of the ice and the entrapped gases, which may reflect biogenic activity, will be analyzed. This research has broader implications for understanding the interface between geochemistry and biology in light independent, cold ecosystems that are supported by biogeochemical cycles that operate in near isolation for extended (>10,000 yrs) periods of time. These are systems that are thought to be analogous to those beneath the Laurentide mid- latitude ice sheets and during pervasive low-latitude glaciations in the Neoproterozoic, the so called 'Snowball Earth'. This research will enhance Infrastructure for research and education through a network of international collaborators in the overall NEEM partnership. The research includes a new NSF investigator and will provide training for a postdoctoral researcher and undergraduate student who will benefit from the multidisciplinary and international nature of the project. The PI intends to work as a mentor in the program "Bridging Tribal Colleges to MSU", supervising summer research students from Montana Tribal Colleges. He is also active as a lecturer in the Montana Apprenticeship Program (MAP) at MSU, which aims to increase the number of Native American and disadvantaged high school students who want to pursue careers in STEM fields. Project members will engage in an ongoing partnership with teachers and students on the Crow Reservation in south-central Montana. The Crow Education Partnership, independently funded with small federal and private grants, provides monthly science enrichment activities to fourth grade students and their teachers in three schools on the Crow Reservation.