Biological Research

Biology and Climate ChangeLow Temperature MicrobiologyMarine Mammal Ecology

Dramatic changes have occurred in polar ecosystems over the last several decades. These changes have had a profound impact on the organisms that inhabit the Arctic, ranging from sea ice algae to marine mammals, whose feeding habits are closely linked to the presence of the sea ice. Biology also affects the fundamental physical properties of the ocean. The presence of algae, for example, affects how much and where sunlight and heat is absorbed in the Arctic Ocean during summer. The distribution of algae in sea ice also affects how sunlight is reflected, absorbed and transmitted by the ice cover. PSC researchers conduct Arctic biological research, ranging from studies that aim to understand how microscopic life exists at low temperatures to studies that aim to understand the migration patterns and feeding habits of polar bears and whales. We are also developing computer models to track and predict future changes in Arctic ecosystems.

In The News

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    Mysterious Narwhals

    Polar Science Center investigator Kristin Laidre was recently featured in an online article on the Pacific Science Center’s website.  This article about her work with narwhals was based on her recent “Science Cafe” presentation in Kirkland.  The whole presentation entitled “Uncovering the Mysteries of the Narwhal” is on-line here.

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Selected Projects

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    Climate Change, Sea Ice Loss, and Polar Bears in Greenland

    This project aims to understand and quantify the effects of sea ice loss on polar bears in East and West Greenland (Baffin Bay).  Longitudinal (cross-time) comparisons of movement behavior and habitat selection will be driven by an analysis of a multi-decadal satellite telemetry dataset on polar bear movements in Baffin Bay and East Greenland, beginning when sea ice concentration and break up date started to decline (1991-1997) and encompassing present day conditions (2007-2013).

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    Behavioral Ecology of Narwhals in a Changing Arctic

    The Arctic is currently undergoing rapid and extraordinary large-scale changes related to natural resource development, marine shipping, transportation, infrastructure, and sea ice loss, and as a consequence there will be an imminent and uniform increase in anthropogenic sound. Narwhals are an important representative species for understanding both increasing noise in the Arctic and loss of sea ice, and the joint effects of these impacts on their behavior and ecology.

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    The Autonomous Polar Productivity Sampling System (APPSS)

    This part of the larger NASA ICESCAPE project examines the long-term, seasonal variability in phytoplankton abundance as a function of changes in sea ice cover, stratification, and temperature regimes measured in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas throughout the growing season.

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    Sea Ice, Sunlight, and Biogeochemistry in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in a Changing Climate

    The focus of this project is to work collaboratively with Dr. Donald Perovich (CRREL) in support of a NASA sponsored program, ICESCAPES. Bonnie Light will support this project by helping to characterize the morphological and optical properties of the sea ice cover through field measurements, radiative transfer modeling, and synthesis.

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    Metabolic Activities and Gene Expression of Marine Psychrophiles in Cold Ice

    This project will explore the relationship between deep-freeze bacterial activity, proteomics, polymers and the physical state of the ice and will provide important keys to questions regarding life under extreme conditions, be it in the various ice formations here on Earth, the atmosphere or elsewhere in the universe.

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Selected Publications

  • Junge, K., B.C. Christner, and J.T. Staley, “Diversity of Psychrophilic Bacteria from Sea Ice – and Glacial Ice Communities“. In K. Horikoshi, G. Antranikian, A. Bull, F. Robb, and K. Stetter (eds), Extremophiles Handbook. Springer, Heidelberg, Germany. 1247 pp, 2011.

  • Born, E.W., A. Heilmann, L. Kielsen Holm, and K.L. Laidre,’ Polar bears in Northwest Greenland: an interview survey about the catch and the climate’, Monographs on Greenland, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 351, 250, 2010.

  • Gurarie, E., R. Andrews, and K.L. Laidre,’ A novel method for identifying behavioral changes in animal movement data’, Ecol. Lett., 12, 395-408, 2009.

  • Francis, J.A., D.M. White, J.J. Cassano, W.J. Gutowski, L.D. Hinzman, M.M. Holland, M.A. Steele, and C.J. Vörösmarty,’ An arctic hydrologic system in transition: Feedbacks and impacts on terrestrial, marine, and human life’, J. Geophys. Res., 114, doi:10.1029/2008JG000902, 2009.