12:57 p.m., Nov. 3, 2008----They're severely cold, salty and dark. But what we know about the world's extreme environments and the organisms adapted to living there can tell us a lot about the globe's environmental cycles.
These icy locales and the tiny life they support will be the focus of the latest offering in the University of Delaware's William S. Carlson International Polar Year Events. Brian Lanoil, associate professor of biological science at the University of Alberta, will deliver a seminar on the topic from 12:30-1:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 6, in 202 Cannon Laboratory on the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, which will be broadcast via ITV to 206 Robinson Hall on the Newark campus.
In his lecture, “Life on the Edge: The Microbiology of Two Extreme Cold Environments,” Lanoil will discuss Don Juan Pond, which is located in Antarctica and possibly the only known surface body of water on Earth without life. He also will discuss ice cores, including ones from Greenland and Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake located more than two miles beneath Antarctic ice.
Lanoil said that organisms living in such environments have significant impacts on the world's biogeochemical cycles. Scientists estimate that ice sheets and subglacial environments alone could contain as much microbial carbon as all freshwater bodies on Earth combined.
“More than 75 percent of the biosphere by volume is permanently cold,” Lanoil said, “yet little is known about how organisms adapt to such environments, what the limits of that adaptation are, or the likely effects of climate change on organisms living in such environments.”
Lanoil is an expert on extreme environments. He recently led a team of scientists examining thawed Lake Vostok ice estimated to be at least a million years old. Before arriving at the University of Alberta, he taught in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of California at Riverside.
The William S. Carlson International Polar Year celebrates UD's president from 1946-50, who also was an Arctic explorer, and UD's significant polar research in the world's fourth International Polar Year. The global scientific and education program began in March 2007 and concludes in March 2009.
Article by Elizabeth Boyle
Photo courtesy of Chao Tang