USGS - science for a changing world

Life at the Freezing Point: Global change and permafrost microbiology

Taking samples of unfrozen water that has been below the ice all winter.

Project Personnel:

Steve Blazewicz


Mark Waldrop (USGS), Burt Thomas (USGS), Kimberly Wickland (USGS), and Janet Jansson (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory), Jack McFarland (USGS)


USGS Mendenhall Research Fellowship Program


Permafrost contains a reservoir of frozen carbon, equivalent to the total carbon contained within the atmosphere. In response to climate change, permafrost is experiencing widespread thawing, which will make it's carbon much more vulnerable to microbial decomposition. However, the structural and functional responses of permafrost microbes to thaw are virtually unknown. We know that thawing permafrost can result in a rapid shift in microbial community dynamics and functional diversity, with a concurrent shift in methane cycling dynamics. To understand more about these changes, this project is studying microbial community dynamics in thawed boreal permafrost soils using nucleic acid stable isotope probing (SIP) with heavy water (H218O), combined with phylogenetic and functional gene analyses, as well as chemical, physical, and process characterizations. Objectives are to:


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