Discovering the Microscopic World of Quttinirpaaq National Park


I’ve been working up here for about twelve years. Most of our work is based out of Ward Hunt Island which is right at the Northern tip of North America as it turns out, a very important place for us to be doing our research. My name is Warrik Vincent, I am director of the Centre for Northern studies, Centre d’études Nordiques, at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada. My area is on the aquatic ecosystems so lakes, rivers, coastal environments. We’re very interested in food webs and the structure and function of ecosystems, how ecosystems are put together and the diversity of life that can operate under these Arctic extremes. And when you look around this environment it looks pretty sterile, it doesn’t look like anything is here. But in fact using new DNA techniques, nucleic acid techniques, suddenly we see that there’s an incredible diversity of life, a major life support system operating within the lakes, within the coastal environment, even within the soils. We’re looking at that very closely to first of all ask the question, well what’s there? And then secondly, what is it doing? And thirdly, how is it responding to these changes in the environment? These life forms encompass a great variety of different sorts of species, some of them you can only see with a microscope, , in fact some of them you can only see with a very powerful microscope, an electron microscope, but others they’re in such abundance here up in the North that they stain the ground, and if you fly over the ice shelves for example suddenly you’ll see a vast patch of orange and that orange is a microscopic community of little plants and animals, bacteria, cyanobacteria, blue-green algae, even microscopic animals that are feeding in those worlds that are based on the ice. So we work on food webs in these northern freshwater and saltwater environments. We take water samples, bring the water back and run experiments to examine how these different life forms exist in the environment, how they deal with environmental extremes, how they may respond to future warming, and also some of their adaptive characteristics. Some of the computer models, they tell us that it is the most northern latitudes of the northern hemisphere that are likely to experience the most dramatic climate change. In this park at the top of Ellesmere Island we see, before our very eyes, visible evidence of change. In the process of that we lose some very important ecosystems that have diversity of life, genetic richness. More and more we’re realizing with these new techniques that are available that that genetic richness at the microscopic level is critically important. These are the life support systems of planet Earth, we can’t see it, it’s the invisible world, but it’s what keeps our ecosystem operating.

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