Hi, I am Samuel Cottingham, a shiny new first year PhD student based at Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK. Being less than two weeks into my PhD, I’m very lucky to be making my first ever trip to the Arctic to collect samples for my research.
During my PhD, I will be investigating what controls the susceptibility of Arctic permafrost carbon to microbial degradation in aquatic systems under the supervision of Dr Paul Mann. Permafrost is ground that remains below 0°C for 2 or more years and can consist of huge amounts of carbon rich plant material which accumulates annually during the short Arctic summer, in some areas this can be ancient and up to 30,000 years old. The project aims to build on recent findings which indicate that carbon being released from thawing permafrost is preferentially used by microbial communities as an energy source over more modern organic material. I will be asking questions about why and how this happens and what the implications might be for future climate change as more ancient material becomes available due to warming. At Torneträsk, I will be collecting samples of lake bed sediment which I will use back in the lab to analyse the structure of microbial communities at different locations relative to riverine inputs. We hypothesise that there will be a difference in the communities found at sites with low vs. high proportions of terrestrial organic material. To test this, we’ll measure the microbial communities present across the lake and examine if they are using material flowing from land into the lake as an energy source. We’ll relate this data to chemical analyses that will tell us about the structure of the soils and sediments to work out if climate driven changes in soil inputs influence the structure of microbial communities present and what they are breaking down. I am very excited to be part of the team unravelling the mysteries of Lake Torneträsk! We will be based at the Abisko Research Station for a short but action packed trip during 14-17th October 2014. Watch this space for updates and photos! Samuel Cottingham