UWF biologist examines the effects of climate change
For University of West Florida faculty member Wade Jeffrey of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation, seeing polar bears and beluga whales in their natural habitat is just one of the perks of his job. This past August, Jeffrey participated in a large oceanographic expedition to the Arctic Ocean where he joined 40 French, Canadian and U.S. scientists examining the effects of climate change.
The cruise was part of the larger program,”Malina,” led by Marcel Baban of the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche. Jeffrey’s travel costs for the expedition were primarily paid through a UWF Faculty Scholarly and Creative Activity Award.
“The overall goal of ‘Malina’ is to understand how biodiversity and biogeochemical changes are controlled by light penetration of the ocean and how they are affected by the ongoing changes of the climate in the Arctic,” said Jeffrey.
Jeffrey’s role was to assist in monitoring the growth of the bacterioplankton and determine the factors that control their diversity and growth, including light, nutrients, grazing, temperature and viruses.
“As the Arctic warms, the ice cover is being lost which allows more light to penetrate into the water,” said Jeffrey. “Light controls many biological and chemical processes in the ocean. Our goal was to determine how the higher light levels now seen in the Arctic are affecting the oceanic ecosystem.”
After a month of working 18-hour days, Jeffrey and his colleague completed more than 5,400 bacterial production assays. Jeffrey said the most obvious result that they saw as a direct effect of climate change was the amount of ice in the water where they were working.
“The polar ice cap has been declining at unprecedented rates in recent years,” he said. “Normally, the region where we worked is fairly ice free in August, but this year we spent a significant amount of time rearranging our sampling schedule to dodge heavy ice. At first glance, it might seem that the increase in ice is a good thing, except that this ice wasn’t formed where we worked. Instead, it was the result of ice from the polar cap that had broken up and moved south.”
Jeffrey has been studying the effects of ultraviolet radiation on marine microbes in a wide variety of locations for about 15 years including numerous trips to Antarctica. This was his first trip working in the Arctic and he hopes to go back to continue some lines of the work once the data is fully synthesized. Still, the question remains-to what extent does light affect the microbes in the Arctic?
“The jury is still out as we continue to process all of the samples and data,” said Jeffrey. “I think it’s obvious that light does affect the microbes there, but the effects are different in different locations. So, perhaps the next step will be to work further to determine why.”
To learn more about Jeffrey’s research, visit uwf.edu/wjeffrey/. Additional details about the ‘Malina’ project may be found at obs-vlfr.fr/Malina/. For more information about the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation, visit uwf.edu/cedb/.