ExtraCredit: Eric Collins

Eric Collins presented his work which examines the movement of sea ice and the flow of water through the Arctic Ocean and how this affects the microbiology of the ocean. The general movement of the water includes water moving in from the Atlantic Ocean and exiting the same place it comes in. The water from the Atlantic Ocean tends to be warmer and saltier than the Arctic waters so it comes out again colder and fresher. It takes the water a total of 25-300 years to circulate depending on the depth.  The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is pure enough to drink after it has been frozen for a few years. The most crucial part of the food chain in the ocean is phytoplankton. The general results he determined is that the Bering Sea microorganisms are much different from the Chukchi samples. He is also working on developing a system to map organisms on computer that doesn’t exclude the unclassified ones like the tree of life does.

In class, we have learned that temperature, salinity and nutrient availability all affect the ability of microorganisms to survive. Fluctuation in these factors will narrow the diversity since only microbes capable of surviving in a wider range of environments will be able to survive. The question that first came to mind is: what species of microorganisms are present? Are there any surprises that you found in the types of bacteria which were able to thrive? Does the microbe content affect any elements of the water mentioned before?

Extra Credit Eric Collins Seminar


Water samples in the Arctic differ based on location. The flow of the water is important because the make up of microorganisms varies based on where the water originally came from. As well as the type of ice that is present in different locations. Water samples that may be taken at the same location also changes over time because the flow of water has changed due to differences in ice/glaciers beings present thousands of years ago which prevent water to flow through the paths that they do now, since the ice has melted, opening up a new path.

Another factor that adds more diversity to the oceans microorganisms is the freshness and salt concentration of the water. In the Bering Straight the water is generally pretty fresh as well as full of nutrients due to the different currents traveling through the Straight. Water with high salt concentrations is denser than fresh water, while warm water is less dense than cold. This causes different layers of water types in the ocean. However, when the deep water mixes with the shallow water it really causes problems for the Arctic because it can cause the ice sheets to melt.

Thoughts, Critical Thinking, Connections, Questions:

I think that the seminar was very interesting and was easy to follow all of the different topics beings discussed due to the visual aids through out the presentation. I thought that the topic was fascinating, thought I have always loved the ocean. However my interest had always been in the warmer climates due to the vibrant colors of the organisms that lived there. I did think that it was interesting to learn about how the salt concentration, currents, origins, and type of ice all have an effect on the Arctic and the wide variety of microorganisms that are present in all of the oceans different environments. I did have a question at the beginning of the seminar, Collins mentioned that there was an expedition that went to the North Pole to collect samples in 2014, and that he didn’t have those available today because he was still processing them. My questions is how long does it typically take to process samples that are collected from these expeditions?


Mapping the uncharted diversity of Arctic marine microbes by Eric Collins

Eric Collins has been in research projects in different parts of Arctic for several years. He collected samples from a Chukchi Sea shelf and from different parts of Barents Sea (North of Norway), and introduced his audience to the preliminary results. Eric’s bigger term project is to sample all Arctic. Eric also traveled through Greenland (about 400 miles) by skiing. All sampling was done in 2015 expedition.

Eric Collins informed the audience about different kinds of ice and ways that microorganisms interact with ice; talked about the flow of water through Arctic which is the key to understand its properties: the circulation of water takes about 25 to 30 years and it is longer for deeper water layers. There are two main currents that help in water circulation. The modern Arctic has a shallow link to the Pacific Ocean and was 120 m lower 21,000 years ago. Russian rivers provide about 80% of fresh water to Arctic. Throughout the Arctic waters, the temperature, salinity changes, so the conditions for microorganism to survive.

As the climate is changing, the Greenland started to melt and there is not much of ice older than 5 years left in the Arctic. Then, Eric showed a video to demonstrate the change in Arctic size from 1980’s to present. In his project, Eric researched and found a diversity of microorganisms throughout the Arctic waters. Microorganisms differ depending on the sampling place (16S rRNA diversity). Eric explained a “subsurface chlorophyll layer’ which can be found in between nutrients-rich cold water and warm salt water. Then, Eric is planning to map all diversity of microorganisms and he’s already started. This final map will show how microorganisms from one place will differ from another. This map will be like Google Earth; multi-dimensional browsing. More abundance from microorganisms than Archaea or Eukaryotes.

That was an interesting lecture. I’ve learned about oceanography and diverse microbial life in salt frozen waters of Arctic. This research is focused on Arctic territory. After the lecture, I’ve asked Eric if there were any plans for researching Antarctic microbial diversity. I’ve got an answer that the researching Antarctica would be a great opportunity to compare microbial worlds but there is nothing planned in the future for this kind of project.

Extra Credit – Eric Collins

The first half of the seminar was an explanation of the geography and history of the Arctic, including an overview of how the water cycles between the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean, and how this in turn affects the temperature, salinity etc. of the Arctic. Dr. Collins’ study was based on seawater samples collected all around it, including the Bering Sea, Northern Alaska, Svalbard, and many more. The second half was a presentation of the preliminary results from the sequencing of the samples. The goal is to create a map to locate the various microbial strains and their distribution within the Arctic waters.

I don’t have much of an interest in geography usually, but I thought this seminar was very interesting and actual, because it touched on the topic of climate change and how it’s affected the ice and the sea in the far North in the past forty years or so. The microbial communities are undoubtedly changing along with their habitat, and this period of transition is a very interesting one to study in my opinion. Some connections with our class are the fact that even in the Arctic, cold and inhospitable as it seems, hosts an incredible quantity of microorganisms, including protists, bacteria, diatoms, and many others. Also the fact that all the data collected through the analysis of seawater comes from genome sequencing, which we have done in lab. I would like to know which microorganism is most abundant overall in the Arctic, and how the diversity and distribution of microorganisms is changing with the climate, along with what microbiologists predict at the moment.

Extra credit: Eric Collins seminar

For extra credit, you can either attend or watch online later a special seminar by Eric Collins.  

Seminar time and place: Friday, Feb. 24, 3-4 pm, Murie Auditorium

The seminar recording will be available here, usually  within a week following the seminar.

Deadline:  March 27

For 5 pts extra credit:

Write a 2-paragraph website post addressing the following items.

Be sure to categorize your post as “ExtraCredit Eric Collins’

  1. Summary of the major points of the seminar
  2. Reflections on the seminar. This should include your thoughts about it, any critical comments, discussion of at least one way it connects to things you’ve learned in BIOL 342 class, and at least one question that you have about microbiological aspects of the seminar.