GENICE project: Hydrocarbon Baseline and Arctic Microbes in Hudson Bay

Submitted by: Nolan Snyder and Diana Saltymakova
Supervisor: Gary Stern (GENICE)

As members of the GENICE team, we had the fantastic opportunity to board the CCGS Amundsen to conduct our research.  Our focus was to establish a baseline study of hydrocarbon concentrations in the Hudson Bay and Canadian Arctic. Petroleum compounds that naturally seep out from seafloor reservoirs are found all across the world’s oceans. Most of these petroleum compounds are in the form of light crude oils or hydrocarbons which can be easily degraded by micro-organisms adapted to these sea floor conditions. This means that the oil spilled by accident in the environment can be naturally biodegraded by the environment. Stimulating these tiny organisms may help clean-up oil spills in the future.
Another objective of GENICE was to discover what species of micro-organisms can use these hydrocarbons as a form of energy, and what happens to the oil before and after microbes can eat it. During the Amundsen 2018 cruise track, we sampled sea ice cores, collected sediments from the bottom of the Hudson Bay, and collected surface and bottom water. All these samples will be processed and analyzed back in the lab at CEOS, University of Manitoba, to find hydrocarbon concentrations. In the case of an oil spill in the Hudson Bay area, GENICE will be able to explain the severity and overall extent of the spill based on what we know to be natural conditions, which will facilitate policy making, and clean-up procedures.
Field work such as ice core collections from an ice floe can be difficult when you are looking for bacteria and DNA because there are microorganisms everywhere that can contaminate your sample. At each ice floe the core barrel is cleaned with bleach and ethanol, then washed clean with sea water from the coring site. Anyone handling the ice core or core barrel must also wear lab gloves and safety gear during this process to prevent any bacteria or traces of DNA from contaminating the sample. Once the sample is collected, it is quickly placed into bags and sent on board to be melted and filtered in specified lab stations.
  As new shipping routes open, and oil/gas exploration and extraction increase, the Arctic is at greater risk of harmful oil spills than ever before.
Pardis, Diana, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be on board to further our studies and research on board the CCGS Amundsen.  A huge thank you to ArcticNet, and the Captain and crew of the CCGS Amundsen.  Special thanks to Genome Canada, Research Manitoba and to the Governments of Alberta and Quebec who helped fund our project and further our research.

Genice Team

Diana and Nolan collecting ice core samples on an ice floe

Samples are melted and filtered in labs on board the Amundsen

Collecting sediment from the bottom of the Hudson Bay