We are a group of freshwater ecologists from the Biology Department at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota studying the effect of temperature and nutrient availability on metabolism and nitrogen fixation in geothermally active streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. This is a collaborative research effort with our partners from Montana State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Iceland, and the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries in Iceland. See links to our collaborators labs below.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Getting Ready - Packing the Lab

We are in the final stages of packing the lab and getting all of our field equipment ready for the trip to Iceland.  We have quite a bit of equipment to take with us, including a sixty pound gas chromatograph that we will house in a lab at the University of Iceland and use to make our measurements of nitrogen fixation.  Beyond that, we have lots of vials, bottles, balloons (also for our nitrogen fixation measurements), gas-tight chambers, power transformers, and so on....to a grand total of nine full containers!    We are eager to see how things go at the airport with all of our equipment and we are hoping that everything runs smoothly.  We will be there very soon!  We look forward to staying in touch with everyone through the blog.  So, please post comments!

Friday, June 22, 2012

What Is This Study About? And, Why Go to Iceland?

Nostoc - a nitrogen-fixer
found in Hengill streams
One of our study streams in Iceland  -
rich with nitrogen-fixers
Nitrogen fixation is the conversion of nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into a usable form for protein synthesis and growth of a unique group of organisms called cyanobacteria. By bringing this essential nutrient into the ecosystem, these organisms may affect productivity, species composition, food web interactions, and rates of nutrient cycling in rivers, and ultimately how whole ecosystems respond to changes in temperature. The relationship between nitrogen fixation rates and temperature is therefore important for understanding how freshwater ecosystems, with a complexity of interacting species, will respond to climate warming and thus, this study will help us to make more informed climate change predictions.  The Hengill region of Iceland is an ideal location to do this work because we can isolate temperature as our variable of interest in an intact ecosystem with its resident species, and separate it from other environmental variables including light and nutrient availability.   The Hengill region is geothermally active, and as a result, spring-fed rivers emerge from the ground at dramatically different water temperatures, depending on the extent to which the water has heated underground.  In Iceland, we will study 13 comparable rivers that span a 25 degree Celsius temperature gradient, while the water chemistry, underlying geology, and light availability remain consistent across streams.  This will allow us to determine how temperature alone influences nitrogen fixation rates, and how nitrogen fixation itself feeds back on other critical biological processes including photosynthesis and respiration rates, species composition, and the physiological demand for essential nutrients by algae and microorganisms that inhabit the river.  Ultimately, this project will help us to better understand how in-stream nitrogen fixation influences carbon cycling at the ecosystem scale, and how both are likely to respond to changes in temperature.