mardi 9 mars 2010

Impressions from Josef Elster

Dear colleagues, and friends,

Annick has asked me to write my personal observations during our Princess Elisabeth and Schirmacher Oasis stays. When I was in Antarctica, we have been so busy for most of time that it was quite difficult to do this chronicle. Finally, we are at home now, and I will try to give you a small account of our expedition. I would like to thank Annick who has invited me for the expedition, and BELSPO who has financed my participation to BELDIVA, as well as Zorigto, Elie and Steve with whom I have been working.
The team in action

I also appreciated the friendship and collegiality of all members of the Belgian Antarctic expedition, mainly Alain and Gigi. I really appreciated it. I have learned a lot. Science, management and technology of the Belgian Antarctic activities are quite unique. I have been several times doing research in the Arctic and coastal Antarctica, but this was my first experience in a really continental place. I have brought home a lot of experiences which I will use in my future Arctic and Antarctic research.

I am also very glad that I could work with Zorigto on all the experiments. I am very interested by the experiment with the OTC, which simulates a climatic warming.

In addition, I also appreciate that we decided to measure the photosynthetic activity of soil crusts by fluorometry.

I believe that the combination of fluorimetry together with the molecular analyses of soil crust and the estimation of cyanobacteria and microalgae cell numbers and biovolumes will help us to understand the reaction of microbial communities to climate change. The study of cryptogamic soil crusts under a slight warming in continental Antarctica is really important.

The cryoconite study that we have performed was quite impressive. We have visited a lot of localities, where we have drilled cryoconite sediments from various depths, cryoconite sizes, etc.

I am really wondering how many strains we will be able to isolate and if the single strains will differ from each other? At this moment, we can only speculate that cyanobacteria occurring in cryoconite sediments can originate from different geographical areas and could be stored in ice for different time periods (from one year to several thousand years).

The experiment of air pumping and the collection of dust transported by air for microbial DNA analyses is also very interesting.
Here, Zorigto is on the top of the shelter and installs the pump outlet.

I am really interested in these results. A few years ago, we have shown that there is a special group of pigmented bacteria which is transported at very large intercontinental distances. Special pigments probably protect these cells against UV radiation.

Finally, both our laboratories are interested in the origin of the Antarctic cyanobacteria. We know from our previous studies that a large part of cyanobacterial communities differ from their counterparts from other parts of world. In addition, we have been working for several seasons in the northern part of Antarctic Peninsula (South Shetlands, James Ross Island). How do these cyanobacteria differ from each other? There are many questions we would like to answer. I collected many samples from various habitats, 36 samples from the Princess Elisabeth area, and 28 from Schirmacher Oasis
Black crust near the PE stationLeptolyngbya antarctica, Schirmacher OasisSoil crust in Schirmacher OasisEndolithic community, Schirmacher Oasis

We will isolate cyanobacterial strains from these samples in my laboratory and together with my Belgian colleagues, we will perform a collaborative study of their diversity. A good thing is also that we benefit this year from a bilateral cooperation between Wallonie-Bruxelles International (WBI) and the Czech Republic, to visit each other.

Best regards, Josef

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