Sampling for permafrost microorganisms with a permafrost auger. Photo credit: Mark P. Waldrop/USGS Image Gallery
Carbon (C) stored within permafrost in northern boreal forest soils may become available for microbial metabolism if soil temperatures continue to increase over the coming decades, resulting in a positive feedback to climate warming. Understanding the potential of permafrost carbon to be degraded requires a detailed understanding of the microbiology and biochemistry of permafrost soils. Utilizing novel techniques in molecular biology (including microarrays and metagenomics), fluorometry, and mass spectrometry, we are analyzing the biological and chemical constraints on decomposition and methane fluxes at the molecular level. Testing the potential genetic and chemical limitations on C fluxes are cutting-edge approaches that are only made possible through recent technological advances. Our detailed genetic and chemical analyses will provide data with which to make future predictions of C cycling processes, and assist in the development of mechanistic C cycling models in cold environments.