Project Information
Life in Ice: Probing Microbial Englacial Activity through Time
Short Title:
Life in Ice
Start Date:
End Date:
Glacial ice cores serve as a museum back in time, providing detailed records of past climatic conditions. In addition to chronological records such as temperature, chemistry and gas composition, ice provides a unique environment for preserving microbes and other biological materials through time. These microbes provide invaluable insight into the physiological capabilities necessary for survival in the Earths cryosphere and other icy planetary bodies, yet little is known about them. This award supports fundamental research into the activity of microbes in ice, and directly supports major research priorities regarding Antarctic biota identified in the 2015 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report, A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. The broader impacts of this work are that it will be relevant to researchers across paleoclimate and biological fields. It will support two early career researchers, a graduate and an undergraduate student who will conduct laboratory analyses, participate in outreach activities, publish papers in scientific journals and present at conferences. This work will use previously collected ice cores to investigate englacial microbial activity from the Holocene back to the Last Glacial Maximum from the blue ice area of Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. The proposal identified making significant contributions to 1) investing how Antarctic organisms evolve and adapt to changing environment, 2) understanding how microbes alter the preservation of paleorecord-relevant gas and trace element information in ice cores, and 3) identifying microbial life in cores and their activity in relation to dust depositional events. Two recently developed complementary techniques (bio-orthogonal noncanonical amino acid tagging and deuterium isotope probing) in combination with Raman Confocal Microspectroscopy will be used to assess and quantify microbial activity in ice. During phase one of the project, these methods will be optimized using deaccessioned ice cores available at the National Science Foundations Ice Core Facility. In phase two, ice cores in a time series from the Taylor Glacier will be analyzed for geochemistry and microbial activity. Research results will provide a comprehensive view of englacial microbial communities, including their metabolic diversity and activity, and the effect of geochemical parameters on microbial assemblages from different climate periods. Given the dearth of information available on englacial microbial communities, the results of this research will be of particular significance. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Person Role
Smith, Heidi Investigator and contact
Foreman, Christine Co-Investigator
Dieser, Markus Co-Investigator
Antarctic Integrated System Science Award # 2037963
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
0 (raw data)
  1. Kaiser-Jackson, L. B., Dieser, M., McGlennen, M., Parker, A. E., Foreman, C. M., & Warnat, S. (2023). Detection of Microbes in Ice Using Microfabricated Impedance Spectroscopy Sensors. ECS Sensors Plus. (doi:10.1149/2754-2726/ad024d)
  2. Teska, C. J., Dieser, M., & Foreman, C. M. (2024). Clothing Textiles as Carriers of Biological Ice Nucleation Active Particles. Environmental Science & Technology. (doi:10.1021/acs.est.3c09600)
Platforms and Instruments

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