The terrestrial seasonal ice, which covers sub permafrost greenhouse gases springs in the Arctic, is expected to host a microbial community that can use these dissolved gases as a source of energy and carbon. Therefore, these microorganisms have the potential to decrease the natural greenhouse gases released toward the atmosphere and consequently influence the climate. Furthermore, this overlooked environment will give us some clues about how life is adapted to live in subzero temperatures. Together with astrobiologists, we will support the planning phase of the upcoming missions that will explore a large version of the ecosystem on the icy moons of our solar system where ice-associated microbes are expected to be detected.
The Methanotrophic communities in ice (METHANICE) project will identify the role of methane consuming microorganisms (methanotrophs) associated with terrestrial seasonal ice covering sub permafrost methane springs. Seasonal ice forms on top the springs during winter, trapping methane and carbon dioxide in a thick ice layer surrounding massive, pressurised aquifers oversaturated with greenhouse gases. While the aquifers are full of methanotrophs, it is still unknown whether they are present and active as biological methane filter within the ice during winter. Deep-sea engineer and astromicrobiologist will work together to detect and monitor the activity of these microbes. Through this, they will train themselves for the upcoming missions that will explore the icy moons of our solar system. After this first step, we will combine in-situ and laboratory experiment to understand if the ice-associated microbes can use the greenhouse gases trapped in the reservoir and therefore decrease their release toward the atmosphere. Furthermore, we will isolate these microbes to know their physiology and which mechanisms allow them to survive in this cold and oligotrophic environment.