The Mysterious Arctic Sea Tomato

Latest update June 3, 2019 Started on July 1, 2010
land

20 students from Greenland, Denmark, and the U.S. will study underwater life in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland's most famous lake, where tomato-like, softball-sized cyanobacteria colonies cover the bottom and are changing ecosystem processes.

July 1, 2010
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Preparation

Where is Qaqotooroq now? Well, for the next three weeks, Qaqortooroq is packed with our other scientific gear bound for Greenland. First stop, Scotia, NY, where after clearing customs, Qaqortooroq will board a LC-130 Hercules cargo plane, c/o the 109th Air National Guard. From NY, it's just a quick 6 hour flight to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where we will reunite with Qaqortooroq on June 24.


Safe travels Q! We are so excited to have you on our 2019 JSEP team!

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It finally stopped raining for long enough that we got outside for Qaqortooraq's maiden voyage. Mission accomplished, although I have to work on my skills for maneuvering (the first video was a little rough!). Angie was skilled from the start.

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Trident has arrived. I asked the students to think of a good name for it, preferably a name in Greenlandic (Kalaallisut), the local language. So far, one student suggested Qaqortooraq, which means "the little white one." In Kalaallisut, the q sound is made in the back of your throat, a sound that we don't have in English that's incredibly difficult to learn, BUT, there is no better reason to practice the language than to make sure we can all correctly refer to the newest member of our team.


Name suggestions are still welcome, but Qaqortooraq may be hard to beat.

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In just over 7 weeks, a team of 20 high school students from the U.S., Greenland, and Denmark, along with students from Dartmouth and Ilisimatusarfik, will meet in Kangerlussaq, Greenland for the Joint Science Education Project. We are busy planning the science. So far, studies of insect diversity, glacial river runoff, life beneath your feet (soils!), and Arctic fish. There is so much to learn about the Arctic as it experiences unprecedented rates of change. Fortunately, the students in this program represent the next cohort of science leaders who can work across cultures and international borders to understand and communicate the science of rapid Arctic change.


In the photo are the students from the 2018 U.S. JSEP team- Emma Ceteno, Ermia Butler, Michael Martinez, Alana Macken, and Ella Lubin.

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Expedition Background

In July 2010, Dartmouth graduate students Lauren Culler and Julia Bradley-Cook traveled to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to study how rapid Arctic climate change is impacting tundra ecosystems. While there, they talked with local community members who told them about Sea Tomato Lake, home to the locally-infamous "sea tomato". Lauren was skeptical that this was a joke because from afar, Sea Tomato Lake looks like the many other lakes in the tundra landscape and, as an aquatic ecologist, she had never heard of a tomato that grows in a lake! Julia, a soil ecologist, insisted that they take a closer look and on one of their last days in the field together, they finally stopped at Sea Tomato Lake.


And since then, Dartmouth researchers have been studying, you guessed it, sea tomatoes! Although these aren't actual tomatoes, they sure do look like a tomato, and they can be the size of really big tomato. They are actually a special type of cyanobacteria called Nostoc that form massive colonies and can live for many years. Dartmouth graduate student Jessica Trout-Haney was the first to document some of the basic biology of the Kangerlussuaq seas tomatoes. This has helped her and Lauren continue to make discoveries about what they do, what eats them, if they are toxic, and how they are changing lake ecosystems.

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Cool! Excited to be following along!

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