Travis Drake from Carleton College and Erin Seybold from St. Olaf College explain their Polaris Project research on small Siberian streams.

“Arctic streams carry water, soil, and decaying plants from forests and lakes to larger rivers and the Arctic Ocean. Plants and fallen trees restrict the flow of water through these small streams. Because the flow is sluggish, organisms in the stream—mainly bacteria—have time to eat the carbon in the soils and decaying plants. When organisms eat carbon, it is exhaled as carbon dioxide. Currently, no one understands how much carbon passes through streams and how much escapes to the atmosphere. We also don’t understand the role that nitrogen and phosphorous play in this process. Like a garden, these essential nutrients are required for the organisms to thrive.

We are performing experiments on six arctic streams to answer three important questions. First, is energy for organisms in the stream provided by photosynthesis in the stream, or from plants that are deposited into the stream from the land? Second, how much do barriers like plants and shrubs in the stream slow down the water? And third, are the organisms in the stream unable to break down dissolved energy sources because they are lacking nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous? Understanding the answers to these three questions will allow us to better understand how arctic streams move carbon to the Arctic Ocean.” -Travis Drake and Erin Seybold