Understanding Carbon Cycling in a Perennially Ice-Covered Lake of East Antarctica

Graduate student Nicole Marsh is standing outdoors, wearing a red parka and a grey tuque. Behind her we see a landscape of rocks and a partially snow-covered mountain.

Nicole Marsh, supervised by Professors Ian Clark and Denis Lacelle

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Among the most rewarding experiences for graduate students is the opportunity to present their research results before their peers at scientific conferences. Earlier this year, Nicole Marsh presented the results of her Master’s research project at the Geological Association of Canada, Mineral Association of Canada and International Association of Hydrogeologists joint Annual Meeting (GAC-MAC-IAH) in Québec City. This meeting marked a milestone in her academic career, where she presented results and interpretations from over 1.5 years of analytical work and modelling to understand the source, cycling and fate of carbon in a perennially ice-covered lake.

Nicole’s Master’s project, supervised by Professors Ian Clark and Denis Lacelle, involved the collection of water and sediment samples during a 6-week expedition to the remote Untersee Oasis in Dronning Maud Land. She subsequently characterized these samples at the University of Ottawa for carbon content, stable isotopes, radiocarbon and radiohalides. Nicole’s research encompassed over a year of analytical work with the Ján Veizer Stable Isotope Laboratory and the A.E. Lalonde Accelerated Mass Spectrometry Lab, in addition to collaboration with limnologists and polar scientists from the NASA Ames Research Centre, the SETI Institute Carl Sagan Centre and colleagues at the University of Ottawa. Her work is part of a broad research program exploring life in extreme environments as an analogue for life on Mars.

Nicole is currently developing a comprehensive carbon mass-balance using the water and lake sediment data, to help model the carbon cycling in Lake Untersee. She is also using stable carbon-13 and radiocarbon to decipher biochemical and physical processes occurring in the water column and lake sediments. While finalizing her thesis and getting ready for graduation, Nicole is seeking industry opportunities in environmental consulting, especially projects related to hydrology and environmental geochemistry in the Canadian Territories. She enjoys exploring remote regions and hopes a career in environmental consulting will bring her to the arctic to work in the beautiful terrain and with the amazing people and communities of the Canadian North.

In addition to her supervisors, Profs. Clark and Prof. Lacelle, Nicole is also thankful for the support of PhD student Benoit Faucher, in the department of Geography, who travelled with her and Denis to East Antarctica. As experienced polar researchers, Denis and Benoit oversaw field work and helped her navigate the extreme conditions. Here at uOttawa they are key collaborators in analytical work and data interpretation.

In addition to her graduate studies, Nicole is a member of the Graduate Earth Science Student Association. She taught a rocks and minerals course to Ottawa teenagers as part of an enrichment program, including a field trip to Quebec to search for minerals at the old Cross Loop Brucite Mine.

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