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ARCHIVED - How could Arctic microorganisms reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

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Video length: 2:34

Video transcript

(An Arctic landscape showing sky, mountains and tundra. A cross section of the tundra shows two layers — the active layer and, below that, the permafrost layer. Remains of plants and animals are frozen in the permafrost layer.)

In the Arctic, carbon from dead plant and animal matter is frozen in the permafrost layer. As global temperatures rise and the permafrost thaws, microorganisms in the permafrost become active.

(The sun rises. Zoom in on remains of an animal in the permafrost. A highlighted circle appears. Within the circle, microorganisms are visible and moving.)

These microorganisms consume the carbon and release greenhouse gases.

(Zoom back out to Arctic scene. Gas rises from the remains in the permafrost.)

These greenhouse gases trap heat and cause temperatures to rise even more.

(The sun and sky become redder.)

This releases still more gases, creating a loop of rising temperatures.

(A thermometer appears in the centre of the screen. Its mercury rises.)

The type of greenhouse gas produced depends on the environmental conditions. In open areas, aerobic bacteria produce carbon dioxide.

(The thermometer disappears. A carbon dioxide molecule, composed of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, appears above the scene. Gas continues to rise from the permafrost.)

In areas flooded by melting permafrost, anaerobic bacteria produce methane.

(The top or "active" layer of the tundra sinks, creating a depression that fills with water. A methane molecule, composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, appears above the scene.)

Methane is 24 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

(Gas rises from the permafrost, a darker shade this time.)

But there are also microorganisms that consume methane.

(A highlighted circle appears in the centre of the scene. It shows several yellow microorganisms slowly moving.)

Scientists are learning more about these microorganisms by doing genetic sequencing on samples of Arctic soil.

(A rotating DNA helix is superimposed over the microorganisms.)

Scientists will then find ways to help those microorganisms flourish — for example, by adding nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.

(The DNA helix disappears. Drops of water representing nutrients appear among the microorganisms. More microorganisms appear.)

This could help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

(The circle disappears. The sky cools back to a bluer shade and the amount of rising gas diminishes.)

(Text on screen: National Research Council Canada; Conseil national de recherches Canada. Copyright Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by National Research Council of Canada, 2011)

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ISSN 1927-0275 = Dimensions (Ottawa. Online)