Reduced sea ice cover and ice-free summers have led to increases of 166% in shipping through the Northwest Passage since 2004. For example, cruise ship tourism in the Arctic has grown by 500% in the past 5 years. The US-based Crystal Cruises just announced that its mammoth Crystal Serenity cruise ship will make its first ever voyage through the Northwest Passage in August 2016, carrying about 1,000 passengers and over 600 crew – the first ever attempt of this kind. Increased activity brings increased risks of accidental releases of diesel or bunker fuel and
other transportation related contaminants. Climate change has also focused attention on Arctic oil exploration and attendant fears of an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. Significant oil reserves are estimated to exist in the Arctic, yet recent decisions by major oil producers including Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron signal that drilling in the Canadian Arctic is at least a decade away. This “hiatus” in offshore petroleum exploration and production in the Canadian Arctic offers scientists an important window of opportunity to develop emergency preparedness plans, and this window of opportunity must not be squandered.
The GENICE project will use microbial genomics to generate credible, science-based knowledge on the role and potential of bioremediation – the biodegradation of oil by naturally occurring microorganisms. Marine microbial communities are likely nature’s ‘first responders’ in the event of a marine oil spill, yet little is known about this potential mitigation approach in the cold iceladen Arctic marine environment. Integrating scientific outcomes with GE3LS, the project will achieve key deliverables of (1) new baselines using microbial genomics, (2) bioremediation viability case studies and demonstrations for Arctic marine habitats, and (3) a new approach to
dynamic mapping of risks and mitigation potential using microbial genomic biomarkers. These outcomes will interface with the complex milieu of economic policy development and learning around emergency preparedness and oil spill response in Canada’s Arctic waters. Ongoing engagement and interactive exchange of knowledge between scientists and different end-user groups will include residents of potentially affected northern communities, different levels of government including regulatory agencies, non-governmental and Indigenous organizations, and the private sector. As a result, an additional key deliverable of GENICE will be (4) a Best Practices document for end users concerning bioremediation of oil spills in the Arctic that will be produced and available to Canadians at the end of the project.
Casey Hubert, University of Calgary
Gary Stern, University of Manitoba
Genome Alberta (Lead)
Genome Canada Contribution:
Funding Partners Contribution:
Total: $7.4 Million
Genome Canada 2014 Large Scale Applied Research Project Competition