Global Environmental Change and Life on Earth / Study of the Global Life system from polar data that exhibits historical bio-geological data.

Research outline

Reconstruction of the global paleoenvironmental change using ice cores is considered to be the key to unlocking its past, present, and future. In addition to the reconstruction of the paleoenvironmental change, this will offer information essential to accurately understand our current situation and predicting the future global environmental change.

New technologies are constantly being introduced to analyze ice core samples from Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets, which are facilitating the high-resolution acquisition of various types of environmental information. In recent years, therefore, it has been discovered that microorganisms floating in the atmosphere are trapped within the snow in ice sheets, which were thus far considered to be inanimate. This biological paleoenvironmental information is a new addition to the existing glaciological information.

It has been theorized that a million years of history (approximately) can be reconstructed from ice core samples. This would cover the time scale from the period of Pithecanthropus Erectus to the present day.
This implies that fluctuations in the types of microorganisms contained within the ice core may provide an indication of the evolution and activities of humans over the millennia. By combining the histories of biological and environmental fluctuations read from the ice core, we aim to pave the path towards understanding the Global Life system for the age of mankind.
(Project Director: Hideaki Motoyama - National Institute of Polar Research).

"Moss pillars", the vegetation structure of aquatic mosses, standing at the bottom of ponds close to Syowa Station.

Purpose of the project

Global environment has been shaped upon a balance of interactions between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, biosphere, and humanosphere of the Earth. The aim of our project  is to decipher the fluctuations in the global environment influenced Life systems on Earth.

Data regarding microorganism diversity, previously obtained via gene analysis, will be compared with climate fluctuation data, including information about the glacial and interglacial periods, obtained from the ice core, in order to understand the interactions between global environmental fluctuations and the evolution/diversification of microorganisms. We aim to elucidate the adaptation strategy mechanisms of living things influenced by a million years of environmental fluctuations, determined from the ice core; subsequently, we also attempted to reconstruct the Global Life systems. In order to achieve this, we are focusing on the polar regions, Antarctica and Greenland, also central Asia and other regions exhibiting significant environmental fluctuations; environmental data will be obtained from these regions and the changes of the microbiota examined.

Project promotion system

Four our institutes collaborated on this research; in addition, the research was conducted in cooperation with Hokkaido University, the University of Tsukuba, Chiba University, the University of Tokyo, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science Technology (JAMSTEC), Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tamagawa University, Kyoto University, Kyoto Prefectural University, and Hiroshima University. In addition, the National Institute of Polar Research utilized Dome Fuji Ice Core Consortium (ICC) affiliate facilities, such as the Syowa station at Antarctica ,  the Ny-Ålesund station at Svalbard in the Arctic. With the goal of joint research, memorandum of understandings (MOUs) were exchanged with the Institute of Low Temperature Science-Hokkaido University, Kitami Institute of Technology, JAMSTEC, and International Arctic Research Center in the University of Alaska, in order to prepare a domestic and international research system essential for the promotion of this project.

Introductions of eachsubtheme

1. Global environmental change and biological change seen in glaciers and ice sheets - connection with the humanosphere

We pursue research on topics such as the reconstruction of global environmental change based on the analysis of ice cores from glaciers and ice sheets, response to environment-induced fluctuations in microorganisms and viruses trapped in ice, and elucidation of the time series of evolution. The research on ice core microorganisms, which have extremely low cell concentration and are hardly cultivable, is conducted using one-cell gene analyses. We are also attempting the time series detection of viruses from ice cores, and to elucidate its relationship with the humanosphere.
(Principal Investigator: Hideaki Motoyama - National Institute of Polar Research).

2. Biodiversity and its patterns in extreme environments

We aim to determine the global environmental change over the millennia, observed from ice sheets, glaciers, and lake ecosystems of Antarctic coastal areas. In addition, we will attempt to elucidate the diversity and distribution of extreme organisms living in these areas. The boundary regions, such as the areas at the end of, above, and below the ice sheet in coastal areas were defined as free water environments surrounding the ice sheet; we also aim to explore the new biosphere in these areas. Simultaneously, we are attempting to establish a comprehensive database detailing the classification, distribution, genetics, and other such characteristics of extreme organisms.
(Principal Investigator: Satoshi Imura - National Institute of Polar Research).

3. Environmental adaptation mechanisms and evolutions of organisms living in extreme environments

Our research focuses on the diversity, evolutions and mechanisms by which organisms adapted to the extreme environments. For this purpose, we will employ various methods, including genomic and meta-genomic analysis, also attempt gene analysis of one cell, in order to analyze the microbial ecosystem in sediments and ice cores. Especially, we aim to elucidate the metabolic mechanisms in this ecosystem via functional gene analysis, and the adaptation mechanisms through the environmental tolerance genes.
(Principal Investigator: Hironori Niki - National Institute of Genetics).

Related articles

Research View 023

New ecosystems found in glaciers near the equator

[Earth/Environment Systems] Jun Uetake (Transdisciplinary Research Integration Center/National Institute of Polar Research)

Even in tropical regions located directly on the equator there are mountains with glaciers. Such mountains include the 5,895 meter-high Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania),

Research View 012

Everything about “moss pillars” living in extreme environments

[Earth/Environment Systems] Satoshi Imura (Professor at the National Institute of Polar Research)

Twenty years ago, a green object with a mountain-like shape similar to that of an anthill was found in a pond close to the Showa Station.

Research View 004

Carving ancient life and environments out of Antarctic snow and ice

[Earth/Environment Systems] Hideaki Motoyama (Professor, the National Institute of Polar Research)

At an altitude of 3,810 meters with an annual average temperature of -54 °C, researchers at the Dome Fuji Station in Antarctica drill deep into the ice sheet to obtain rare ice cores.