With escalating marine traffic and potentially significant prospects of oil and gas development, the Arctic is faced with an increasing risk of petroleum pollution. Oil spills are one of the most serious threats to marine ecosystems, and thus they also affect northern communities’ livelihoods. Drilling accidents like the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico (2010) and the Marathassa oil spill in English Bay, Vancouver (2015) have highlighted the need for better preparedness for such events. Furthermore, decision-makers in government, industry and indigenous organizations face knowledge, policy and capacity gaps with respect to oil spill mitigation, especially for ice-covered, sub-zero temperature marine waters.
One of the approaches to mitigating oil in marine waters is through bioremediation, whereby naturally present microorganisms biodegrade oils and reduce the negative impacts of the spill. While this phenomenon has been observed in more southerly latitudes, the extent and success of using bioremediation to treat oil in the Arctic marine setting is fairly new and requires further study. Genomics is the study of organism DNA and genetic mapping. By using genomics to study the groups of microorganisms that biodegrade oil, and investigating their associated active genes under various Arctic conditions, we can build capacity for developing cross-cutting spill mitigation strategies and preparation measures among local, regional, national and international levels of governance.
GENICE is a Genome Canada $10.6 M, 4-year project led by Drs. Gary Stern (CEOS) and Casey Hubert (University of Calgary). Officially announced December 8, 2016 by Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, the Large-Scale Applied Research Project will make use of the upcoming Churchill Marine Observatory and its Oil in Sea Ice Mesocosms.
GENICE outcomes include:
- Baseline microbial genomics data useful for assessing marine ecosystem resilience and response to hydrocarbon pollution;
- Bioremediation viability case studies;
- Recommendations on technology-based emergency spill response strategies;
- Best practices for successful knowledge transfer and sharing of diverse knowledge types; and
- Mobilized sharing of genomics and bioremediation information for informed decision making and policy development.
GENICE is structured into six central activities:
- Activity 1 – Project Management- led by Drs. Casey Hubert (University of Calgary) and Gary Stern (University of Manitoba)
- Activity 2 – Environmental Sampling and Experimental Design - led by Drs. Gary Stern and David Barber (U of M)
- Activity 3 – Genomics and Bioinformatics - led by Drs. Casey Hubert and Marc Strous (University of Calgary)
- Activity 4 – Sea Ice Environments - led by Drs. David Barber (U of M) and Charles Greer (McGill University)
- Activity 5 – Benthic Environments - led by Drs. Casey Hubert and Stephen Larter (U of C)
- Activity 6 – Environmental, Ethical, Economic, Legal and Social Aspects(GE3LS) - led by Drs. Maribeth Murray (University of Calgary) and John Sinclair (University of Manitoba)
Project outcomes will lead to informed and appropriately scaled plans for coastal and ocean management, spill mitigation strategies, improved risk management, and decreased environmental, social, economic and regulatory uncertainties associated with potential spills. Through the GE3LS component of the project, GENICE will bring together scientists, residents of northern communities, indigenous organizations, government departments, regulatory agencies, non-governmental and private sector groups to contribute their needs and knowledge to the project and also to enact GENICE deliverables.