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Arctic Marine Life

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Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario

Learning about Microscopic Life in the Arctic
In this lesson, students will have the opportunity to explore Arctic marine ecosystems. Through their explorations students will develop an understanding of several marine organisms, as well as the concept of keystone species and their role in Arctic marine ecosystems.

Lesson framework and materials:
- This lesson should cover 1 full class period for grades 11-12.
- Computers with internet access can be used to explore the website expeditionarctic.ca, which follows marine life in more depth.
- A notebook to write down observations and reflections.
Microscopic life
Canadian Museum of Nature
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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Diatoms
A microscopic and oval diatom.
In Arctic coastal waters small organisms, known as diatoms, act as the primary producers for the food web of life. Diatoms are microscopic single-celled organisms. Diatoms provide nutrients and food energy for other larger organisms that marine mammals such as whales and seals rely on for food.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
A Microscopic Diatom
Watch a microscopic diatom move around.
Michigan Technological University
© Video by Dr. Michael R. Gretz, Michigan Technological University
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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Staurosira venter
A microscopic view of Staurosira venter.
Staurosira venter (its scientific name) is a diatom that has evolved to thrive in frigid Arctic freshwaters (water that does not contain salt). Although these life forms are very small, they are one of the most common species found in the Arctic.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Nitzschia frigida
A microscopic look at Nitzschia frigida.
Nitzschia frigida (its scientific name) is one of the most common and important producers of food that lives in Arctic sea ice. As the sun shines through the ice during the spring months, these tiny organisms live within small channels in the sea ice. Here, they form micro-communities at the bottom of the ice. These micro-colonies supply nutrients and food to many organisms up the food chain.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Freshwater diatoms
Watch this video to see freshwater diatoms on the move through a microscope.
Michigan Technological University
© Video by Dr. Michael R. Gretz, Michigan Technological University.
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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Thalassiosira nordenskioeldii
A microscopic look at a circular Thalassiosira nordenskioeldii.
Thalassiosira nordenskioeldii (its scientific name) is part of a group of diatoms upon which the entire marine planktonic Arctic food chain relies. These tiny living protists provide nutrients and food energy for other larger organisms that marine mammals such as whales and seals rely on for food.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
The Single Life
Parafilms
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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Algae
A microscopic and circular algae.
Scientists refer to algae as "protists", which are a group of organisms that collect energy from the sun. Blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, represent the origin of all organisms that use photosynthesis to produce energy. Today, algae are significant contributors to much of the world's energy.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Nostoc commune
Green wet algae on the ground.
Nitrogen is a basic building block for all life on Earth. In the Arctic, where nitrogen is not abundant, a blue-green algae known as Nostoc commune (its scientific name) collects and regulates nitrogen that other Arctic plants use to grow. Without blue-green algae like Nostoc commune there would be limited plant growth in the Arctic region.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Emiliania huxleyi
A microscopic look at Emiliania huxleyi.
Emiliania huxleyi can be found throughout many of the world’s oceans; however, it does not currently grow in the Arctic. This type of algae can be linked to balancing the ocean's chemistry with the Earth's atmosphere.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Plankton
A microscopic look at plankton.
Dinophysis acuta (its scientific name) is a type of plankton and that feeds many Arctic species, such as shellfish. This type of plankton has the ability to produce toxins which they can pass on to shellfish. Predators that feed on shellfish can ingest these toxins, which can lead to sickness and death.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Plankton Life
Parafilms
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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Dinophysis acuta
A microscopic look at Dinophysis acuta.
Dinophysis acuta (its scientific name) is a type of phytoplankton that occurs in low numbers in marine cold Arctic waters. It has the ability to not only collect energy from the sun to create food and oxygen, but also the potential to ingest prey and particulate matter.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Seaweed and Fucus Distichus
Fucus distichus in a jar full of liquid.
Seaweeds photosynthesize, turning the sun’s energy into food and oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the surrounding environment. Fucus distichus (its scientific name) is a common brown seaweed found growing on shorelines across the circumpolar Arctic. This type of seaweed can be used as a food source for the Inuit when meat or other plants are not available.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: Arctic Aquatic Life
Suggested Activity
Have students explore the highlighted species and answer the following reflection questions:

Specific questions:
- What roles do aquatic organisms play in Arctic ecosystems
- What types of organisms are being examined in this lesson?
- How does the Arctic climate affect aquatic organisms?
- How do aquatic organisms affect the rest of the Arctic ecosystem?

General question:
- What interested you the most?
- What surprised you to learn?
- What is one thing you would like to know more about?

Have a class discussion based around reflection questions.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

- Develop an understanding of Arctic marine organisms and "keystone" species.

- Familiarize himself/herself with scientific vocabulary.