UT science team heading to Arctic Circle to study creatures 'frozen in time'

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KNOXVILLE, Ten. (WVLT) -- Dr. Karen Lloyd is a name to remember. The University of Tennessee microbiologist is going to extremes to do her research.

(WVLT)

Lloyd visited tropical volcanoes in Costa Rica. Now she's set to dodge polar bears in the Arctic Circle. That trip to Svalbard is happening after her team won a brand-new $2.5 million dollar grant.

"What we're discovering are these ecosystems, that we don't know what they do. We don't know why they're there," Dr. Lloyd said.

Dr. Lloyd and her team are heading to 78° north to learn about an unknown world in Svalbard, the melting permafrost.

"These places definitely are like the most extreme environments on earth," Katie Sipes said. "The exciting thing is that there are just so many secrets that we have no idea about."

Katie Sipes is finishing her Ph.D. in the Lloyd lab. She works with some hearty microbes - think bacteria in the Siberian tundra - to learn how they can survive the cold.

"The microbes that we are really interested in are frozen In time," Sipes said.

Some of those may have been 'asleep' or dormant for thousands of years!

"There might be some clues within these microbes that could help people," Sipes said.

To find them, they'll need to dig. Part of Dr. Lloyd's $2.5 million dollar grant will pay for special drills, lodging, and travel. Svalbard is inside the Arctic Circle, and she's seen firsthand how fast the melting is happening there.

"But Svalbard, in particular, is changing faster than a lot of other places in the Arctic," Dr. Lloys said.

There are big challenges, dodging ice and grumpy walruses are just the start. The team carries high powered rifles to ward off the 3,000 local polar bears.

"And they will eat us if given the opportunity," Dr. Lloyd said.

They agree that it's worth the risk, for the impact of the research on the soil.

"When it thaws, what happens to them, and what they put into the atmosphere? So what they're putting into the atmosphere affects us later, because we're all connected," Dr. Lloyd said. "We're all breathing the same air."

It's hard ground, not hardwood, but this is a big win for the big orange.

"It's just another Vol going out into the world and doing things," Dr. Lloyd said.

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