Paul Hamilton


Paul Hamilton

Phycologist and Senior Research Assistant in Life Sciences, Canadian Museum of Nature

I have always wanted to explore the microscopic world to discover unseen life forms and to study the scientific stories they can tell us.


Meet the expert


Paul Hamilton is a Senior Research Assistant in Life Sciences at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Paul specializes in phycology, the study of algae, and is presently Curator of the National Phycology Collection of Canada at the Canadian Museum of Nature, which holds more than 85,000 samples. He has co-authored four books, published 96 scientific papers, and written numerous technical reports and popular articles.

Although he specializes in algae, Paul studies all forms of microscopic aquatic organisms. For Expedition Arctic, Paul’s mission was to explore microorganisms found in sediments at the bottom of Arctic bodies of water.


My mission

My mission was to capture microscopic organisms in order to see what we can learn about climate change and life in the Arctic. See how I tried to do that.

A microscopic look at a diatom Dinophysis acuta.

Dinophysis acuta

Plankton are microscopic organisms that drift on, or swim in, the ocean’s currents. Phytoplankton are photosynthetic micro-organisms that are so productive they are responsible for generating and maintaining much of the Earth’s oxygen. Image: A microscopic look at Dinophysis acuta.

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Fucus distichus

Seaweeds are plant-like organisms that are at the base of the Arctic food chain. Seaweeds photosynthesize, turning the sun’s energy into food and oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the surrounding environment. Humans use seawood in their daily lives as it can be found in food, medicine, paint, cosmetics, toiletries and other common everyday products. Image: Fucus distichus preserved at the Canadian Museum of Nature

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A Fucus distichus plant preserved in a jar.

My trip

I explored many new lakes and many spots in the ocean along our expedition. See what I found!

A type of algae known as Nostoc commune.

Nostoc commune

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. Image: A type of algae known as Nostoc commune.

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Staurosira venter

Diatoms are microscopic single-celled organisms. They can be found in areas that contain water such as oceans, lakes, streams, ice, soil and even in tree bark. Image: A microscopic look at Staurosira venter.

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A close up of  the diatom Staurosira venter.

My methods

These are the methods I use when I explore places like the Arctic for microscopic organisms.


Interested in a career in the Life Sciences? Watch this video.


Paul Hamilton’s blog posts


Lady Franklin Island – Sunday, August 5

I was in the Zodiac today travelling to Lady Franklin Island. The sun was shining and the air was crisp. The occasional spray from the boat crashing through the waves reminds me that this is a true Arctic environment. As we approached the steep rock cliffs of Lady Franklin Island, we could see the thousands […]

Sunneshine Fiord, Nunavut – Monday, August 6

Today, I explored freshwater on eastern Baffin Island, on the hunt for diatoms.  I was wearing my chest-waders and had my field equipment with me: a flow meter, graduated cylinder, small filter apparatus, bottles for water analysis, plankton net, scraping tools, plastic bags and two high-tech sampling tools—a toothbrush and a turkey-baster. The toothbrush is […]


Crossing the Davis Strait – Wednesday, August 8

We hear a lot about climate change and more specifically climate change in the Arctic, but what do we really know? We know from the fossil record that the climate was warmer millions of years ago. We also know that tropical-like forests were present in the Arctic around 50 million years ago. Indeed, some of […]

Final Arctic thoughts – Saturday, August 11

Expeditions to the Arctic are full of new experiences.  Part of the Students on Ice expedition exposed students to the Arctic by using all their natural senses:  sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. At the top of my list on this expedition is sight. The most compelling memory I have of the trip so far […]