Think of bacteria eating rock. Now think of bacteria eating rock below the ocean floor. How about experimenting on bacteria in that rock 15,000 feet underwater"
With a $3.9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, USC researcher Katrina Edwards will lead a first-of-its-kind drilling expedition to study subseafloor life.
Recently discovered subseafloor microbes, which live on chemical reactions with rock and water, may affect ocean chemistry, the marine food web and global climate.
Thats because the entire volume of Earths oceans appears to circulate through the seabed every 200,000 years lightning fast, by geologic standards.
The ocean crust is more like fractured hard sponge cake than what we think of as truly solid, Edwards explained.
Yet scientists know little about this deep biosphere, so Edwards and more than 30 colleagues have pushed for an observatory and at least a decade of research, which the Moore Foundation grant helps make possible.
Dr. Edwards is pursuing one of the most fascinating problems in science, said David Kingsbury, chief program officer of science at the Moore Foundation, based in San Francisco.
With the recognition that the subseafloor ocean may teem with microbial life comes new, fundamental questions about the evolution and distribution of life and the operation of the carbon cycle, he added.
The grant will fund complex engineering and instrumentation needed for long-term experiments at and below the seafloor. The drilling will occur under the auspices of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, an international marine research program funded by the National Science Foundation and Asian government agencies. Shallow drilling is expected to begin in 2009, and deeper drilling in 2010.
The undertaking will further bridge the earth and life sciences, a key goal in the emerging field of geobiology, described by Edwards as the co-evolution of
|Contact: Terah DeJong|
University of Southern California