Deep under the ocean, microbes are active and poised to eat whatever comes their way

An interdisciplinary research team, led from ASU and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), sought to learn more about this ecosystem and the microbes that exist in the subseafloor. The results of their findings were recently published in Science Advances, with ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration assistant professor and geobiologist Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert as lead author.

To study this type of remote ecosystem, and the microbes that inhabit it, the team chose a location called North Pond on the western flank of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, a plate boundary located along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

North Pond, at a depth of over 14,500 feet (4,500 meters) has served as an important site for deep-sea scientists for decades. It was most recently drilled hundreds of feet through the sediment and crust by the International Ocean Discovery Program in 2010 to create access points for studying life and chemistry beneath the seafloor.

With support from the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations, the team sampled the crustal fluid samples from the borehole seafloor observatories with the deep sea remotely operated vehicle Jason II on the research vessel Atlantis.

Trembath-Reichert running the winch for the CTD water sampler, which was used to bring fluids up to the ship from the bottom of the ocean. Credit: Ben Tully

Trembath-Reichert with Olivia Nigro from Hawaii Pacific University on the research vessel Atlantis after the first fluid samples (in the clear plastic boxes) came on deck from the borehole seafloor observatories. Credit: Kelle Freel