A CORK-Lite bore hole observatory successfully deployed and instrumented at North Pond / Mid-Atlantic Ridge.


Our Mission

The Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) is a $47.6M National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center started in 2010 with the mission to explore life beneath the seafloor and make transformative discoveries that advance science, benefit society, and inspire people of all ages and origins.

Video overview by USC Dornsife College Communications


C-DEBI research focuses on the discovery of the microbial life below the ocean floor in rocks and sediments (the deep biosphere) that make up 70% of our planet’s surface.  Specifically, we are interested in determining what organisms exist where, how long they’ve been there, how they might be related to other organisms found in continental areas or in the overlying ocean, and how subseafloor microbes help coordinate critical global biogeochemical cycles that keep our planet habitable.

Our research includes field sites across the world’s oceans from the low-nutrient South Pacific Gyre, the young Juan de Fuca Ridge Flank (off of Washington State), the sedimented North Pond in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, to the hydrothermally-active Dorado Outcrop at the East Pacific Rise (west of Costa Rica) as well as hydrothermal vents, seamounts, and many other subseafloor habitats.

C-DEBI uses specialized technologies to collect and analyze samples from the deep biosphere including sensors, samplers, and platforms, deep-sea submersibles, scientific drilling research ships, and ROVs (remotely operated vehicles). In addition, we carry out experimental and theoretical work in laboratories around the country to better constrain and model the subseafloor habitat.

C-DEBI research projects have resulted in over 450 peer-reviewed research publications in high-profile journals including Science, Nature and ISME (International Society for Microbial Ecology) Journal with a third of first authorships by graduate students and postdoctorals. This emphasizes the success we have had in our priority to train the next generation of deep subsurface biosphere researchers.

See also:

Research Overview Peer-reviewed Publications

Education, Outreach & Diversity

Our education and outreach activities engage a broad audience (from K to gray) emphasizing the integration of multidisciplinary research and educational training with a focus on providing opportunities for people of underrepresented groups in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, specifically in microbiology and ocean sciences.

Our signature undergraduate programs provide hands-on research training in STEM laboratories to early career students at both 2-year and 4-year schools. Our Global Environmental Microbiology summer course is a discovery-based program at the University of Southern California that introduces field sampling, lab protocols and microbiology. For students seeking a more integrative experience, we offer summer and academic year research-intensive internships at the University of Southern California and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in programs largely targeting community college students both regionally and nationwide, such as our Community College Cultivation Cohort Research Experiences for Undergraduates (C4 REU).

See also:

Education & Diversity Overview


C-DEBI is a partnership between 8 institutions with the University of Southern California (USC) as the lead, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), and the University of Rhode Island (URI), as well as the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, California Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.

In addition to the lead investigators at the primary institutions, C-DEBI has supported deep biosphere community research at over 45 institutions in nearly 110 projects including about 55 graduate student and postdoctoral research fellowships.

The C-DEBI community also includes nearly 1000 members from 40 countries that stay informed of C-DEBI activities and opportunities via our mailing list.

See also:

People Funded Projects Mailing List & Newsletter