Project TitleCollaborative Research: A multidimensional approach to understanding microbial carbon cycling beneath the seafloor during cool hydrothermal circulation
AcronymSubseafloor Microbial Carbon Cycling
URLhttps://www.bco-dmo.org/project/650059
CreatedJune 24, 2016
ModifiedNovember 29, 2017

Project Description

NSF abstract:

The global ocean comprises Earth’s largest microbiome, with at least half of the ocean’s microbial biomass occurring beneath the ocean floor. In particular, oceanic crust encompasses the largest aquifer on Earth, with a liquid volume equal to approximately 2% of the ocean’s volume. It also harbors a substantial reservoir of microbial life that may influence global-scale biogeochemical cycles. This project investigates this largest actively flowing aquifer system on Earth- the fluids circulating through oceanic crust underlying the oceans and sediments. Despite advancing knowledge about life in the deep ocean, the understanding of microorganisms in the rocky oceanic crust and the fluids flowing through it remains rudimentary. This project is focused on understanding the linkages between microbial activity and the cycling of carbon in the cool, subseafloor biosphere. The balance between organic carbon-consuming and organic carbon-producing metabolisms within the crustal biosphere will be determined using seafloor observatories put in place by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) on the flanks of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, likely representative of the majority of global hydrothermal fluid circulation. The rates of microbial transformations of carbon will be determined using both geochemical and biological approaches. Results will help establish the extent to which microbially-mediated processes in the subseafloor influence carbon cycling in the ocean. This work will represent the first comprehensive description of carbon cycling in the cold oxic crustal aquifer. Two female postdocs will be supported on the grant, and both high school and community college students will also be involved through collaborations with Cape Cod Community College and Cambridge-Rindge and Latin School. The goal is to promote science, technology, engineering and math literacy among high-school and community college students through hand-on research experiences, peer-to-peer mentoring, and professional development opportunities. 

The goal of the project is to answer the question "is the cool crustal subseafloor biosphere net autotrophic or net heterotrophic?" The focus of the effort is at North Pond, an isolated sediment pond located on ridge flank oceanic crust 7-8 million years old on the western side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The two objectives of the project are to:

1. Characterize suspended particles in subseafloor fluids with respect to their inorganic and organic carbon content, and natural 14C and 13C isotopic ratios, to determine microbially-mediated fluxes and processes.

2. Characterize the net influence of particle-associated and free-living microbial communities on subseafloor fluid primary production and remineralization, as well as the taxon-specific contributions to these same processes.

The integration of isotope geochemical and molecular biological approaches represents a significant cross-disciplinary advance in the understanding of the microbial ecology and geochemistry of the subseafloor biosphere in young oceanic crust and their role in maintaining global deep-sea redox balance. Expected outcomes include identifying signatures of autotrophic and heterotrophic metabolism in particle-associated and free-living subseafloor microbial communities as well as quantification of autotrophic and heterotrophic metabolism and associated taxon-abundances to provide insights into the net and specific microbial processes in crustal fluids on carbon fluxes.

Project Maintainers

NameAffiliationRoleContact
Julie A. HuberWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)Lead Principal Investigator
Peter R. GirguisHarvard UniversityPrincipal Investigator
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