Project Title Oceanographic control and global distributions of subseafloor microbial life and activity
Acronym Subseafloor Microbial Life
Created November 8, 2011
Modified January 18, 2012

Project Description

Recent studies of subseafloor life, that is microbes living deep below the ocean&aposs seafloor, have produced astonishing results that challenge fundamental ideas about the limits and distributions of life. These include: (1) that the microbial biomass of subseafloor sediments is spatially much more variable and possibly much smaller than previously believed; (2) that rates of subseafloor sedimentary microbial activity are far below the rate required for cell maintenance, implying that either most subseafloor cells are inactive or that the energy required for their cellular maintenance is lower than anticipated; and (3) the global distributions of subseafloor sedimentary microbes and their activities are significantly affected by the oceanographic properties of the overlying water column. This proposal will conduct fieldwork to test these ideas at a range of sites in the equatorial Pacific. To do this the principal investigators will conduct a transect study where the following samples and measurements will be taken: (1) coring the sediment to ~18 meter or more below seafloor (mbsf) at 12 sites in the Pacific Ocean; (2) conducting extensive microbiological and biogeochemical analyses of these cores; (3) surveying the oceanographic and geologic characteristics of each site; and (4) using the results to test and refine models for the global distribution of subseafloor microbial abundances and their metabolic activities. Using these data the investigators will then address four important questions: (1) What are the principal controls on the magnitude and geographic distribution of subseafloor sedimentary cell abundance and steady-state rates of microbial activities? (2) Can we accurately estimate the magnitude and global distribution of subseafloor sedimentary cell abundance? (3) Can we accurately estimate the global distribution of organic carbon-fueled microbial activity in subseafloor sediment? and (4) Do different subseafloor sediments with very different cell abundances and rates of metabolic activity characterized by different groups of organisms? This study will significantly advance our understanding of life in the subseafloor ocean and will provide samples for diverse independent studies, including the International Census of Marine Microbes. This project will also have a strong research and training impact at both the graduate and undergraduate levels as the inherently multidisciplinary nature of subsurface life provides an ideal entry into collaborative modern science.

Data Project Maintainers

Steven L. D'HondtUniversity of Rhode Island (URI-GSO)Principal Investigator
David C. SmithUniversity of Rhode Island (URI-GSO)Co-Principal Investigator
Robert PockalnyUniversity of Rhode Island (URI-GSO)Co-Principal Investigator
Arthur J. SpivackUniversity of Rhode Island (URI-GSO)Co-Principal Investigator