Scientists at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography are shedding light on the genetic makeup of Earth’s deep microbial life and the geochemistry of the lavas that form the Earth’s crust through research conducted as part of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a 10-year international collaboration unraveling the mysteries of Earth’s inner workings.
Their research is being presented this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Oceanography Professor Steven D’Hondt, along with postdoctoral researcher John Kirkpatrick and graduate student Emily Walsh, are working with other scientists to census microbes that live deep below Earth’s surface. By conducting DNA analyses of microbes from sediments deep beneath the ocean floor, deep continental aquifers in South Africa, North America and Europe and elsewhere, they are discovering a fascinating network of subterranean microbial life.
“There is widespread interest in learning whether there are unique organisms living down there, or whether it is dominated by organisms that are common at the surface,” said D’Hondt. “Are the same microorganisms found everywhere or is every subsurface ecosystem different? We’re mapping the geographic diversity of the subsurface world.”
The URI team is working to understand the evolution and natural selection of subsurface microbes. By sampling microbial communities from different depths and comparing samples from beneath the Indian Ocean, the Bering Sea, the South Pacific and elsewhere, they have found that very few types of microbes last very long.
“There doesn’t appear to be any single trait or characteristic that is key to survival in these challenging environments,” Kirkpatrick said. “If there were, there would be consistent winners and consistent losers, but the winners aren’t consistent and almost everything seems to be losing and getting wiped out. It’s remarkable that anything at all can survive under those conditions.”
Meanwhile, Katherine Kelley, associate professor of oceanography, and colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution will report at the conference on their discovery of unsuspected linkages between the oxidation state of iron in volcanic rocks and variations in the chemistry of the deep Earth. Their findings suggest that carbon plays a more significant role in the circulation of the deep Earth than had previously been predicted.
“The relationships we’ve observed in basalts at mid-ocean ridges come about from the melting of Earth’s upper mantle, and it tells us about the chemistry and composition of Earth beneath ocean basins,” Kelley said. “We found a surprising relationship between the composition of lavas and the oxidation state of iron in the lavas.”
The researchers used a microanalytical method called X-ray Absorption Near Edge Structure to analyze lava samples from mid-ocean ridges and found that carbon provides the means for exchanging oxygen and electrons with iron in the mantle, which is contrary to many years of previous research.
“Carbon in Earth’s interior is impossible to measure directly, but it’s important that we know how much carbon there is because the volcanic flux of carbon out of Earth’s interior is a big variable in understanding how atmospheric CO2 is cycled through our planet,” Kelley said. “And that ties into our climate and the evolution of Earth.”
Funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Deep Carbon Observatory is a $500 million research project to discover the quantity, movement, origin and forms of carbon deep inside the earth. The URI Office of Marine Programs, based at the Graduate School of Oceanography, oversees all international engagement activities for the Observatory.
Todd McLeish | Newswise
Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation
Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences