Friday, September 6, 2013

Microbes at Axial Seamount

Weather: Today the seas have been much rougher, with large rolling waves (apparently up to 5-7 feet), cooler temperatures (mid- 60’s) and overcast grey skies all day.  

Science Update:  
Today’s objectives:

1) Retrieve Jason from its first dive of this cruise (dive J2-726) - check!
2) Install two benchmarks for sites for pressure survey (see blog entry from 5 September) - check!
3) Deploy the first of three APL “vent cap” instruments (see blog entry from 4 September) - check!
4) Launch ROV Jason on dive J2-727 - check! Clearly a busy, productive day!

Microbes at Axial Seamount
Jim Holden, of The University of Massachusetts at Amherst and his research team are trying to understand the smallest forms of life known at Axial Seamount- these are the microbes, or microbial organisms. Jim collected several samples during dive J2-726 (deployed Sept 5th and retrieved Sept 6th) from the Coquille and ASHES Vent Fields (see map above).

We live with microbes all around us in normal daily life such as those that help humans digest our food, decompose material in soil and activate yeast in the production of bread and beer. Jim and his team want to know what microbes live at Axial Seamount- justifiably considered an extreme environment. Scientists study microbes at other volcanoes to study primitive forms of life, in part to better understand the conditions required for early life on Earth and potentially on other planets. Scientists study microbes that live in and around volcanoes, but doing research at a submarine volcano presents additional challenges.

Microbes are collected in water that is emitted from hydrothermal vents with samplers on Jason (photo at left) that Jim and his graduate student, Begum Topcuoglu extract and begin processing in lab facilities on board the R/V Thompson (see photo below).

Begum is working on her PhD research investigating the relationship between different types of microbial organisms.
Microbes are single celled organisms that create energy from different sources of energy, or “food,” such as rock, gas combinations like hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Begum’s research will examine the microbes living near vents that are known to have low H2 and those with high H2. In the case of low H2 vents, Begum’s research will help us understand if the H2 produced by certain microbes help supply the H2 needed for other microbes that consume H2 (plus CO2) to produce methane (such microbes are called methanogens). This work will clarify the living conditions required for methanogens, which like other organisms, can only live in environments in which it has the resources necessary for its survival.