Follow Dr. Katrina Edwards, as she explores the microbial life at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

Less than three weeks left on land. I can’t believe we are finally going to drill North Pond, after six years of project planning. Six years! I remember the time we wrote the first proposal for this project well because my youngest daughter was two, and at the time of writing I worried about having to do the project too soon, while she was still so young. Not so much a concern anymore but still – 2+ months at sea! What were we thinking six long years ago?!

Our drilling expedition will use the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program’s (IODP) flagship, the Joides Resolution. This has been the principal workhorse for the scientific ocean drilling community since 1985 Did you know that we’ve been drilling as a scientific community for research purposes since the mid 1960’s? We have, and hopefully will continue to well into the future, making fundamental discoveries and proving important theories such as the theory of plate tectonics, one of the many crowning discoveries for the drilling program. A current major frontier for research is one that the North Pond program focuses on: the microbiology of the deep subsurface biosphere hidden below the bottom of the ocean floor. Otherwise know as "intraterrestrial life". While we’ve known that life – microbial life exclusively – persists below the bottom of the ocean for many decades, the extent, function, identities, and activities of these vast ecosystems has only recently begun to be elucidated thanks to the technology that deep ocean drilling provides. What does North Pond drilling bring to bear on these questions? North Pond is one of the first sites that will examine the igneous portion of the ocean crust specifically for microbiological purposes. The very few studies that have been conducted to date mainly focus on the sedimentary sequences and the hidden microbial clues left within them. Here we are examining hard rock volcanic lavas that are now buried below sediments over 4.5 kilometers from the surface ocean. That is deep! Deeper than the average depth of the world’s oceans, which is around 4 kilometers. Also, we are using very specialized, highly technical laboratory installations at the seafloor to conduct our studies – laboratories referred to as “CORKs”, which I will discuss at a later post.

CORKs and microbiology and hydrogeology oh my! We are coming and coming soon to you with novel new studies from the deep depths of the ocean. Stay tuned as I rapidly approach cruise preparation frenzy time!