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



We have now finished with coring at Hole 1383C – 331.5 meters of hard rock basement were drilled and the hole looks very good for our next operations up – observatory installation! Today, however, we are continuing to characterize Hole 1383C by sending logging tools down a wire line to the hole where they can scan the sidewalls of the borehole for various chemical and physical properties. We are also sending down again our new tool – DEBI-t – which scans for the presence of microbial life (using deep ultraviolet spectroscopy) in-situ. We are particularly interested in the differences between the newly drilled holes – Hole 1382A and Hole 1383C – and the old legacy hole, 385A. The reason is that there should be considerable differences between the holes. Hole 395A was sealed at the seafloor for 14 years before we cracked it open and sent down DEBI-t – almost right away – so there was really good probability of scanning a relatively undisturbed, pristine hole where we could scan for native microbial populations. The other two holes, in contrast, are freshly drilled and experienced multiple hole-cleaning procedures – circulating mud followed by surface seawater. If these holes all look the same, we would have to conclude that there is something wrong with our new tool. Luckily, all early indications tell us there are considerable differences between the holes – now interpreting these data is the next big challenge.

This proof-of-concept tool development has far-ranging potential applications well beyond the deep sea. In fact our lead DEBI-t scientist, Everett Salas, is a NASA scientist who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Why would a NASA scientist be interested in probing for microbial life deep within the ocean crust? Easy – because in our scientific efforts to search for evidence of life beyond planet Earth, tools need to be developed and tested that are applicable for searching for and identifying signatures uniquely indicative of biomolecules. This deep UV tool that we use to probe for the presence of intraterrestrial life is exactly the kind of tool that could potentially be used with a Rover to explore for the presence of life beyond Earth.

Halloween has now come and gone, and here on the ship we celebrated with a party in the movie/TV rooms. Some people had properly prepared and came equipped with a costume – others made something up shipboard, like myself. I dressed as my favorite engineer, Tom Pettigrew (he’s the one on the right in the picture). The party was tremendous fun and again, helped to break the monotony of coring – we were just getting to the burnt-out stage of those operations.

Now team CORK is gearing up full speed to install the next observatory in Hole 1383C. Our team is featured in this photo of us all wearing our mainly microbe shirts. This is the final big haul from my perspective and I will breathe a deep sigh of relief when that observatory is safely installed in the ground. Just two weeks left!