Editor's Note: University of Southern California geobiologist Katrina Edwards is taking part in a three-week drilling project at the Atlantic's North Pond—a sediment-filled valley on the ocean floor—designed to locate and study what she calls the “intraterrestrials”: the myriad microbial life-forms living inside Earth's crust. This is her eleventh blog post. To track her research ship's current position, click here. To see all her posts, see "60 Seconds in North Pond."
SOMEWHERE IN THE NORTH POND (March 2, 2009)—Remember that great sampling I was talking about yesterday? As the data rolled in, things went from great to greater. We have evidence to support our hypothesis that water is flowing out the other end of North Pond.
It's simply amazing to see data that confirm a hypothesis. As a scientist you get used to being right and wrong a lot. Hypotheses are really just educated guesses, in practice. A good scientist is always trying to prove her or himself wrong, or back up a correct hypothesis with lots and lots and lots of really compelling data.
We don't have it all figured out here at North Pond. But we have a hint of a start. Of course, a lot of our data won't be collected until we are "back on the beach," in our labs—where most of the data about intraterrestrial microbes will be generated. But there has already been lots of speculation about what kinds of microbes we will find. Steve D'Hondt of the University of Rhode Island has been spearheading another deep biosphere project in the South Pacific: There are similarities to that site but also many differences, some of my shipmates who are involved in both projects tell me. The rampant speculation continues—all to be replaced by actual data when we can get in the lab and examine the genetic makeup of the North Pond intraterrestrial microbes.
I mentioned yesterday that we bent our core barrel. That's what happens when you hit hard rock at the bottom of sediments. Normally, this is something to avoid when you are coring sediments. It is not a good thing for the pipe, obviously. But you could not have found a happier cast of scientists about this banana: We found the crust under the sediments! I hope we hit another one.
Today, on our first core we made an accordion out of our core barrel, just for variety. This is what happens when you hit a shallow and impermeable clay layer, which does not allow the core catcher (that's the business end of the pipe) to penetrate—it doesn't stop it cold like hitting rock, but rather the force of the thrust is accommodated in the pipe, which just kind of crumples a bit.
It is starting to feel we are on a path of destruction, I know, but really this is all part of the game plan—sort of. We are back in the water with a "shorty core"—about six meters (20 feet), and looking for more!
Photos of a damaged "core catcher" and a split core from from below the bent portion, courtesy Katrina Edwards/USC: