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 tenth 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 1, 2009)—We hit pay dirt today: Basement in a warm zone! At this point, everything else is gravy. Top that off with a T-bone steak for lunch, and life is good!
Here's how it went down, so to speak: Yesterday, we did some coring after getting back to North Pond (and feeling relief from the constant rolling of the boat). The geophysics team worked through the night to gather heat-flow data from the cores—the data that is collected using the long rod that probes into sediments—which we had half-jokingly suggested they use to probe for the solid rock underneath, what we call the basement. In reality, it has some pretty sophisticated sensors in and on it, which make that not such a hot idea.
They did indeed hit rock last night, which of course could have damaged the probe, but apparently it is okay. (Despite the fact that we seem to have bent the pipe (see photo). The important thing is that the data they gathered gave us very clear targets for our sediment sampling. So we started coring again very close to where we cored yesterday. Based on the measurements that were made late into the night, we knew that we were close to something cool—or potentially warm, really—where warmed basement fluids might be leaking up and trying to escape from the crust. But today, thanks to the heat measurements, we were aiming directly at the bull's-eye—and we hit it.
I helped retrieve core that went down at 6 A.M. Despite the fact that most of us were up until sometime between midnight and 4 A.M., most are already up, just after 8 A.M., and ready for more. I'm playing tag-team sampling with the chemists who study pore-water—I take my samples, they take theirs. It is the only sample that the microbiologists get first dibs on—otherwise we bide our time while the chemists do their thing and then have our turn. I'll have one more crack at it soon. Then it's work, work, work until late in the evening.
I do hope that we find more warm spots—our likelihood is good, but I like to sit back and reflect on what we needed to accomplish, and the major goals are now covered. Just not covered as well as we'd like. But we always want more. Now we know at least one spot where fluid is leaking out and where we could set up an observatory. We'd love to have several good candidates though.