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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
  • Beth Orcutt
  • (207) 315-2567
Award Date:08/25/2015
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 56,325
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 56,325
  • FY 2015=$56,325
Start Date:10/01/2015
End Date:09/30/2018
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.050
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Collaborative Research: Completing North Pond Borehole Experiments to Elucidate the Hydrology of Young, Slow-Spread Crust
Federal Award ID Number:1536539
DUNS ID:077474757
Program Officer:
  • Deborah K. Smith
  • (703) 292-7978

Awardee Location

Street:60 Bigelow Drive
City:East Boothbay
County:East Boothbay
Awardee Cong. District:01

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
Street:60 Bigelow Drive
City:East Boothbay
County:East Boothbay
Cong. District:01

Abstract at Time of Award

Seawater circulates through the upper part of the oceanic crust much like groundwater flows through continental aquifers. However, in the ocean this seawater circulation, many times heated by buried magmatic bodies, transports and releases 25% of the Earth's heat. The rate of fluid flow through ocean crust is estimated to be equal to the amount of water delivered by rivers to the ocean. Much of what we know of this subseafloor fluid flow comes from studies in the eastern Pacific Ocean on ocean crust created by medium and fast spreading mid-ocean ridges. These studies indicate that seawater and its circulation through the seafloor significantly impact crustal evolution and biogeochemical cycles in the ocean and affect the biosphere in ways that are just now beginning to be quantified and understood. To expand this understanding, this research focuses on fluid flow of seafloor generated by slow spreading ridges, like those in the Atlantic, Indian and Arctic Oceans because it is significantly different in structure, mineralogy, and morphology than that formed at fast and intermediate spreading ridges. This research returns to North Pond, a long-term; seafloor; fluid flow monitoring site, drilled and instumented by the Ocean Drilling Program in the Atlantic Ocean. This research site was punctured by boreholes in which fluid flow and geochemical and biological samplers have been deployed for a number of years to collect data and samples. It also provides resources for shipboard and on-shore geochemical and biological analysis. Broader impacts of the work include sensor and technology development, which increases infrastructure for science and has commercial applications. It also provides training for students and the integration of education and research at three US academic institutions, one of which is an EPSCoR state (Mississippi), and supports a PI whose gender is under-represented in sciences and engineering. Public outreach will be carried out in conjunction with the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations. This project completes a long-term biogeochemical and hydrologic study of ridge flank hydrothermal processes on slow-spreading, 8 million year old crust on the western flank of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The site, North Pond, is an isolated northeast-trending sediment pond, bounded by undersea mountains that have been studied since the 1970s. During Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 336 in 2011 and an expedition five months later (2012), sensors, samplers, and experiments were deployed in four borehole observatories drilled into the seafloor that penetrated into volcanic crust, with the purpose of monitoring changes in hydrologic properties, crustal fluid composition and mineral alteration, among other objectives. Wellhead sampling in 2012 and 2014 already revealed changes in crustal fluid compositions; and associated pressure data confirm that the boreholes are sealed and overpressured, reflecting a change in the formation as the boreholes recover from drilling disturbances. This research includes a 13-day oceanographic expedition and use of on-site robotically operated vehicles to recover downhole instrument packages at North Pond. It will allow the sampling of crustal fluids, recovering pressure data, and measuring fluid flow rates. Ship- and shore-based analyses will be used to address fundamental questions related to the hydrogeology of hydrothermal processes on slow-spread crust.

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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Jones, R.M., Goordial, J.M., and Orcutt, B.N. "Low energy deep subsurface environments as extraterrestrial analogs." Frontiers in Microbiology, v.9, 2018, p.1605. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.01605 

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

The purpose of this collaborative research project was to study the microscopic life that grows on rocks below the seafloor. This oceanic crust is a massive potential reservoir for life on Earth, but very little is known about the composition of this life and how it impacts the rocks. Upper oceanic crust is primarily composed of basalts, with similar composition to lava rocks on land, and this rock is enriched in elements like iron and sulfur that life might be able to use for chemical energy to grow. In order to study microscopic life below the seafloor, holes were drilled into the ocean crust in 2011 during Expedition 336 of the International Ocean Discovery Program. Observatories were placed into these holes in a similar way to how wells are placed in aquifers on land. Our team inserted a buffet of different sterilized rocks into the observatories and left them there for several years to allow the microscopic life living in this habitat to colonize the experiment surfaces. In 2017 we recovered these experiments to examine the microscopic life that grew on the rocks using microscopic and DNA sequencing techniques. We have also been trying to grow some of the unique microbial groups that have the ability to harness the energy from the iron in the rocks for metabolism. Microscopic analysis revealed a variety of biofilm structures and mineral alteration products that had formed on the rock surfaces, and DNA analysis indicates varying microbial community structure on the different rock types. Although the project has officially ended, analysis of these samples continues, leveraging support from the NSF-funded Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI). This project enabled the largest and most diverse recovery of rock colonization experiments done in the marine subsurface, allowing a detailed examination of the microbe-mineral interactions that occur in Earth?s subsurface. Lessons learned from these experiments have relevance for designing approaches for determining if life might exist on the rocky ocean worlds of our Solar System like Europa and Enceladus. During the 2017 cruise, we engaged middle school students in the exploration and science of our project through a ship-to-shore outreach project called 'Adopt A Microbe' ( run in collaboration with the Girl Scouts of Maine.

Last Modified: 12/20/2018
Modified by: Beth Orcutt

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