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Exploring the Deep Biosphere

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photo of Vancouver, British Columbia
Above: Beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, was the venue for the "Exploring Subseafloor Life" workshop. [larger version]

workshop participants
Above: Workshop participants were placed into four subgroups. The subgroup shown here discussed overarching issues of microbial habitability of the deep biosphere. [larger version]

The exploration of microorganisms living deep in the ocean crust (the deep biosphere) was the topic of a lively meeting in fall 2006. More than 80 scientists from 11 countries met in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on October 3-5, 2006, to participate in a workshop entitled "Exploring Subseafloor Life with the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program." This workshop, sponsored by Integrated Ocean Drilling Program-Management International (IODP-MI) and Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI), was limited to invited participants. Representing the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was Lisa Robbins, senior scientist and biogeochemist from the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center office in St. Petersburg, Fla., whose interest lies in microbial-rock and microbial-sediment interactions. Other participants representing diverse scientific fields came from academia, government, and industry. The Steering Committee, cochaired by Steven D'Hondt (University of Rhode Island) and Fumio Inagaki (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology [JAMSTEC]), was composed of scientists from the United States, Japan, and Germany. Discussions at the workshop suggested that microbes and microbial communities within the deep biosphere can influence a wide range of phenomena, including gas hydrates, sediment and rock diagenesis, evolution, and even ocean-atmosphere chemistry and climate change!

The workshop was initiated by Holly Given, Director of Science Development and Coordination at JOI, with the support of JOI's U.S. Science Advisory Committee for Scientific Ocean Drilling (USAC), of which Robbins is a member. According to Given, the workshop was developed with three objectives in mind:

  • creating a white paper in which the scientific community outlines major themes and scientific targets for future drilling,
  • enhancing collegial relationships within the scientific microbial community, and
  • presenting information about IODP opportunities to members of the microbiology and biogeochemistry community who have not typically participated in the program's seagoing research expeditions.

The workshop provided overviews by JOI President Steve Bohlen and IODP-MI President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Manik Talwani, as well as plenary talks by scientists, on opportunities in deep-biosphere studies, highlighting how little is really known about this potentially extensive and diverse habitat and the microbes that live in it. Breakout groups discussed specific topics to be highlighted in the white paper, due to be released in 2007. Given said: "We are thrilled with the outcomes of the workshop. We've captured the interest of new scientists and have sound advice from science-community experts on how to incorporate microbiological research into the drilling program that will undoubtedly lead to exciting new discoveries about life in deep-ocean sediments and the crust below."

Related Web Sites
Exploring Subseafloor Life With the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program
Integrated Ocean Drilling Program-Management International and Joint Oceanographic Institutions

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cover story:
Effects of CO2 Levels on Marine Life and Global Climate

Underwater Photographic Tripod for Coral-Reef Studies

Outreach "Disasterville" Exhibit at Florida Museum

New Web site: Topics in Coastal and Marine Sciences

Meetings Exploring the Deep Biosphere

New Directions in Geographic Visualization of Scientific Data

Awards Western Region Biologists Receive 2006 DOI Honor Awards

USGS Ridge-to-Reef Team Honored for Work in Hawaiian Islands

Publications Video Footage of Pacific Ocean Bottom Transferred to DVD

Jan. / Feb. Publications List

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