First Research to Explore Beneath the Seafloor

Crabs patrol the margins of a borehole drilled at site 889 (1315 m) in October 1992.

Researchers have for the first time conducted an observatory experiment to peek underneath the seafloor and study the ecosystem that exists there.

In addition to the copious amounts of seawater that exists in the Earth’s crust, scientists believe that this seawater is also home to the largest habitat on Earth. Scientists note that the seawater is home to a dynamic microbial ecosystem which is known to eat hydrocarbons and natural gasses, and has the potential to store carbon.

“The paper is important since it is the first insitu experiment to study subsurface microbiology,” said co-author of the paper University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science professor Keir Becker.

(In this context, “in situ” means “in direct contact with” – thus, this is the first study to deploy systems in direct contact with the Earth’s crust and the ecosystem beneath.)

The experiment took four years to complete, and made use of deep-sea technology required for long-term scientific observations contributed by Keir Becker. The researchers deployed the technology beneath the flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, located off the Northeast coast of North America.

The sub-surface observatory technology is known as CORK, short for Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit, which seals the sub-surface borehole so that the observations it makes are not interfered with.

“Similar to a cork in a wine bottle, our technology stops fluids from moving in and out of the drilling hole,” said Becker, a UM Rosenstiel School professor of marine geology and geophysics. “Ocean water is blocked from entering the hole and flushing out the natural system.”

Source: Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Image Source: neptunecanada

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