Heading to the field with the “Biology Meets Subduction” team

Subduction is one the most fascinating geological processes on Earth. It allows for old crust to be recycled, along with all the organic matter and volatiles present in it, and contributes to continent formation. Volcanic islands and volcanoes chain are among the byproduct of subduction processes.

FEATURED. Anatomy of a subduction zone. Credit D. Giovannelli. Modified after the literature.

While the role of sudbuction in recycling volatiles crucial for the sustaining of life on our planet and maintaining overall planet homeostasis has been investigated in the past decades, the role of biology  within this process has remained unclear. This is in part due by the different scales at which biology and geology operates, both spacial and temporal, but also to the academic discipline divide, for which rarely geophysicist, geochemist and microbiologist interact in the field for an extended amount of time. Truly interdisciplinary work is taking foothold in several fields, and will soon change our understanding of our universe.

Last year, together with an international team of seven researchers representing different disciplines within the geosciences, we presented a project aiming to investigate our biology and geology interact at a subduction zone. The project was very well received by the community, and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation within their Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) initiative.

The Biology Meets Subduction science mission patch. Credit Josh Wood/DCO

With a team of 25 people that includes experts in several disciplines, science communicators and a documentary crew, we will be heading into the field in Costa Rica starting this Sunday, February 12 for two weeks of exciting interdisciplinary work. A much larger team of collaborators awaits back at their home institution to receive the samples and further help to disentangle biology-geology relationships in this area. Some additional details about the project can be found on the Deep Carbon Observatory Biology Meets Subduction project page, and daily updates from the filed will be posted on the expedition blog and twitted regularly using the #SubductCR hashtag. You can also follow @deepcarb for updates.

Follow the updates from the field for the next two weeks at the Biology Meets Subduction blog.

This expedition brings together the diverse expertise and methodology of scientists from all four of DCO’s science communities at a single field focus site: the Costa Rica convergent margin. The team is composed entirely of early career scientists, who will conduct  synoptic geochemical, biological, and petrological sampling, a task rarely if ever attempted in a single, coordinated campaign. A number of open questions exist. To date, no metagenomic studies have been performed at convergent margins, and discoveries await. Can microbes survive shallow subduction? How does a CO2 -H2O-S-rich volcanic system affect microbial communities? Do microbes influence the volatile budget in these area? Can biological signatures be traced through subduction processes and distinguished from shallow biological cycling using isotopic constraints on subducted inputs and volcanic/forearc outputs? And using this information, can we better constrain C sources and fluxes, and improve deep C budget estimates for the Costa Rica convergent

The expedition will focus on the warm and hot springs of the Nicoya peninsula, as well as active volcanoes north of the capital San José. With Turrialba volcano currently erupting, we had to modifying our sampling route for safety reasons and to avoid travel disruptions.

The Science Team

The science team is divided in the Field Science Team and the collaborators waiting samples back at their home institution. The complete list of participants will be soon posted on the project website, and here I’d like to focus on the 7 project Principal Investigators and my team of collaborators

The science leader team includes Peter Barry (University of Oxford, UK) a noble gas geochemist and PI of the project, Karen Lloyd (University of Tennessee, USA) a geomicrobiolgist, myself, Daniel Hummer (Southern Illinois University, USA) a mineralogist, Taryn Lopez (University of Alaska, USA) a gas geochemist, J. Maarten de Moor (Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica) also a gas geochemist and Katie Pratt (University of Rhode Island, USA) the DCO Communication Director.

Myself and Karen Lloyd will coordinate a team of collaborators focusing on the microbiology of the area and related parameters. The team include collaborators Matt Schrenk (Michigan State University, USA), Elena Manini and Giuseppe d’Errico (National Research Council – CNR, Italy), Mustafa Yucel (Middle East Technical University, Turkey), Francesco Regoli and Daniele Fattorini (Polytechnic University of Marche, Italy), Tomohiro Mochizuki and Mayuko Nakagawa (Earth-Life Science Institute, Japan) and Costantino Vetriani (Rutgers University, USA). The team will combine in situ measurements of biologically relevant geochemistry and metabolic activity with ex situ biochemical and molecular tools to investigate the functional and taxonomic diversity of the microbial community within sediments and fluids in the volcanic arc and forearc and relevant geochemical, trophic and biochemical parameters. In the field the team will be represented by myself, Karen Lloyd and her graduate student Joy Buongiorno and Schrenk’s graduate student Heather Miller.







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