The west flank of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, at 22 latitude degrees north, will soon be the home of Katrina Edwards, professor of biological and earth sciences, as she departs Friday for a research expedition to North Pond for two months.
During the voyage, Edwards and her team of researchers will collaborate with Wolfgang Bach of the Bremen University, Germany, to investigate the microbiology of how life thrives beneath sub-seafloor sediments and rocks.
After six years of project planning to drill at North Pond, Edwards’s team will be using the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program’s flagship, the Joides Resolution, to drill more than 4.5 kilometers deep for volcanic, igneous rock samples.
“We are trying to discover the depths of microbial, intraterrestrial life,” Edwards said. “With this mission, there are a lot of uncertainties. It is very much so comparable to a space mission looking for extraterrestrial life.”
Funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation and in part by IODP, a marine research organization, the research data will be collected through drilled core samples of the seafloor.
Though the journey will only last two months, Edwards and Bach expect collecting data from the mid-Atlantic site for the next four to 10 years to install circulation obviation retrofit kits, or CORKs, which allow researchers to engage in continuous observations by building a permanent tube to the sea floor.
“One of the key reasons that data must be collected in a long-term setting is that the process of drilling disturbs the natural conditions,” Edwards said. “We get around this by installing long-term observatories, CORKs. This long amount of time allows the natural conditions to regenerate.”
Edwards will be joined by more than a hundred international researchers from across the globe, including Amanda Turner, a graduate student in USC’s Earth Sciences program.
Though Turner is currently the only USC student involved in the research, the program is projected to play a beneficial role for the greater USC community by giving the university a leading role in the developing field, Edwards said.
“Continuing with the analogy between deep sea exploration programs and space exploration programs, the expedition will establish USC as an international leader in the forefront of this research,” Edwards said. “It feels much like pioneering the exploration of outer space in our own ‘Apollo’ mission.”
Students are invited to follow Edwards’ progress as she blogs her findings directly from the remote mid-Atlantic locale.