The North Pond project involves a series of drilling and research expeditions to a deep-sea valley on the western flank of the mid-Atlantic ridge, at latitude 22 degrees North. The project leaders are Katrina Edwards (University of Southern California), Wolfgang Bach (University of Bremen, Germany) and Geoff Wheat (University of Alaska, Fairbanks).
Our goals are to take samples of sediments lying on top of a previously discovered subterranean water flow path, take samples of the igneous rock that makes up the crust, and establish long term (~10 yrs) observatories under the seafloor to address two major scientific questions:
What is the nature of microbial communities living in young ridge flanks, and what is their role in ocean crust weathering? Laboratory studies and field experiments in the deep sea have shown that microbes are abundant and play active roles in the "tooth decay of the crust": the weathering of exposed rock on the seafloor. But what about microbes living inside the rock? We have some evidence for their activity, but solid microbiological and molecular data remains lacking. At North Pond, we will be using deep-sea laboratories to sample fluids in crustal rock for biological and chemical analysis, and to conduct on-site experiments to address the role of microbes in alteration of seafloor rock.
Where do deep-seated microbial communities come from? The biogeography of microbes is a hotly debated topic. Viable, diverse, and distinct microbiological communities occur in deeply buried marine sediments. Where they come from is unknown. The isolated sediment pond at North Pond represents an ideal natural laboratory to address these questions.
The current expedition to North Pond, led by Heiner Villinger (University of Bremen, Germany), will focus on geophysical site survey and shallow microbiological and geochemical sedimentary surveys (supported by the German Research Council and NSF, aboard the German R/V Merian). This is a precursor to a much bigger drilling program under the auspices of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Proposal (IODP). Pre IODP-drilling observatory engineering, fabrication, experimental testing programs are ongoing, led by Edwards with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation since 2006. Post IODP, observatories will involve servicing and sampling from deep-sea submersibles such as ALVIN or JASON-II.