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What's it like to be on a ship in winter in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? USC College geobiologist Katrina Edwards is about to find out, along with readers of this blog.

Edwards and other marine scientists led by Heiner Villinger of the University of Bremen are about to take a three-week cruise to the middle of nowhere - specifically, a point about 20 degrees north and three miles above a sediment-filled hollow on the sea floor known as North Pond.

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There they plan to drill into the sea floor. Why? We'll let Edwards explain when she starts her posts on Feb. 16. But expect musings about life in unlikely places, such as the basaltic rock that makes up the crust.

"That's where my heart lies: what's going on with the basalt," she said.

Edwards already showed�that the sea floor is incredibly rich in bacteria. Just as microbes help turn rock into fertile soil, it appears that sea floor bacteria may break down the crust.

For now, Edwards is busy packing and trying not to think about bad weather.

"It just depends on the storm tracks and I've been avoiding looking at that, because there's nothing I can do about it and I do get sick," she said.

The German research vessel RV Maria S. Merian sets off Feb. 16 from Martinique. The vessel will be carrying 22 scientists, among them Edwards' colleague Wiebke Ziebis and postdoctoral researcher Nina Knab, as well as researchers from the University of Bremen, the Max Planck Institute, the University of North Carolina and Oregon State University.

Other team members may join Edwards on the blog. Comments and questions are welcome: click on whichever entry in the sidebar interests you, and enter your message at the bottom.

The National Science Foundation and German agencies funded the expedition.

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