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Using the submersible Alvin
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Using the submersible Alvin

May 19, 2010
Using the submersible Alvin, scientists are exploring indications of Earth's subterranean biosphere.

More About this Image: Submersibles like Alvin, belonging to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, enable scientists to study the subterranean worlds that exists at the bottom of the ocean.

Vaporous hot pools far beneath the Earth's surface support microbes conducting the business of life at extreme temperatures and pressure. The microbes, some of which are bacteria, are called extremophiles, and their potentially far-reaching domain is called the subsurface biosphere.

For example, National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported researcher John Parkes of the United Kingdom's University of Bristol, discovered bacteria in a marine sediment core that substantiated the idea of superthermophilic organisms. While working with NSF's Ocean Drilling Program, Parkes discovered bacteria that live at a temperature of 169 Centigrade.

NSF-supported researcher John Baross and his colleague Jody Deming from the University of Washington, offered new geochemical information collected from the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the deep Pacific Ocean off the U.S. West Coast. This exploration was also conducted in the submersible Alvin, and indicated that organic materials--the building blocks of life--exist below the surface of hydrothermal vents along the Endeavour Segment.

NSF continues to support research on these subterranean worlds at the bottom of the sea and beyond.