Science and Engineering

Montana State University

Eric Boyd, Tullis Onstott, Tom Kieft, Barry Freifeld, David Mencin, Carol Finn, Susan Bilek, Jeff Hungerford, Christina Rush, Shazia Hakim
Bozeman, MT
December 2019

The subsurface hosts arguably the most diverse and underexplored microbiome on Earth.  However, logistical constraints and costs associated with obtaining relevant subsurface samples have limited our understanding of the processes that supply nutrients to these isolated microbial communities over extended time periods.  Seismic activity, such as an earthquake, can shear rock and expose fresh mineral surfaces capable of reacting with water and generating nutrients.  Such activity is acutely expressed in Yellowstone National Park (YNP), the site of one of Earth’s largest active volcanos.  Recently drilled boreholes equipped with seismometers in YNP combined with the development of seismically triggered, autonomous sampling technology now allows for the isolation, capture, and preservation of fluids and the microorganisms they contain, following seismic events.  The primary goal of this project is to determine the timing, magnitude, and complexity of microbial responses at the level of cell abundance, biodiversity, and activity as they relate to earthquake magnitude, focal mechanism, and distance.  Over the course of this project, our team will deploy the Kinetically Activated Subsurface Microbial Sampler in YNP boreholes with varying source waters and seismic activity.  We will characterize nutrient release (gases and solutes) and the microbial response at the level of taxonomic and functional biodiversity in temporally resolved samples using (meta)genomic, (meta)transcriptomic, and cultivation-based methods.  Parallel monitoring will be conducted with existing borehole seismometers.  This information will be integrated within our emerging understanding of the subsurface geology and hydrology in YNP to better define the basis for observed differences in the geochemical and microbial response to different seismic events.

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