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Exploring Earth's subterranean biosphere in Alvin

Submersible <em>Alvin</em> enables scientists to study subterranean worlds at bottom of ocean

Using the submersible Alvin, scientists are exploring indications of the Earth's subterranean biosphere. Submersibles like Alvin, which belongs to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, enable scientists to study subterranean worlds that exist at the bottom of the oceans.

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Vaporous hot pools far beneath the Earth's surface support microbes that live in extreme temperatures and pressure. These microbes, some of which are bacteria, are called extremophiles, and their potentially far-reaching domain is called the subsurface biosphere.

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 found the bacteria living at a temperature of 169 Centigrade.

NSF-supported researcher John Baross and his colleague Jody Deming of 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 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.

Credit: Courtesy Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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