Biology Meets Subduction, Again: DCO Early Career Scientists Head Back to Central America

From 3-20 April 2018, the Biology Meets Subduction team were back in the field to extend the study they began in February 2017. The sampling campaign, part of a DCO synthesis project to unite researchers form all four DCO science communities (Extreme Physics and Chemistry, Reservoirs and Fluxes, Deep Energy, and Deep Life) at a single field focus site, took the team from southern Costa Rica into Panama, where they explored springs and hydrothermal features along the Central American volcanic arc. 

From 3-20 April 2018, the Biology Meets Subduction team were back in the field to extend the study they began in February 2017. The sampling campaign, part of a DCO synthesis project to unite researchers form all four DCO science communities (Extreme Physics and Chemistry, Reservoirs and Fluxes, Deep Energy, and Deep Life) at a single field focus site, took the team from southern Costa Rica into Panama, where they explored springs and hydrothermal features along the Central American volcanic arc. 

The project is designed to develop novel connections between microbiology, volcanic systems, and the cycling of living and dead (biotic and abiotic) carbon as Earth’s plates move and subduct past each other. The team is working to understand how carbon is involved in each of these processes, shedding light on the role of biology in the deep carbon cycle. 

Last year, 20 early career scientists visited 25 field sites over the course of 12 days: Poás, Turrialba, and Arenal volcanoes and springs along the northern Nicoya  peninsula. This time, a smaller team of ten scientists (Peter Barry, Carlos Ramirez, Patrick Beaudry, Donato Giovannelli, Karen Lloyd, Kate Fullerton, Matt Schrenk, J. Maarten de Moor, Esteban Gazel and Stephen Turner) covered new sites in the southern Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica and then crossed the border into Panama to gain greater spatial coverage across the convergent margin. 

BMS part 2 sampling in the rain
Sampling in April meant dealing with rainy season weather. On the western flank of Barú volcano. Credit: Donato Giovannelli

“The Panama samples will add a new dimension to our dataset, as the subduction regime beneath Panama is much different from Costa Rica. As a result, we anticipate seeing different chemical and biological signatures,” said team leader Peter Barry (University of Oxford, UK). “The Panama segment of the arc is unusual, with almost no volcanic activity despite active subduction.”

Despite a substantial amount of rain that made some of the backcountry work difficult, and quite a bit of driving time to get to the remote locations, the team managed to collect samples from 25 additional sites, each with co-localized sampling for biology and geochemistry. The petrologists collected tephra samples where available, and added extra sites as well. 

Now back in their home labs, members of the team will share the samples they collected with the larger group and continue sample analysis and interpreting their findings for papers in preparation. 

Watch the team in action during the first leg of Biology Meets Subduction:

 

Main image: Members of the team on a carbonate mound near an alkaline hot spring. Locals often accompanied them to the sites, interested in what they were up to. Credit: Donato Giovannelli

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