PROJECT

Atlantis Massif

Summary

In October 2015, a team of scientists led by Deep Carbon Observatory Deep Energy and Deep Life members Gretchen Früh-Green (ETH Zurich, Switzerland) and Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA) spent six weeks aboard the British Royal Research Vessel James Cook to explore the Atlantis Massif, a 4000-meter tall underwater mountain along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. 

During their 47-day research expedition to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the scientific team collected an unprecedented sequence of rocks from the shallow mantle of the ocean crust, bearing signs of life, unique carbon cycling, and ocean crust movement. The team collected the unique rock samples using, for the first time in the ocean drilling program, seabed drills from Germany and the UK, and applied new technologies to monitor fluids and detect signs of life in the recovered samples.

"During drilling, we found evidence for hydrogen and methane in our samples, which microbes can 'eat' to grow and form new cells," explained Co-Chief Scientist Beth Orcutt. "Similar rocks and gases are found on other planets, so by studying how life exists in such harsh conditions deep below the seafloor, we inform the search for life elsewhere in the Universe."

 

In January 2016, an international team of experts joined the offshore science party at the Bremen Core Repository and MARUM laboratories in Germany to study the rock samples in detail. Their analyses are helping scientists determine how mantle rocks are brought to the seafloor where they can react with seawater. Such water-rock reactions may fuel life in the absence of sunlight, a mechanism for potentially supporting early life on Earth, or on other planets. The rock analyses also provide insight into what happens to carbon during water-rock reactions – processes that might impact Earth’s climate by sequestering carbon.

"The rocks collected on the expedition provide unique records of deep processes that formed the Atlantis Massif. They are providing valuable insight about how these rocks react with circulating seawater at the seafloor, during a process we call serpentinization, and its consequences for chemical cycles and life," added expedition Co-Chief Scientist Gretchen Früh-Green.

The scientists were part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 357, implemented by the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling. The science party consisted of 31 scientists from 13 different countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, UK, USA), ranging from students to tenured professors.

Expedition 357 drillsites

 

Research Questions

The scientific team is hoping the rock samples will provide answers to the following set of questions: 

Life in the rocks: What kind of life exists on and within rocks at the Atlantis Massif? Is life in this environment unique and different to life from
other environments on Earth? Does the diversity of life change in response to the type of rocks, the age of the rocks, or other factors?

Follow the carbon: How does carbon get transformed in this environment? What role does life play in the transformations? Do the reactions between rocks and seawater lead to carbon storage in the seafloor and thus impact the global carbon cycle? 

Faults and fluids: How were mantle rocks detached from deeper in the oceanic lithosphere and brought up to the seafloor? How much variability is there in rock type and deformation structure, and how do water and heat move through the system?

Project Leaders

  • Dr. Beth Orcutt
    Beth Orcutt Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA
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    Dr. Beth Orcutt
    Beth Orcutt
    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA

    Dr. Beth Orcutt is a senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. She is a marine microbial biogeochemist who explores life below the seafloor in sediments and the oceanic crust. Orcutt's research focuses on understanding how microbes thrive in these deep-sea environments, and how their life impacts the cycling of elements on Earth. She is interested in which microbes can live on basalts and sulfides at the seafloor, and which geochemical processes occur on the rock surfaces. She is a member of the Deep Life Community and Task Force 2020.

Research Team

Exp 357 Science Team

 

The offshore scientific party:

  • Gretchen Früh-Green, ETH Zurich, Switzerland 
  • Beth Orcutt, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA
  • Gaye Bayrakci, University of Southampton, UK 
  • Susan Lang, University of South Carolina, USA
  • Marvin Lilley, University of Washington, USA
  • Yuki Morono, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Japan
  • Marianne Quéméneur, Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, France
  • Matthew Schrenk, Michigan State University, USA
  • Katrina Twing, University of Utah, USA

The onshore scientific party:

  • Gretchen Früh-Green, ETH Zurich, Switzerland 
  • Beth Orcutt, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA
  • Norikatsu Akizawa, Kanazawa University, Japan
  • Gaye Bayrakci, University of Southampton, UK
  • Jan-Hinrich Behrmann, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany
  • Emilio Herrero-Bervera, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
  • Chiara Boschi, Institute of Geosciences and Earth Resources – CNR Pisa, Italy 
  • William Brazelton, University of Utah, USA
  • Mathilde Cannat, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France
  • Kristina Dunkel, University of Oslo, Norway
  • Javier Escartin, CNRS, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France
  • Michelle Harris, Plymouth University, UK
  • Kirsten Hesse, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany
  • Barbara John, University of Wyoming, USA
  • Susan Lang, University of South Carolina, USA
  • Marvin Lilley, University of Washington, USA
  • Hai-Quan Liu, Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China 
  • Lisa Mayhew, University of Colorado – Boulder, USA
  • Andrew McCaig, University of Leeds, UK 
  • Benedicte Menez, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France
  • Yuki Morono, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Japan
  • Marianne Quéméneur, Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, Italy
  • Amila Ratnayake, Shimane University, Japan 
  • Stéphane Rouméjon, University of Bergen, Norway
  • Matthew Schrenk, Michigan State University, USA
  • Esther Schwarzenbach, Institute of Geological Sciences, Germany
  • Katrina Twing, University of Utah, USA
  • Dominique Weis, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Scott Andrew Whattam, Korea University, Republic of Korea 
  • Morgan John Williams, The Australian National University, Australia
  • Rui Zhao, University of Bergen, Norway

Contact

Beth Orcutt borcutt@bigelow.org
Gretchen Früh-Green frueh-green@erdw.ethz.ch

Expedition Website

Updates

New Paper Published in Lithos

To better understand the geological processes leading to serpentinization and how microbes survive in these systems, DCO members Gretchen Früh-Green (ETH-Zurich, Switzerland) and Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA) led International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 357 in late 2015. An international team of researchers drilled holes across an actively serpentinizing site in the North Atlantic Ocean called the Atlantis Massif. This dome of mantle material ascended from about four kilometers deep, through a fault zone in the seafloor. The researchers describe the expedition in a new paper in Lithos. Read the whole story here. 

Update: March 2018

In September 2016, the science team met in Italy to present and discuss preliminary results of shore-based petrological, geochemical and microbiological studies. Some of these were also presented at the AGU 2017 Fall Meeting and more results are anticipated at the 2018 Goldschmidt conference in Boston.

Expedition to the Atlantis Massif Recovers Mantle Rocks with Signs of Life

An international team of scientists - recently returned from a 47-day research expedition to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean - have collected an unprecedented sequence of rock samples from the shallow mantle of the ocean crust that bear signs of life, unique carbon cycling, and ocean crust movement. Led by Co-Chief Scientists Gretchen Früh-Green (ETH Zurich, Switzerland) and Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, USA), both part of DCO's Deep Life Community, the team collected these unique rock samples using seabed rock drills from Germany and the UK - the first time in the history of the decades-long scientific ocean drilling program that such technology has been utilized.

Read more.

Further Reading

Orcutt BN, Bergenthal M, Freudenthal T, Smith D, Lilley MD, Schnieders L, Green S, Früh-Green GL (2017) Contamination tracer testing with seabed drills: IODP Expedition 357. Scientific Drilling, 23, 39-46 doi: 10.5194/sd-23-39-2017

Gretchen L. Früh-Green, Beth N. Orcutt, Stéphane Rouméjon, Marvin D. Lilley, Yuki Morono, Carol Cotterill, Sophie Greene, Javier Escartin, Barbara E. John, Andrew M. McCaig, Mathilde Cannat, Bénédicte Ménez, Esther M. Schwarzenbach, Morgan J. Williams, Sally Morgan, Susan Q. Lang, Matthew O. Schrenk, William J. Brazelton, Norikatsu Akizawa, Chiara Boschi, Kristina G. Dunkel, Marianne Quéméneur, Scott A. Whattam, Lisa Mayhew, Michelle Harris, Gaye Bayrakci, Jan-Hinrich Behrmann, Emilio Herrero-Bervera, Kirsten Hesse, Hai-Quan Liu, Amila Sandaruwa Ratnayake, Katrina Twing, Dominique Weis, Rui Zhao, Laura Bilenker (2018) Magmatism, serpentinization and life: Insights through drilling the Atlantis Massif (IODP Expedition 357) Lithos doi: 10.1016/j.lithos.2018.09.012

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