Axial Seamount and Microbiology

Hi, I’m Matt Knight, I’m a senior in my undergraduate studies at UW, and this is my first blog post for the upcoming Visions 2011 research cruise, leg #2. I will be boarding the R/V Tommy Thompson tomorrow in Newport, Oregon with my fellow undergraduates, some graduate students, professors, engineers, and one really big robot. The ship will then head towards Axial Seamount, an underwater volcano and vent system sitting on top of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, and a site of interest in the soon-to-be-constructed Regional Scale Nodes cabled observatory network. The basic idea of the project is that the best way to study an underwater volcano (and the oceans) is to permanently install instruments on the seafloor and connect them to the Internet so that data can be continuously streamed back to shore to the joy of marine scientists and (hopefully) the general public. The primary goals of this cruise is to survey and map the region around Axial so that we can know where exactly to install our instruments when it comes time.
My research on this cruise is going to be primarily focused on the microbiology of the waters around Axial Seamount. Because this particular area in the Pacific Ocean is going to the be the destination of many future research cruises, the Visions cruise will offer us the opportunity to begin a time series of data collection on the bacterial communities in the area. In much the same that the Keeling curve (the graph showing increasing CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere) was created by collecting many decades worth of CO2 concentrations in one spot, we hope to be able to eventually look at years’ worth of data on bacteria around Axial. For me personally, this means that I will be taking water samples and doing cell counts for bacterial abundance, and dilution experiments that will allow us to isolate certain bacteria for later culturing and species-level classification work.