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Protists, Microbes, & Viruses: Life and Death at Axial Seamount

Water-rock reactions at and below the seafloor support a diverse biosphere of microscopic life in crustal ocean habitats, providing critical ecosystem services such as primary production to sustain deep-sea food webs, nutrient and element recycling, carbon sequestration, and symbiotic relationships with diverse animals. Nowhere is this more visible than at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, where the mixing of hot hydrothermal fluid with cool seawater creates hotspots of microbial activity in the deep sea. While we have learned a lot about the microbes (bacteria and archaea), we know much less about other components of the food web, especially microbial eukaryotes and viruses, leaving a substantial gap in our knowledge of food web structure, carbon cycling, and horizontal gene transfer. On this cruise to Axial Seamount, a deep-sea volcano about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon, we will study protistan and viral interactions with microbes in the form of grazing and cell lysis, which most certainly impacts the distribution and richness of microbial populations and the flow of carbon, nutrients, and energy in these ecosystems.  To follow our cruise, please check #protatax on Twitter & Instagram.

The team

This cruise is being led by team WHOI! Julie Huber is Chief Scientist, with Assistant Scientist Maria Pachiadaki and Postdoc Sarah Hu leading the protistan grazing experiments. Postdocs Bayleigh Benner and Elaine Luo will be focusing on viruses, while MIT graduate students Sabrina Elkassas and Emilie Skoog will be focused on cultivation. We also have MIT graduate student Irene Zhang helping with the plume program and Harvard undergraduate Ashley Kleinman helping with grazing studies. Our microbial studies will be rounded out with the cultivation team from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, led by Jim Holden, with graduate students Gema Garcia and Brianna Kubik. In addition, we have partnered with our colleagues at Univ. of Washington and NOAA/PMEL in Newport, OR and Seattle, WA to continue their geochemical time series work at Axial. This team is led by David Butterfield, and they will also be testing a new methane sensor. Finally, the ROV Jason team from WHOI will be making sure we get to the seafloor, and the R/V Thompson ship's crew will keep us afloat!

Learn more about Axial Seamount, the ship we are sailing on, the R/V Thompson, and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Jason!


This cruise is sponsored by NSF Biological Oceanography Award 1947776 with contributions from NOAA Ocean Exploration and the NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute.

Our cruise is endorsed by the Challenger 150 Program.