PhD project: Life in Extreme Environments - The Deep Subsurface

Project description

Carbon is the backbone element of all life on Earth. Carbon is cycled through the Earth’s crust by microbial life and made available for all other types of life. Yet it is clear that not all carbon is equal in terms of ‘degradability’ and turnover; some carbon forms are accessed in a matter of hours, but others persist in the environment for millennia. Major forms of resistant carbon are fire-altered biomass (e.g. charcoal), and geological kerogens. Traditionally, these materials have been thought of as highly resistant to microbial degradation, but new evidence demonstrates their alteration and degradation on centennial, and even decadal, timescales. Despite the implications of this for past, present and future global carbon cycling and climate, the mechanisms determining the rate and nature of microbial degradation of ‘resistant’ carbon remain very poorly understood. In particular we are interested in life deep underground - the deep subsurface biosphere - and its role in cycling deep carbon. This project tackles these knowledge gaps. It is offered under the School of Geosciences NERC DTP programme :

The project builds on our groups involvement as science team members of the ICDP project to drill the Chesapeake Impact Crater and most recently as science team members of the IODP effort to drill the Chicxulub Impact Crater - the crater thought to be responsible for killing the dinosaurs and 75% of life on Earth.

Note: This project requires someone with a background in Biological sciences and preferably some microbiology experience.

Relevant references:

Cockell CS, Voytek MA, Gronstal AL, Finster K, Kirshtein JD, Howard K, Reitner J, Gohn GS, Sanford WE, Horton JW, Kallmeyer J, Kelly L, Powars DS. 2012. Impact disruption and recovery of the deep subsurface biosphere. Astrobiology 12, 231-246.

Cockell CS, Gronstal AL, Voytek MA, Kirshtein JD, Finster K, Sanford WE, Glamoclija M, Gohn GS, Powars DS, Wright Horton, J. Jr. 2009. Microbial abundance in the deep subsurface of the Chesapeake Bay impact crater: Relationship to lithology and impact processes. Geological Society of America Special Papers 458, 941-950.

Gohn G, Koeberl C, Miller KG, Reimold U, Browning JC, Cockell CS, Horton JW, Kenkman T, Kulpecz AA, Powars DS, Sanford WE, Voytek MA. 2008. Deep drilling into the Chesapeake Bay impact structure. Science 320, 1740-1745

Project supervisors

The project supervisors welcome informal enquiries about this project.

Find out more about this research area

The links below summarise our research in the area(s) relevant to this project:

What next?

More PhD projects