Scientists recently broke a record, bringing up a sample core of sediment from deep down in the Atlantic Ocean, and possibly the deepest core collected in any ocean.
Researchers aboard the vessel Neil Armstrong, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), brought up a 38-foot/11.58-meter-long cylindrical sediment sample from the deepest part of the Puerto Rico Trench, nearly 5 miles/8.05km below the surface.
The event took place aboard a collaborative cruise off Puerto Rico between February and March 2022. The group responsible for the core collection was led by Prof. Steven D’Hondt and Dr. Robert Pockalny from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and included researchers and technicians from WHOI, University of Rhode Island, University of California San Diego, Oregon State University, University of Washington, University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, and University of Munich.
Long sediment cores are generally collected by allowing a core pipe with a lead weight on top to fall through the water and into soft sediment that collects on the seafloor over long periods of time, according to WHOI. When the pipe is pulled out of the seafloor and back up to the ship, the recovered sediment inside can be used to study Earth’s environmental conditions and climate dating back tens or hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of years ago.
Scientists are also interested in understanding genetic traits that enable microscopic organisms to survive within seafloor sediments. The main objective of this expedition was to better understand how microbes at different depths below the seafloor have adapted to vastly different environmental conditions present across the entire depth range of the trench.
Over the course of three weeks at sea, the team collected cores from a water depth of about 50 meters (165 feet) to the trench’s maximum depth of about 8,385 meters (27,510 feet).
According to D’Hondt from the University of Rhode Island:
“We took these cores to learn how microbes that live beneath the seafloor respond to pressure. “ur ultimate objective is to improve understanding of how organisms in extreme environments engage in the world around them. Our team’s success in extracting this core from the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean will enable us to make a tremendous advance in our understanding of this little-known part of life on Earth.”
(Featured image credit: Paul Walczak, Oregon State University)