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Shipwreck Microbiomes In The Gulf Of Mexico


19th century sailing ship. Image captured by ROV Odysseus, courtesy of Hamdan Lab.

My postdoctoral research project focuses on microbial life on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico. Microbes are an essential component of every ecosystem, including the deep ocean. Absence of light, low temperatures, and high pressure make for unique habitat for benthic microbes. Yet, deep-sea sediments are one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth, with up to 10,000-fold more bacteria per unit volume than the ocean water column.


There are more than 2000 historic shipwrecks (> 50 years) on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and they are likely impacting life in the deep ocean. I am particularly interested in looking at how historic shipwrecks impact microbes and their distribution in deep-sea sediments. Shipwrecks can be considered as island-like features on a barren seafloor, shaping microbial biogeography and potentially altering the key ecosystem processes. They provide food, refuge, structural basis for many macro and microorganisms, and become the "hotspots" of biodiversity. The high abundance of these unexplored habitats is likely shaping the marine microbial ecology in the Gulf of Mexico, and a knowledge gap exists regarding these potential seafloor “islands”.

Wooden shipwreck 15470. Image captured by ROV Odysseus, courtesy of Hamdan Lab.

The goal of this study is to examine the role of shipwrecks as microbial habitats and their influence on deep-sea biogeography. During our Microbial Stowaways expedition (June 2019; supported by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research) we investigated two unexplored, wooden shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. Aboard USM's R/V Point Sur, we collected water column, sediment, and pore water samples for DNA and geochemical analyses.

ROV Odysseus taking a sediment sample with a push core. Courtesy of Hamdan Lab

Results coming soon, stay tuned!

#SMTTT


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