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Welcome to the Fe-Oxidizing Microbial Observatory Project on Loihi Seamount.

Loihi underwater landscape
showing Fe-oxide carpet
The importance of metals to life has long been appreciated. Iron (Fe) is the 4th most abundant element and the 2nd most abundant redox-active element in the Earth’s crust. The reduced (oxygen-poor) forms of iron contained in volcanic rocks and deep in the Earth therefore provide a rich source of energy for the growth of a very interesting group of rust-forming (iron-oxidizing) bacteria. Although research on microbial iron transformations has highlighted the importance of these processes, the majority of these studies have focused on the reductive Fe-cycle and low-pH living environments, which arguably do not represent the global ubiquity of iron-rich habitats.

Microbial cells

Loihi Seamount is a hydrothermally active seamount in the mid-Pacific ocean where waters containing high concentrations of reduced iron exit the Earth's crust and where massive amounts of volcanic rock come in contact with sea water. Here abundant iron-oxidizing bacteria, in the darkness of the deep sea, carpet the rock surfaces, forming rust coatings on massive areas of the seamount's surface. The bacteria form microbial mats and crusts on exposed rock surfaces and greatly accelerate the alteration of these rocks. In turn, the rust (iron oxide) impacts other microorganisms and affects elemental cycling on the planet. Processes such as these are probably widespread in deep dark environments where water circulates below the surface of land and the oceanic crust.

The focus of the Fe-Oxidizing Microbial Observatory (FeMO) project is to understand who the important iron-oxidizing bacteria in the environment are, how fast they form iron-oxide deposits, how they do it biochemically, and how they affect ocean chemistry and ecosystem function. Our team selected the Loihi Seamount because it affords the maximal cross-section of diverse habitats over a minimal spatial scale, from low-flow, low-temperature environments to high-flow, high-temperature environments, including basaltic rock habitats.

Combined FeMO and SBN Workshop
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 25-26 May 2007

17 FeMO PI's, post-docs, students and a teacher convened at Scripps for a two day workshop to present science, plan outreach and prepare for our cruise in October.

Second FeMO Cruise Embarks
Loihi, 11-27 October 2007

Onboard the R/V Kilo Moana 20 scientists and 10 JASON technicians and pilots will carry out seven ROV dives on Loihi Seamount to study its microbial life. Follow them online ...

FeMO Research at the Fall AGU Meeting
San Francisco, 10-14 December 2007

A special Biogeosciences session entitled "Geomicrobiology and Biogeochemistry of Iron and Manganese" will be convened by two of our younger FeMO researchers. Don't miss out ...

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FeMO 2006
R/V Melville

FeMO 2007
R/V Kilo Moana

FeMO 2008
R/V Thompson

FeMO 2009
R/V Kilo Moana