googlead166c37c697d4d3.html Glenn Ashton Author Blog: Bug chimneys in the Black Sea


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bug chimneys in the Black Sea

JAGO submarine in the Black Sea
We find Tough Bugs all over the place. A small submarine prodded a thirteen foot high chimney in the Black Sea and confirmed that it was made up of tough bugs – microbes.
Microbes make up a third of all life on earth, and we know very little about them. In our novel, Kate researches microbes which eat methane, in her bid to find out what is eating the carbon in oil deposits. In real life, scientists use a small submarine to probe the secret of the microbes beneath the sea:
Diving in a little German submarine called Jago, peering through an acrylic porthole several inches thick, he saw a fog of floating particles.
Then, looming out of the dark and into the sub’s tight halo of floodlight, through curtains of rising bubbles that made it seem as if the sub were driving through champagne, Seifert saw chimneys—black, knobby spires, the tallest rising more than 13 feet off the seafloor. Chimneys made by erupting volcanic minerals are common at hot springs in mid-ocean ridges. But this was not a hot spring, and these chimneys were not built of volcanic rock.
The pilot prodded one with Jago’s hydraulic arm. It was soft, like flesh. He knocked one over, felling it as if it were a tree to reveal its cross section. Under a black outer layer there was a thick layer of pink and a core that was harder and greenish gray. The chimney had been made entirely by single-celled microbes. The microbes formed the outer layers; the hard core was a carbonate mineral they had secreted.
Many of the microbes living under the seafloor do not need oxygen to live. They are little methane-making machines, and scientists speculate that some of the mats of microbes might be thousands of years old:
Many of these tiny creatures make so much methane gas that if even a small proportion of it
is released, we might be overwhelmed by huge tsunamis, runaway global warming, and extinctions.
The Jago submarine used its mechanical arm to scoop up samplesand took them back to laboratories for further study:
To keep these exotic organisms alive during their trip to the laboratory, the researchers designed special containers that resembled the microbe's 'home' environment—cold water with no oxygen but lots of methane. Back in the laboratory, the researchers confirmed their suspicion that the microbes were eating methane.
Where did we get our ideas for Obelisk Seven from? In many cases, from real life, as in the case of these microbes. Tough bugs form an important part of our novel.

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