Establishment of the Coast Range ophiolite microbial observatory (CROMO): drilling objectives and preliminary outcomes
This project aimed to establish a subsurface microbial observatory in ultramafic rocks, by drilling into an actively serpentinizing peridotite body, characterizing cored rocks, and outfitting the boreholes for a program of long-term observation and experimentation to resolve the serpentinite-hosted subsurface biosphere. We completed drilling in August 2011, drilling two boreholes with core recovery and possibility for down-hole experimentation, and six smaller-diameter monitoring wells arrayed around the two primary holes, in the Coast Range ophiolite (CRO) locality in the UC-Davis McLaughlin Natural Reserve, Lower Lake, CA. Every effort was made during drilling to keep the cores and wells as free of drilling-induced contamination as possible: clean, purified water was used as drilling fluid, fluorescent microbead tracers were suspended in that water for quantification of drilling fluid penetration into the cores, and high resolution next generation sequencing approaches were used to characterize the microbial populations in the drill fluids and core materials. In December 2011, we completed installation of well pumps (slow flow bladder pumps) in the monitoring wells, and have deployed a set of in situ incubation experiments in the two uncased boreholes. Preliminary findings illustrate natural variability in actively serpentinizing strata, and confirm distinct groundwater flow regimes and microbial ecosystems in (a) shallow, surface-impacted soil water horizons and (b) deeper, ultramafic bedrock-sourced formation fluids.