2023-2024 Science Planning Summary
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2023-2024 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

CAREER: Ecosystem impacts of microbial succession and production at Antarctic methane seeps

The white patches at the Cinder Cones Seep indicates where microbes consume the greenhouse-gas methane. Photograph by Andrew Thurber
B-249-M Research Location(s): McMurdo Sound, Sea Ice


Event Number:
NSF / OPP Award 2046800

Program Director:
Dr. Rebecca Gast

ASC POC/Implementer:
Ryan Steiner / Randolph Jones

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Andrew Thurber
Oregon State University
College of Oceanic & Atmospheric Sciences


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: McMurdo Sound, Sea Ice


This project involves genomic and transcriptomic study of microbial communities developed and still developing after seepage of methane through the seafloor into the ocean, the cold seeps. The first methane seepage in the high Antarctic was discovered in the McMurdo Sound in 2012, and five years later still had an underdeveloped microbial community that was consuming methane. This project will elucidate the microbial community composition in relation to the presence of methane and their function in oxidizing methane in Antarctic coastal waters. The PI proposes to answer three scientific questions on microbes associated with methane seeps, in relation to species present and their evolution over time, the metabolic processes they support, and the role they play in providing food for benthic food webs. The sampling needs to occur in the late winter/early spring before high light levels support growth of diatom mats over the benthos.

Field Season Overview

Five participants, including one artist/diver for outreach purposes, will deploy to study benthic chemosynthetic microbial communities in McMurdo Sound. The PI will utilize diving to characterize the communities and will collect other animals to assess carbon flow through a food web supported by methane. Geochemical analysis of methane released in sediment will be measured on samples collected in situ and analyzed on a PI-provided instrument. Additional experiments will be run in the aquarium. The Thurber team will focus on diving sites at Cinder Cones, Turtle Rock, the McMurdo Jetty, Cape Armitage/Dayton's Wall, and will make one trip to New Harbor (camping with enough time to melt a dive hole and make one or two dives to collect samples). A secondary aspect of this project is to study an outbreak of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome at the Cinder Cones site (the focus of a funded RAPID proposal by a co-PI). The Thurber team will require holes drilled and fish huts placed at the McMurdo Sound sites or will share huts already established at those locations. Field work will involve collecting sediment cores and filter samples, repeatedly deploying flux chambers on the seafloor for retrieval within 24 hours, and some collection of invertebrates.

Deploying Team Members

  • Rowan McLachlan (Team Leader)
  • Amy Moran
  • Michael Rodriguez
  • Andrew Thurber (PI)
  • Jacob Wynne