Geobiology and the Emergence of Terraced Architecture during Carbonate Mineralization : Mammoth, Yellowstone National Park

(Visit the Fouke Lab

Created by George Rice, Montana State University

Image of the Gallitan Range and map of the study site.

Objectives and Methods: The goal of this project is to determine how the biodiversity and activity of specific living microbes and/or microbial communities are required to create the terraced architectures universally observed in high-temperature and low-temperature carbonate spring deposits. Results will provide a fundamental knowledge of microbe-water-mineral interactions during carbonate precipitation that are needed to more accurately reconstruct the history of microbial life on earth and other planets. This project advances the field of biocomplexity by combining geological studies, microbial rDNA and gene analyses and quantitative modeling to provide a detailed geobiological account of carbonate terrace formation. The integrated multidisciplinary research and educational aspects of this project meet a national need to train personnel for future geobiology and biocomplexity studies.

Project Personnel:

Bruce Fouke (Department of Geology, University of Illinois) specializes in carbonate sedimentology, petrography and geochemistry, and has conducted integrated studies of water chemistry, travertine precipitation and microbial ecology at Mammoth Hot Springs. Fouke and Abigail Salyers in the Illinois Department of Microbiology have built and operate a molecular laboratory dedicated to culturing, analyses of environmental rDNA, and differential gene function. Alison Murray (Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada) specializes in molecular microbial ecology studies of diversity and gene expression. Her expertise is in developing and applying molecular tools such as DGGE and rRNA hybridizations to study archaeal and bacterial diversity across environmental gradients. Nigel Goldenfeld (Department of Physics, University of Illinois) has worked extensively in pattern formation, nonlinear dynamics, and the emergence of scale-invariant phenomena in systems far from equilibrium. Goldenfeld has expertise in modeling complex systems such as the growth of snowflake patterns and dendritic morphologies in materials science, using novel computational methods such as cellular automata, phase field models and adaptive mesh refinement and novel mathematical techniques such as solvability theory/asymptotics beyond all orders and renormalization group theory. Goldenfeld created and taught a graduate course on statistical physics, biological information and complexity to educate physics students in issues pertinent to biocomplexity. Roy Johnson (Department of Geology, University of Illinois) is working as a research scientist in the Fouke Lab. Michael Kandianis and Ana Houseal are both in graduate doctoral degree programs focusing on research at Yellowstone National Park. Tom Schickel, Kelly Huthings and Shane Butler are in masters' programs.

Copyright on all images and material by Bruce Fouke, 2006.