Geochemical Cycling and Organomineralization in a Thermal Microbial Community in Big Spring, Thermopolis, Wyoming

Malone, Veronica S.
Recent scientific research regarding microbial mats and carbonate mineral precipitation, as well as the genetic structure and life cycle processes of thermophiles, seeks to understand the origins of element cycling and mineralization in the early days of life on Earth, by connecting this to the geochemical environments and biological activity of the extreme ecosystems of hot springs. Since 2006, research has been conducted by students and faculty of Central Wyoming College to sample and analyze the chemical composition and biological identification of the microbial mats and microorganisms that thrive there. This project utilizes the geochemical and microscopic data to synthesize and interpret the geochemical database in order to illustrate the chemical equilibrium currently active in the thermal fluids and the effect of that equilibrium on the microbial growth. Photographs, geochemical analysis and SEM microscopy indicates an environment rich in organomineralization. Results indicate a vigorous process of interaction between the pH of the water, the CO2 from the hydrothermal source and the relationship between carbonate alkalinity and the availability of free calcium. We focus on the issue of precipitate formation within microbial filaments, examining the geochemical equilibrium required for precipitation in this environment, specifically, the alkalinity engine present in these microbial mats.
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