Monday, May 4, 2015

Geomicrobiology in the Taupō Volcanic Zone (TVZ)

The wind speeds are up, and the swell --big!

Extending SSE from the Lau basin, and part of the "Ring of Fire", we encounter New Zealand. Here, plate tectonic movement, and consequently spreading and fracturing in the Earth's crust, manifests as geothermal springs. Just prior to our research expedition to Lau, several of us visited this geothermal area and sampled some hot springs in collaboration with our colleagues at GNS Science to find and grow a very unusual microbial group; a parasitic/symbiotic group of Archaea called the Nanoarchaeota.

Just three hours south of Auckland within a geothermally active area known as the Taupō Volcanic Zone (TVZ) is the town Taupō-nui-a-Tia. Translated from the Māori language as "The great cloak of Tia", both the town and lake are named after Tia, the Māori chief who discovered the area.   Some hotsprings in the TVZ are a gentle 25°C with neutral pH and others boil to the surface, more acidic than battery-acid. 

Carlo and Karen, on our research expedition, are members of the GNS Extremophiles laboratory,  and are actively studying the geomicrobiology of the New Zealand hot springs. They have helped collect microbiological and geochemical samples for the “1000 Springs Project”; a comprehensive bio-inventory of the microbial diversity of New Zealand’s geothermal ecosystems. To date the Extremophiles laboratory has collected over 42,000 geochemical data points with corresponding microbial community information for each hot-spring. All this information is publicly available in an impressive user friendly and educational website:

Inferno crater
During our stay we visited Waimangu, New Zealand’s youngest geothermal field.  Waimangu was created in 1886 following the eruption of Mt. Tarawera- An eruption that also created Lake Rotomohana and flooded the fabled ‘Pink and White terraces’.   Inferno crater is particularly impressive.  This turquoise feature oscillates between 35°C and 80°C every 30 days, a fluctuation the resident microbes need to adapt to!  At low temperatures, microbial communities are dominated by non-spore forming Bacteria while at high temperatures, heat-loving Archaea dominate. 
Waiotapu (Māori for “sacred waters”) is located 52 km north of Taupō in the Okataina Volcanic Centre.  This geothermal area is high in concentrations of sulfur, arsenic and antimony, and produce colorful minerals such as orpiment  (As2S3) and stibnite (Sb2S3).  Two of New Zealand’s most impressive geothermal hot-springs, the neon-green “Devil's Bath” and bright orange “Champagne Pool”are in this area.
Champagne pool
"Devils bath"

 Contributions from Guy Evans, Jessica Hardwicke and Carlo Carere


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