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Microbial Distributions Related to Carbon Retention, Heavy Metals, and Pore Structure in Serpentine Soils

EMSL Project ID


Serpentinizing terranes are a widespread, yet understudied site of key biogeochemical transformations, particularly along continental margins. Ultramafic bedrock, originating at the seafloor and obducted onto the continents weathers into serpentine soil that harbors plant species uniquely adapted to the harsh environmental conditions. As they favor the precipitation of carbonate minerals, serpentinites are being explored as sites for carbon dioxide capture and storage. Additionally, as they contain enrichments of Nickel and Chromium, serpentinites are being exploited through mining activities that may have consequences for environmental health. To date, most exploration of serpentinizing ecosystems has focused on bulk-scale measurements of microbiology or geochemistry. Critical questions remain related to the role and response of microbial communities in serpentine soils to environmental change and their impact upon biogeochemical transformations. These questions depend upon a detailed understanding of soil architecture and biogeochemistry at a micro-scale and will be enabled by the advanced chemical and biological imaging capabilities of the EMSL facility. The proposed work consists of analyses of the distribution of key microbial taxa detected in serpentine habitats coupled to detailed measurements of soil structure and chemistry using techniques such as X-ray tomography, nanoSIMS, Raman microspectroscopy. Subsequently, these analyses will be incorporated into large scale biogeochemical models to predict microbial activities in serpentine soils and their response to environmental change.

Project Details

Project type
Exploratory Research
Start Date
End Date


Principal Investigator

Matthew Schrenk
Michigan State University

Team Members

Osama Alian
Michigan State University