Featuring C-DEBI scientist Victoria Orphan


Victoria Orphan has a problem. The geobiologist wants to understand how tiny microorganisms interact with their physical environment. But the organisms she wants to study are not exactly easy to access: They live on the ocean floor. Orphan’s quest to study those elusive microbes has taken her deep into one of Earth’s last frontiers — and her latest frontier is life as a MacArthur grant winner.

There are compelling reasons for studying archaea and bacteria at the bottom of the sea. Both kinds of organisms play a fundamental role in gobbling up methane, a greenhouse gas that gets trapped at the bottom of the ocean in the form of an ice-like substance. Those substances, called methane hydrates, dissolve when ocean pressure or temperature changes. Given the expected effects of climate change on ocean temperature, large amounts of trapped methane could one day make their way into the atmosphere, warming it even more.