The University of Rhode Island Graduate
School of Oceanography’s (GSO) pioneering
research into the elements of life found
within sediments buried in the ocean floor
has received highly coveted support with a
$3.9 million, five-year grant from the
National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA). The GSO was also
named as a new member of the agency’s
selective international research
consortium, the Astrobiology

GSO geological oceanographers Steven
D’Hondt and Arthur Spivack and
biological oceanographer David C. Smith
have been awarded the grant to examine the
deep biosphere of the Earth and the
“extremophile” communities that thrive in
this extreme environment. Other members of
the research team are Kai-Uwe Hinrichs and
Andreas Teske of the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution.

“This prestigious award is a testament
to the quality of the research and
teaching being done here,” said University
of Rhode Island President Robert L.
Carothers. “Just as the scientists at the
Graduate School of Oceanography have made
discoveries that have helped us to better
understand life on Earth, their work now
may also contribute to a new body of
knowledge about other planets.”

“Much of the recent interest in life on
other planets has focused on the
possibility of sub-surface life. However,
we still don’t understand much about
such life on Earth. This project will
document the conditions that limit or
enhance sub-surface life on Earth, the
effects of that life on its environment
and possible signatures of that life. This
will aid the search for sub-surface life
on other planets,” explained

After a highly competitive peer-review
process, NASA selected the URI-led team to
be one of fourteen national and three
international project teams that comprise
its Astrobiology Institute. These research
teams are selected to investigate the
diversity of life inhabiting extreme
environments on Earth and to develop
analytical models to search for habitable
planets outside of our Solar System. The
Institute is an academic and research
consortium that studies the origin,
evolution, distribution and future of life
on Earth and in the universe.

The primary objectives of the URI-led team
are to understand: the subsurface
microbial ecosystems of marine sediments,
their role in earth’s biogeochemical
cycles, and their relevance to the search
for life on other planets. Most of these
studies will involve the Ocean Drilling
Program and its international

The project will introduce graduate
students, undergraduate students, and
post-doctoral scholars to astrobiology
research and train them to participate
effectively in the field.

“This is an incredible scientific
opportunity in which GSO is an
international leader,” said Spivack.
“Graduate, undergraduate , and
post-graduate education is a significant
component of this project. It will allow
URI students to be exposed to and involved
in the cutting edge of new and exciting
scientific discoveries.”

The URI research team has been a
pioneer in the study of marine subsurface
microbial ecosystems. Over the past two
years, they have been involved with the
Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), developing
techniques for the recovery and study of
microorganisms. The Ocean Drilling Program
is an international partnership of
scientists and research institutions that
samples the deeply buried sediments and
rocky crust of the ocean. In early 2002,
the team will lead the first ODP
expedition whose principal purpose is the
study of the deeply buried biosphere.

The URI Graduate School of Oceanography
is one of the nation’s largest marine
science education programs, and one of the
world’s foremost marine research
institutions. Founded in 1961 in
Narragansett, R.I., GSO is home to the
Coastal Institute, the Coastal Resources
Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Ocean
Technology Center, and the National Sea
Grant Library.

For Information: Lisa
Cugini (401) 874-6642

Jhodi Redlich 401-874-2116,