Research Field Videos

Sampling Ancient Water in a South African Gold Mine

A different kind of sampling: looking for life a mile underground. Princeton researchers Cara Magnabosco and Rose Alleva sample ancient water a mile deep in South Africa.

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Excerpts from "A Sacred Balance"

Tullis Onstott and David Suzuki in the East Driefontein Mine, South Africa

Tullis Onstott, along with with David Suzuki, descend to the depths of 3 kilometers to document life forms found in liquid water in the mines of East Driefontein, South Africa.

Source: Excerpts from "The Sacred Balance." A Series of 4 Programs - The Sacred Balance. Web. 5 Aug 2011.

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Deep Carbon Observatory Carbon Cycling Workshop in the Tau Tona Au mine

The workshop, “New Horizons for International Investigations into Carbon Cycling in the Deep Crustal Biosphere,” brought together scientists from Canada, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States and South Africa to explore new approaches for retrieving geochemical, isotopic, metagenomic, transcriptomic, metabolomic and proteomic information from the deep subsurface biosphere where cell concentrations are low and metabolic rates are very slow. The setting is appropriate given the discovery of abiogenic hydrocarbons and radiolytic H2 in the deep fractures of the Witwatersrand Basin, the recent publication of the first subsurface metagenome from 2.8 km depth at Mponeng Au mine and the recent establishment of an underground laboratory at 3.8 km depth in Tau Tona Au mine for microbial studies.

Video #1 shows a descent down into the mine; accompanied by videos #2 and #3 which shows a hike to the field location. Staying cool is of deep concern as shown in Video #4. Video #5 is of a filtering manifold, called the "octopus," stuffed into a borehole with flowing water. Video #6 is the burping hole at a depth of 3.7 km, where the water was discovered to be very salty. 

This workshop was sponsored by the Deep Carbon Observatory ( ) and hosted by the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, University of the Free State.

Visit "Deep Carbon Observatory Carbon Cycling Workshop" for more information.

V-1: Cage descending into the mine

V-2: Hiking underground to the field location

V-3: A stairwalk to the field location

V4: Trying to keep cool in temperatures around 32 centigrade

V5: The "Octopus" filtering manifold

V6: The burping hole at depth of 3.7 km


The Beatrix Au mine: Unearthing "worms from hell"

The microscopic roundword H.mephisto. Tullis Onstott's research team, along with Gaetan Borgonie of the University of Ghent in Belgium, recently made a startling discovery: microscopic roundworms known as nematodes living nearly two-and-a-half miles beneath the Earth's surface in Beatrix Au mine, in the Free State Province of South Africa. Now known as "worms from hell" or simply "devil worm," these field expedition videos illustrate how difficult it is to extract specimens for research at depths of 1.3 kilometers. The videos were taken specifically at the site of the extracted worm's location led by mine geologist, Carl Rose.

Video #7 is from the January 2011 Beatrix 326 expedition, home of H. mephisto. Specimens were takenduring the Deep Carbon Observatory. Erik Wommack, from the Univ. of Delaware, is filtering for viruses. Roland Purtschert, from Univ. of Bern, is collecting noble gas samples for dating water and Elizaveta Bonch-Osmolovskaya, from the Winogradsky Insitute in Moscow, is collecting bacterial samples for isolation experiments.

Videos courtesy of Gaetan Borgonie, University of Ghent.

V7: The discovery of H. mephisto, better known as the "devil worm"

Video #8 shows Tom Kieft from New Mexico Tech attaching "the crab." A bake-able, sterile, stainless steel manifold built by our Geosciences' senior tech support manager, George Rose. Videos #9 and #10 show water from the borehole flowing through filters into huge columns. The videos feature Mike Pullin and Sarah Hendrickson of New Mexico Tech pumping water through 60 liter resin columns to capture the dissolved organic carbon for analysis. Video #11 shows the "Lobster" filtering device for capturing nematodes.

This expedition extracted deep fracture water that will tell of what bacteria are eating and expelling. It is the "devil worm" that eats the bacteria creating a food chain. The goal of this trip was to obtain samples of bacteria DNA and lipids, as well as, dissolved organic and inorganic carbon for 14C dating. Obtaining a sample of DNA from the "devil worm" for 14C dating was an added plus to the trip.

Related links:

“Onstott's discovery of worms in Earth's depths raises questions about life in space”

"Tullis Onstott and Geomicrobiology Group receive publicity excitement over 'devil worm' discovery"

V8: Tom Kieft from New Mexico Tech attaching "the crab"

V9: Mike Pullin and Sarah Hendrickson pumping water

V10: Mike Pullin and Sarah Hendrickson continue to pump water

V11: The "lobster" filtering device for capturing nematodes