Microorganisms fill essential functional roles in all of Earth’s ecosystems yet our understanding of microbial abundance, distribution, and metabolism remains surprisingly limited. Columbia University’s new Earth Microbiology Initiative (EMI) has brought together a group of scientists and engineers from across the University to begin coordinated research on Earth’s microbial life. EMI is actively engaged in environmental monitoring and experimentation to provide the sound scientific foundation required to inform effective management and remediation. Examples of EMI research topics in the Hudson River include microbial response to oxygen depletion, pathogen inputs and persistence in the River, real time monitoring of water quality and environmental conditions, genomics and physiology of microbial communities from IODP cores, and microbial response to carbon sequestration activities.
The records of the 14C content of the atmosphere and oceans contain a remarkable array of information about Earth history. Produced by cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere, 14CO2 rapidly mixes throughout the troposphere and exchanges with the reactive carbon reservoirs of the oceans and biosphere, where it decays. For the past 11,000 years, fluctuations in the atmospheric 14C have been largely produced by changes in the solar magnetic field.