The Fouke lab at Illinois has ongoing Systems Geobiology research on Yellowstone hot springs and Caribbean and Pacific coral reef ecosystems. While at first glance, these seem like wildly different and unrelated environments, closer examination indicates a host of striking similarities and scientific parallels. The spring water at Mammoth Hot Springs in northern Yellowstone National Park is derived from rain and snowmelt runoff in the Gallatin Mountains that flows down along faults into the rock subsurface. This groundwater is then heated by the Yellowstone supervolcano to ~100oC (212oF), chemically dissolves deeply buried ~350 million year old marine limestone, and flows back up to the surface to emerge from vents at a temperature of 73oC (163oF). During this hydrologic journey, the Mammoth Hot Spring water evolves a salty chemical composition remarkably similar to that of seawater. Furthermore, the limestone rock (called travertine) that precipitates to form the classic meter-scale terraced steps of Mammoth Hot Springs are composed of a form of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) mineral called aragonite. This is the same mineral that corals precipitate to grow their skeletons. In addition, several of the microbes that we have identified in the 73 to 25oC (163 – 77oF) hot-spring vent drainage patterns at Yellowstone are similar to the microbes inhabiting coral tissues, coral mucus and seawater.
Bruce Fouke is a professor in the Departments of Geology and Microbiology, and the Biocomplexity Theme in the Institute for Genomic Biology, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He also serves as Director of the Roy J. Carver Biotechnology Center. Bruce specializes in integrated geological and biological studies of: (1) the control of sea surface temperature on coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and the global emergence of infectious marine diseases; (2) the response of heat-loving (thermophilic) bacteria in Yellowstone and Turkey to changes in hot-spring water flow rate, chemistry and temperature; (3) microbially enhanced hydrocarbon recovery in deep subsurface oil and gas rock reservoirs of Canada, Alaska and Ireland; and (4) the timing and cause of the last flow of water in the aqueducts of ancient Rome and Pompeii. Bruce received his Ph.D. from the State University of New York Stony Brook, and completed postdoctoral research appointments at the Free University of Amsterdam, the University of California Berkeley, and NASA Ames prior to arriving at Illinois. He has completed Fellowships in the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies and in the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies at Lund University in Sweden. His work on Yellowstone and Tuscan hot springs, Roman aqueducts and Papua New Guinea coral reefs has been highlighted in National Geographic Magazine and on National Public Radio. Bruce also serves on science panels and steering committees at the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Energy