“Diving Deep to Reveal the Microbial Mysteries of Lost City”

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The Story

“Diving Deep to Reveal the Microbial Mysteries of Lost City”
by Anna Kusmer
Smithsonian.com, September 7, 2018

The Pitch

subj line: TIME SENSITIVE Freelance pitch: A Deep Dive to Reveal the Microbial Mysteries of Lost City

Hi Brian,

I have a pitch that I think would be great for Smithsonian. It’s about an upcoming expedition to a fascinating deep sea hydrothermal vent ecosystem. There are great photo opportunities as well. It’s a bit time sensitive, so if you could get back to me in the next couple days, that would be amazing. Let me know what you think!

A Deep Dive to Reveal the Microbial Mysteries of Lost City

Smack in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, on top of an underwater mountain, sits Lost City. The size of a city block, hundreds of towering white columns stand 200 feet tall, spewing hot hydrogen gas. On September 8, a group of 22 researchers, ranging from microbiologists, geologists and oceanographers, are going to dive deep to ask questions about the origins and limits of life on Earth.

As far as scientists know, Lost City is the only place like it on the planet. Hydrothermal vents are not fueled by volcanic activity; rather heat comes from a process where seawater reacts with rocks in the earth’s mantle, creating gas and energy. In Lost City chimneys, “organic molecules seem to form in the absence of biology,” said Susan Lang, one of the project’s lead scientists. Geologists and microbiologists believe that Lost City, or a place like it, could be where life originated on planet earth.

A trip to Lost City may also provide insights into the limits of life. While hydrogen gas provides energy, it’s not clear what microbes in this deep sea ecosystem are breathing or where the majority of their nutrients come from. According to Lang, that’s something that the expedition will hopefully help answer. “One of the questions were trying to go after is what are these microbes scrounging for,” she said. “Life is always scrounging for something.”

This expedition to Lost City also shines light on the issue of deep sea ocean mining. As the technology for deep sea exploitation becomes more of a reality, researchers like Lang and others are getting pre-emptively defensive over iconic sites like Lost City that are important to science. Project scientist William Brazelton believes that the UN International Seabed Authority needs to include scientists when it considers how it issues licenses for sea floor exploitation. “There’s been very little communication with environmental organizations and scientific community in general,” he said. “It’s time to reassess and come up with a good process.”

I think this piece could range from 800-1400 words. I am in touch with Susan Lang at the University of South Carolina and William Brazelton at University of Utah. I plan to interview a scientist not involved in the expedition who can give me some independent insight. I plan to interview someone at the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative regarding sea floor conservation.

PHOTOS! There are amazing photos of Lost City that we could include in the article. You can see some examples on the project’s website.

I have been working as a freelance writer specializing in science and the environment. Here are some of my recent clips:

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will ‘shake’ hands with sun, thanks to small push from Venus, PBS Newshour

From Collards To Maple Syrup, How Your Identity Impacts The Food You Like, NPR

New England Is Crisscrossed With Thousands of Miles of Stone Walls, Atlas Obscura

Thank you,

Anna Kusmer

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