Smelly Mud and Sight-Seeing: Science and Adventuring in Israel Through LOREX

Ashley Brooke Cohen, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, United States
As part of the Limnology and Oceanography Research Exchange Program (LOREX), I collaborated with Dr. Gilad Antler on a research project in the Gulf of Aqaba through the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat(IUI) from November 2019 to January 2020. I became interested in the Gulf of Aqaba because the sediment metal and sulfur geochemistry raises the possibility that sediment under deep (420m), oligotrophic, oxygenated water may support microbially-mediated elemental sulfur (S0) disproportionation- the split of S0 into sulfide (S-2) and sulfate (SO4-2) to derive energy without a terminal electron acceptor- by aeolian metal deposition (Blonder et al. ,2017). S0 disproportionation under anoxic conditions is only energetically favorable if sufficient reactive metals, like amorphous iron and manganese oxides, are present to scavenge S-2 (Thamdrup et al., 1993).

Microbially-mediated S0 disproportionation significantly affects the stable isotope relative abundances in and the production of SO4-2and S-2 (Thomazo et al., 2009).For global geochemical mass balances or budgets, this phenomenon is thought to be restricted to permanently stratified water columns or coastal sediment with high fluxes of organic carbon and therefore is not considered significant. If high fluxes of aeolian reactive metals can fuel microbially-mediated S0 disproportionation, it may be much more widespread. To explore this possibility, I proposed a core enrichment incubation study that combined geochemical and molecular biology techniques.

I will begin by discussing the how I identified my collaborator and applied to fund my project through the LOREX program. Next, I will review the challenges I faced communicating with a scientist in a different country during the planning phase, and how I dealt with logistics like shipping materials, prioritizing critical tasks, and performing preliminary tests. I will then present the research approach and the preliminary results of my project. Just as important to this international research exchange experience were the personal relationships that I developed, my experience living in a different culture, and the adventures I had seeing the many amazing natural and archeological wonders in Israel. So, lastly, I will share my favorite non-scientific experiences and lessons learned.