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Geomicrobiology (sometimes the broader term "geobiology" is used) is the interdisciplinary study of the interactions of (micro)organisms and materials in their environments. Geomicrobiology can be viewed as being closely related to (or another term for) microbial ecology and environmental microbiology, and aspects of industrial or applied microbiology - and even astro- or exobiology, but each has a little different emphasis.
It is interesting to read discussion of the recently rekindled interest in geobiology and geomicrobiology, as summarized in the December 2001 American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) Report: "Geobiology: Exploring the Interface Between the Biosphere and the Geosphere." This report summarizes the discussions of a colloquium of distinguished scientists held in late 2000 in Tucson, Arizona, and we suggest you download and read it.
If you follow the history of microbiology, the science really had its beginnings in geomicrobiology (things found in rain barrels and pipes). This aspect of microbiology was very strong through the early 20th Century, after which, medical/clinical microbiology entirely eclipsed the older subdiscipline, and compartmentalization of knowledge was the order of the day. However, some people have hung on ever since. The definitive textbook on the subject is Geomicrobiology, current 5th ed. 2009, H.L. Ehrlich and Diane K. Newman, CRC Press (former editions from Marcel Dekker). A journal, Geomicrobiology Journal (Taylor & Francis) has persisted since the late 1980s, and others addressing geobiology and the related discipline of astrobiology are appearing.
Recently, a new wave of scholarly interest, fueled largely by climate and environmental issues, rekindled interest in the ecology of disease, and exobiology possibilities in our Solar System (and aided by a renewed spirit of collaboration in science), has resulted in a recent crop of Ph.D.'s and newly established geomicrobiology labs, programs and courses around the U.S. and internationally. Below are some links to some of the more interesting web resources on terrestrial geomicrobiology (there's more going on, but other sites are more about who's there and what they're going to do).
Geomicrobiological Processes as Art
Just some sightings of interesting geomicrobiological happenings (more as we add them):
Yellow springs, near Yellow Springs, Ohio, formed by iron-precipitating microflora (water from limestone)
A cascade water treatment system removing minerals from thermal water in Colorado
We here at Ground Water Science are not new to geomicrobiology, having practiced aspects of it for about 30 years. Stuart Smith (bio elsewhere on our web site), like many now pursuing geomicrobiology, was a kid who never decided whether to 1) look at the rock in the creek, or 2) what grew on the rock, so he does both. While with the National Water Well (now Ground Water) Association, he studied iron related bacteria with O.H. Tuovinen at The Ohio State University. Dr.Tuovinen (still active at Ohio State) is a real "geomicrobiologist" from Finland, a hotbed of 1970s geomicrobiology, when it wasn't "cool" yet. Stu later collaborated with him and Laura Tuhela-Reuning (now at Ohio Wesleyan University) on the first modern study (for AWWA Research Foundation) of practical environmental microbiology methods that water plant operators can use to monitor the geomicrobiology of ground water systems - to keep them working!
That's our focus and strength - coordinating information (and collaborative teams) to solve real-life problems. And we're still at it (putting on hardhats and boots and coordinating hydrogeology, microbiology, chemistry, hydraulics, drilling, material performance - and wielding pipe wrenches and multimeters) on projects such as these:
If your facility or project needs information or insight from quality people used to working in a practical, consulting framework (fast, lean, results-oriented), please contact Stuart. We'll lace up our boots and put it together for you.
Note: This is a fast-moving field, and additional sources pop up (and sometimes disappear) frequently.
To make suggested additions or corrections, please contact Stuart Smith.
Protecting small water supplies can be as simple as keeping harmful substances off the ground, preventing drainage into depressions that mark bedrock fractures, and sealing abandoned wells.