Volcanoes bring death and destruction, but out of the ashes life soon finds fertile ground. A unique experiment is sifting through floating debris from an ongoing volcanic event to see how microbes move in. The results may help in assessing a recent hypothesis that the first life forms may have found fertile ground in the pores of volcanic rocks.
James Elser of Arizona State University wasn't planning to study volcanic debris when he developed his plans for some ecological field work in northern Patagonia. But on June 4 of last year, the nearby Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano erupted.
"That threw all my original plans in the waste basket," Elser says.