RUI: Microbial Observatory at Soap Lake

Biogeochemistry, Microbial Diversity, and Productivity of Anaerobic, Haloalkaliphilic Bacterial Communities


RUI: Microbial Observatory at Soap Lake: Biogeochemistry, Microbial Diversity, and Productivity of Anaerobic, Haloalkaliphilic Bacterial Communities


U.S. National Science Foundation


  • Holly Pinkart - Central Washington University
  • Melanie Mormile - University of Missouri Rolla


An NSF Microbial Observatories grant was awarded to Drs. Holly Pinkart (Central Washington University), Melanie Mormile (University of Missouri –Rolla), and Brent Peyton (formerly of Washington State University) to study the anaerobic microbial ecology of a saline (140g/L dissolved solids), alkaline lake (pH 9.9). Soap Lake is a permanently stratified lake consisting two separate water layers which have not mixed for over two thousand years. Although both layers are quite alkaline and lack significant amounts of oxygen, the lower layer is an order of magnitude more saline. Additionally, this lake has concentrations of sulfide generally considered toxic for most life forms. In spite of the extreme chemistry of this environment, the lake supports thriving communities of algae, zooplankton, and bacteria. The Microbial Observatory has studied and quantified the ecology and metabolic capabilities of the relatively unknown microorganisms that thrive in this extreme environment. The goals of the project are to characterize the microbial communities that inhabit this system, and determine how they affect, and are affected by, the geochemistry of Soap Lake. The methods that will be used include the culturing of microorganisms, cloning and sequencing of microbial DNA, and the use of satellite imaging for detection of microbial activities. The Soap Lake Microbial Observatory will serve as a model for studying interactions of the anaerobic communities in haloalkaline environments and their contribution to biomass production. The Microbial Observatory at Soap Lake has lead to discovery of novel microorganisms that may be useful in industry and biotechnology. Additionally, this project has allowed for the significant involvement of undergraduate students.

Project Links

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  1. Holly Pinkart - MO Soap Lake Page
  2. Melanie Mormile - Home page
  3. Soap Lake Conservancy - Grassroots citizens group trying to preserve Soap Lake