Microbe hunting in Centralia PA

Our search for oxygen-tolerant nitrogen fixers took us to Centralia PA in February


Centralia is a ghost town in central Pennsylvania that has had a coal fire burning underneath of it for the past 60 years.  Due to the hot temperatures and elevated levels of carbon monoxide, the soils of Centralia could host some interesting microorganisms.

Maren and Jeff managed to find a two day window between polar vortices in which they could make the 8 hour trek from Michigan to grab some soil for sampling.   First we found the gash in the abandoned stretch of route 61 that appears in so many Centralia pictures:


However, asphalt doesn’t make for great sampling:


We quickly moved on to this hillside near the town cemetery:


Areas with a conspicuous lack of snow helped identify hot patches worth sampling:


Some places even had steam coming out from the ground:


Amazingly, just 20 cm down, our temperature probe read 60 deg. C!


We grabbed some soil and made our way back to the lab:


Culturing efforts are underway….