Pieter Visscher

(Ph.D., University of Groningen, The Netherlands) Professor of Marine Sciences

piv02001_1Astrobiology addresses three fundamental questions: How does life begin and develop? Does life exist elsewhere in the universe? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond? In our Geomicrobiology work group we address (parts of) these questions by combining fieldwork and laboratory experiments in organosedimentary microbial ecosystems. We use these as analogs for life on early Earth, and possibly in outer space.

Microbial mats, especially those forming microbialites (lithified mats) are at the center of our work. These microbial ecosystems have dominated life on Earth dating back as far as 3.5 billion years. Together with colleagues from Argentine, Australia, Chile, France, and Sweden, we investigate mechanisms of biosignature formation. These biosignatures are either (metabolic) gases or minerals, and are formed during the combined cycling of C and O, S, Se or As. We work in hard water lakes (Green Lake, NY); open marine environments (Highborne Cay, Bahamas); and hypersaline lakes (in the US, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and the Bahamas), some at sea level, others > 15,000 ft above sea level.  Key microbialites under investigation include layered stromatolites and clotted thrombolites.

piv02001_2We are involved with the conservation of microbial ecosystems (Big Pond, Bahamas; Lake Clifton and Lake Richmond, Shark Bay, Australia; Laguna Brava and Laguna Tebenquiche, Chile) and the discovery of sub-salt oil reservoirs, which has led to collaborations with Petrobras (Brazil). We also collaborate with colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on protist distribution and biogeochemistry in deep ocean trenches (Santa Barbara basin; Mediterranean brine anoxic basins).

Research Projects

Mechanisms of carbonate precipitation and dissolution in microbialites – NASA, NSF, Caring for our Country/Australia

Diagenetic processes in hypersaline microbialites – NSF

Arsenic and sulfur cycling in anoxic microbial mats and microbialites – CNRS/France, CEA/Chile

In situ microbial communication (quorum sensing) in microbial mats – jointly with Univ New South Wales/Australia

Oceanography Student

Quinne Murphy – M.Sc. Student

Oceanography Alumni

Laura Baumgartner – Ph.D. 2006

Zamara Fuentes Figueroa – M.Sc. 2007

Kim Gallagher – Ph.D. 2012

Shelley Hoeft – M.Sc. 1999

Johanna Hunston – M.Sc. 2000

Albino Munoz Barbosa – M.Sc. 2008

Almariet Palm – M.Sc. 2018

Daniel Rogers – M.Sc. 2001

Rachel Sytsma – M.Sc. 2004

Other Alumni

Lexy Fowler – GSCI M.Sc. 2012

Patrick Getty – GSCI Ph.D. 2014

Kristen Myshrall – GSCI Ph.D. 2012

Molly Patterson – GSCI M.Sc. 2014

Ryan Stewart – GSCI M.Sc. 2013

Natalie Stork – GSCI M.Sc. 2012


Bernhard, J.M., K.A. Kormas, M.G. Pachiadaki, E. Rocke, D.J. Beaudoin, C. Morrison, P.T. Visscher, A. Cobban, V.R. Starczak, V.P. Edgcomb. 2014. Benthic protists and fungi of Mediterranean deep hypsersaline anoxic basin redoxcline sediments. Frontiers in Microbiology

Sforna, M.C., P. Philippot, M.A. van Zuilen, A. Somogyi, K. Medjoubi, B. Schoepp-Cothenet, W. Nitscke, P.T. Visscher. 2014. Evidence for arsenic metabolism and cycling by microorganisms 2.72 billion years ago. Nature Geoscience DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2276

Pages, A., D.T. Welsh, P.R. Teasdale, K. Grice, M. Vacher, W.W. Bennett, P.T. Visscher. 2014.  Diel variations in solute distributions and biogeochemical cycling in a hypersaline microbial mat from Shark Bay, WA. Marine Chemistry, DOI: 10.1016/j.marchem.2014.05.003

Petrisor, A., S. Szyjka, T. Kawaguchi, P.T. Visscher, R.S. Norman, A.W. Decho. 2014. Changing Microspatial Patterns of Sulfate-Reducing Microorganisms (SRM) During Cycling of Marine Stromatolite Mats. Int. J. Molecular Sciences 15:850-877

Farias, M.E., M. Contreras, M.C. Rajuk, D. Kurth, R. Flores, J. Maldonado, D. Poire, F. Novoa, P.T. Visscher. 2014. Characterization of bacterial diversity associated with microbial mats, gypsum evaporites, and carbonate microbialites in thalassic wetlands: Tebenquiche and Brava, Salar de Atacama, Chile. Extremophiles 18:311-329

Gallagher, K.L., C. Dupraz, P.T. Visscher. 2014. Two opposing effects of sulfate reduction on carbonate precipitation in normal marine, hypersaline, and alkaline environments. Geology 42:313-314

Edgcomb, V.P., J.M. Bernhard, R.E. Summons, W. Orsi, D. Beaudoin, P.T. Visscher. 2014. Active eukaryotes in microbialites from Highborne Cay, Bahamas and Hamelin Pool (Shark Bay), Australia. ISME J 8:418-429.

Dupraz, C.D., A. Fowler, C. Tobias, P.T. Visscher. 2013. Stromatolitic knobs in Storr’s Lake (San Salvador, Bahamas): a model for formation and alteration of laminae. Geobiology 11:527-548

Bernhard, J.M., V.P. Edgcomb,  P.T. Visscher,  A. McIntyre-Wressig, R.E. Summons, M.L. Bouxsein, L. Louis, M. Jeglinski, M. 2013. Insights into foraminiferal influences on microfabrics of microbialites at Highborne Cay, Bahamas. Prod Nat Acad Sci USA 110:9830-9834

Dupraz, C., R.P. Reid, O. Braissant, A.W. Decho, R.S. Norman, P.T. Visscher. 2009. Processes of   Carbonate Precipitation in Modern Microbial Mats. Earth-Science Reviews 96:141-162.

Visscher, P.T., J. Stolz. 2005. Microbial communities as biogeochemical reactors. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, 219:87-100.

Dupraz, C., P.T. Visscher. 2005. Microbial lithification in modern marine stromatolites and hypersaline mats. Trends in Microbiology 13:429-438.

Reid, R.P., P.T. Visscher, A.W. Decho, J. Stolz, B.M. Bebout, I.G. Macintyre, H.W. Paerl, J.L. Pinckney, L. Prufert-Bebout, T.F. Steppe, D.J. Des Marais. 2000. The role of microbes in the accretion, lamination and early lithification of modern marine stromatolites. Nature 406:989-992.

Visscher, P.T., R.P. Reid, B.M. Bebout. 2000. Microscale observation of sulfate reduction: Evidence of microbial activity forming lithified micritic laminae in modern marine stromatolites. Geology 28:919-922.


Contact Information