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Images: The Harshest Habitats on Earth

WHOI microbial ecologist Virginia Edgcomb assembles part of MS-SID, a robotic underwater laboratory and sampling instrument that enabled her to collect and preserve microbes from specific areas more than two miles deep in the Mediterranean. (Photo by Cherie Winner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The day before embarking for the Mediterranean DHABs, geobiologist Joan Bernhard and Jason expedition leader Tito Collasius reviewed the pushcores and other equipment they would use to collect sediment samples during the cruise. (Photo by Cherie Winner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Remotely operated vehicle Jason being launched into the Mediterranean Sea from the research vessel Atlantis in December, 2011. Jason carried powerful lights, high-definition still and video cameras, two manipulator arms, sampling equipment, and sensors that recorded salinity, density, and depth. (Photo by Cherie Winner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

ROV Jason sent back images of normal Mediterranean seafloor (left), the murky water of a DHAB (right), and the white "beach" between them. Researchers from WHOI and other institutions were able to sample water and  sediments from all three zones, thanks to Jason and the new sampling robot MS-SID. (Virginia Edgcomb, WHOI/NSF/ROV Jason/©WHOI)

Visible ripples appeared when Jason moved into the interface zone, indicating that layers of water of different densities were mixing. At upper right, one of Jason's manipulator arms retrieves a pushcore tube containing sediment from the interface. (Virginia Edgcomb, WHOI/NSF/ROV Jason/©WHOI)

A pushcore retrieved by ROV Jason from the interface zone of a Deep Hypersaline Anoxic Basin (DHAB). Geobiologist Joan Bernhard, who led the sediment work on the cruise, said pushcores are of great value because they keep intact the vertical layering of the sediments. In this sample, the top inch or so is rich in bacteria and protists. (Photo by Cherie Winner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Microbial ecologist Konstantinos Kormas of the University of Thessaly and undergraduate Colin Morrison of the University of Nevada-Reno scoop sediment from a DHAB out of a collection chamber. This kind of chamber allows researchers to collect a lot of material, but does not preserve the layered structure of the sediments. (Photo by Cherie Winner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI microbiologist Craig Taylor and postdoctoral investigator Maria Pachiadaki attach a turbidity sensor to a chain hanging from the MS-SID. They used data from this sensor and another one attached directly to the instrument to determine when MS-SID was in a DHAB or its interface zone, which allowed them to take samples from very specific areas. (Photo by Cherie Winner, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Turbidity sensors on the MS-SID enabled scientists to sample within the thin interface between a DHAB and the overlying seawater. Turbidity was high in the interface and even higher in the DHAB, due to particles trapped in the high-density water. (Illustration by Craig Taylor, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)