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A Deep Observatory for in-situ Stress, Hydrology, and Life at DUSEL in Lead, South Dakota, U.S.A.



Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, USAThe Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, USA has been selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the site for a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL). DUSEL is conceived to be a unique multidisciplinary facility to pursue transformative physics, bioscience, geoscience, and engineering research. DUSEL will provide extensive facilities down to 2255 meters in the lower reaches of the mine, which is already being rehabilitated to a depth of 1478 meters and is accessible for early-science experimentation. Experimental facilities and the collection of a base set of data at six depths are being incorporated into the engineering design of DUSEL for a scientific program to understand the relationships between life, fluids, and stress. In addition drilling stations at 2255 meters depth are being planned for ultra-deep boreholes (5.4 to 5.7-km depth) to reach the 121ºC isotherm in order to probe the lower limits of life in the biosphere. The deep subsurface has recently been recognized as an ecosystem that could fundamentally change the way we view the origin and early evolution of life on Earth, the search for novel materials, or the generation of energy to sustain future generations. What we know about subsurface life has come from only a few studies of boreholes and deep mines. The ecohydrologic setting of the Homestake mine region is characterized by a vast expanse of fractured metamorphic rock cut by hundreds of kilometers of tunnels and even more kilometers of boreholes. Many cubic kilometers of the region have been highly affected by mining activities and adjacent regions are partially desaturated, but more distal regions are pristine and presumed to harbor indigenous microbial ecosystems. Thus, we propose to use this facility to conduct the first detailed study of a deep ecosystem in the context of the hydrology, geochemistry, and geomechanical state that sustains it. We are guided by the over-arching question: What controls the distribution and evolution of subsurface life? Partnering DUSEL with ICDP means that experiments can be extended to depths more than double the plans for DUSEL alone. A DUSEL-ICDP project will encourage international participation in the experimental activities to take advantage of four unique aspects of the facility:

  1. The scale and duration of access is unprecedented,
  2. Over 100 years of mining activities allow us to explore the effect of a changing habitat,
  3. Dewatering and flooding has provided, in effect, a large-scale tracer test, and
  4. The stable metamorphosed geologic setting is common to all continents on Earth.

(Fig.: Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, USA, ©Google Earth)



North America, U.S.A., United States of America, South Dakota, Lead



44° 21' N, 103° 45' 55''W (Please scroll down to end of page for more information.)


Project Start and End
  • workshop date: 10 to 13 May, 2011 in Lead, South Dakota, USA


Principal Investigators
  • David F. Boutt, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Geosciences
  • Giovanni Grasselli, University of Toronto, Civil Engineering, Department of Engineering Geoscience
  • Thomas L. Kieft, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Department of Biology
  • Lawrence C. Murdoch, Clemson University, Department of Geological Sciences
  • Tullis C. Onstott, Princeton University, Department of Geosciences
  • Karsten Pedersen, Microbial Analytics Sweden AB
  • William M. Roggenthen, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Department of Geology and Geological Engineering
  • Barbara Sherwood Lollar, University of Toronto, Department of Earth Sciences
  • Gregory F. Slater, McMaster University, School of Geography and Geology, Applied Geophysics and Geological Imaging Consortium
  • Gordon Southam, University of Queensland, School of Earth Sciences
  • Tomochika Tokunaga, University of Tokyo, School of Frontier Science, Department of Environment Systems, Geosphere Environmental Systems Laboratory
  • Herbert F. Wang, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Department of Geoscience, Geophysics
  • Mark D. Zoback, Stanford University, School of Earth Sciences, Department of Geophysics



DUSEL, Geomicrobiology, Homestake, Hydrology, ICDP-2010/14, Stress State


Current State



Google Earth/Maps