Heat Flow on the South West Indian Ridge at 14°E and the Consequences for Microbiological Activity

Friday, 19 December 2014
Norbert E Kaul1, Massimiliano Molari2 and Antje Boetius2,3, (1)University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany, (2)Max-Planck-Instutute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany, (3)Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Marine and Polar Research, Geomicrobiology, Bremerhaven, Germany
During RV POLARSTERN cruise PS81 to the South West Indian Ridge (SWIR) at 52°S, 14°E an integrated study was carried out in more than 4000 m water depth employing seismology, geology, microbiology, deep-sea ecology, heat flow and others. Heat flow is supposed to be an indicator for the varying depth of the magma chamber beneath the ridge axis. Bottom observations from previous work on the SWIR are scarce and visual information about geostructures, habitat landscapes, benthic faunal communities and their distribution in this area have so far been missing.

Vigorous fluid flow in the form of black smokers or shimmering water could not be detected but enhanced heat flow due to upward pore water migration occurred. This leads to values of very high heat flow (up to 850 mW/m2) and advection rates up to 25 cm/a Darcy velocity. Enhanced biomass and a greater variation of megafauna along those sites of high heat flow could be inferred from reconnaissance observations with a camera sledge. A closer investigation of microbial activity in the material of gravity corers revealed favorable living conditions for microorganisms.

We find the inorganic carbon fixation rates, here applied like a proxy of microbial metabolic activity, were significantly higher (up to 7 times higher) in surficial sediments in proximity of the station PS 81/640 compared to other stations along the ridge. Conversely the extracellular enzymatic activities did not show any significant difference in the potential organic matter degradation between the stations investigated. These results suggest an increase of chemosynthetic activities at St PS 81/649, possibly related to increase of availability of reduced compounds (i.e. sulphide, reduced metals) in presence of pore water flow.