Deep Carbon Cycling in the Deep Hydrosphere: Abiotic Organic Synthesis and Biogeochemical Cycling

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 2:40 PM
Barbara Sherwood Lollar1, Chelsea N Sutcliffe1, Christopher J Ballentine2, Oliver Warr2, Long Li3, Shuhei Ono4 and David T Wang4, (1)University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada, (2)University of Oxford, Department of Earth Sciences, Oxford, United Kingdom, (3)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (4)MIT, Cambridge, MA, United States
Research into the deep carbon cycle has expanded our understanding of the depth and extent of abiotic organic synthesis in the deep Earth beyond the hydrothermal vents of the deep ocean floor, and of the role of reduced gases in supporting deep subsurface microbial communities. Most recently, this research has expanded our understanding not only of the deep biosphere but the deep hydrosphere – identifying for the first time the extreme antiquity (millions to billions of years residence time) of deep saline fracture waters in the world’s oldest rocks. Energy-rich saline fracture waters in the Precambrian crust that makes up more than 70% of the Earth’s continental lithosphereprovide important constraints on our understanding of the extent of the crust that is habitable, on the time scales of hydrogeologic isolation (and conversely mixing) of fluids relevant to the deep carbon cycle, and on the geochemistry of substrates that sustain both abiotic organic synthesis and biogeochemical cycles driven by microbial communities. Ultimately the chemistry and hydrogeology of the deep hydrosphere will help define the limits for life in the subsurface and the boundary between the biotic-abiotic fringe. Using a variety of novel techniques including noble gas analysis, clumped isotopologues of methane, and compound specific isotope analysis of CHNOS, this research is addressing questions about the distribution of deep saline fluids in Precambrian rocks worldwide, the degree of interconnectedness of these potential biomes, the habitability of these fluids, and the biogeographic diversity of this new realm of the deep hydrosphere.