Interactions between nitrogen cycling and methane oxidation in the pelagic waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Monday, 15 December 2014: 5:00 PM
Methane is an important greenhouse gas that plays a critical role in climate variation. Although a variety of marine methane sources and sinks have been identified, key aspects of the fate of methane in the ocean remain poorly constrained. At cold seeps in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, methane is introduced into the overlying water column via fluid escape from the seabed. We quantified the fate of methane in the water column overlying seafloor cold seeps, in a brine basin, and at several control sites. Our goals were to determine the factors that regulated methane consumption and assimilation and to explore how these controlling factors varied among and between sites. In particular, we examined the impact of nitrogen availability on methane oxidation and studied the ability of methane oxidizing bacteria to fix molecular nitrogen. Methane oxidation rates were highest in the methane rich bottom waters of natural hydrocabron seeps. At these sites, inorganic nitrogen addition stimulated methane oxidation in laboratory experiments. In vitro shipboard experiments revealed that rates of methane oxidation and nitrogen fixation were correlated strongly, suggesting that nitrogen fixation may have been mediated by methanotrophic bacteria. The highest rates of methane oxidation and nitrogen fixation were observed in the deepwater above at natural hydrocarbon seeps. Rates of methane oxidation were substantial along the chemocline of a brine basin but in these ammonium-rich brines, addition of inorganic nitrogen had little impact on methane oxidation suggesting that methanotrophy in these waters were not nitrogen limited. Control sites exhibited the lowest methane concentrations and methane oxidation rates but even these waters exhibited substantial potential for methane oxidation when methane and inorganic nitrogen concentrations were increased. Together, these data suggest that the availability of inorganic nitrogen plays a critical role in regulating methane oxidation in pelagic ocean waters. Some methanotrophs may obtain a competitive advantage in nitrogen-limited oceanic environments by fixing molecular nitrogen. The importance of such "methano-diazotrophy" on a global scale warrants further investigation.