Subseafloor nitrogen redox processes at Loihi Seamount, Hawai

Monday, 15 December 2014
Jason B Sylvan1, Scott D Wankel2, Douglas LaRowe3, Julie A Huber4, Craig L Moyer5 and Katrina J Edwards3, (1)USC-Biological Sciences, Los Angeles, CA, United States, (2)WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States, (3)University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, United States, (4)Josephine Bay Paul Center, Woods Hole, MA, United States, (5)Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, United States
Loihi seamount is a mid-plate hotspot volcano located 30 kilometers off the southeast corner of the Big Island of Hawai'i. We measured temperature, concentrations of nitrate + nitrite (NOx), ammonium (NH4+), nitrite (NO2-) and dissolved silica (dSi), as well as the stable N and O isotopic composition of nitrate (δ15N and δ18O) in end-member hydrothermal fluids and microbial mats during three cruises in 2008, 2009 and 2013. We also sequenced 16S rRNA from archaea and bacteria from the same sites during 2006. NH4+ ranged ~0.71-7.5 μM, was positively correlated to dSi and negatively correlated to NOx. NO2- ranged from below detection to 0.49 μM and was not correlated to NOx, dSi or NH4+. In the microbial mats found at the Ula Nui site at 5000 m, NO2-, dSi and NH4+ all increase with depth in the mat, creating a vertical zonation of niches within these mounds. Measured δ15N and δ18O of nitrate suggest biological production and reduction of nitrate are both occurring. Analysis of δ15N-NH4+ is underway and will help constrain the relative magnitude of nitrification to NO2 and the potential for N-fixation. Using the measured concentrations of NOx, NO2- and NH4+ and other published data from Loihi, Gibbs energy calculations reveal that several catabolic strategies involving the reduction of NO3- and NO2- could provide energy to microbes in Loihi fluids. Thermodynamically feasible electron donors including HS-, CH4, Fe2+ and NH4+, and the amount of energy available, in units of Joules per kg H2O, varies by orders of magnitude from one sample site to the next. Pyrosequencing of the V6 region of bacterial and archaeal 16S rRNA from four sites at Loihi detected groups known to participate in denitrification, N-fixation and NO2- oxidation. Among these, the most abundant putative N-reducing microbes include Caldithrix, Epsilonproteobacteria, Thiohalophilus and members of the SAR324 clade. Putative N-fixers detected include members of the bacterial order Chlorobiales and archaeal methanogens in the genera Methanococcus and Methanothermococcus. Members of the NO2- oxidizing phylum Nitrispirae are present in all four samples, and are very abundant in two of them. All this data together reveals that N redox processes are significant sources of energy in subsurface Loihi fluids, and possibly at diffuse flow hydrothermal sites elsewhere