Exploring a microbial ecosystem approach to modeling deep ocean biogeochemical cycles

Monday, 15 December 2014
Emily Zakem and Michael J Follows, Massachusetts Inst Tech, Cambridge, MA, United States
Though microbial respiration of organic matter in the deep ocean governs ocean and atmosphere biogeochemistry, it is not represented mechanistically in current global biogeochemical models. We seek approaches that are feasible for a global resolution, yet still reflect the enormous biodiversity of the deep microbial community and its associated metabolic pathways. We present a modeling framework grounded in thermodynamics and redox reaction stoichiometry that represents diverse microbial metabolisms explicitly. We describe a bacterial/archaeal functional type with two parameters: a growth efficiency representing the chemistry underlying a bacterial metabolism, and a rate limitation given by the rate of uptake of each of the necessary substrates for that metabolism. We then apply this approach to answer questions about microbial ecology. As a start, we resolve two dominant heterotrophic respiratory pathways- reduction of oxygen and nitrate- and associated microbial functional types. We combine these into an ecological model and a two-dimensional ocean circulation model to explore the organization, biogeochemistry, and ecology of oxygen minimum zones. Intensified upwelling and lateral transport conspire to produce an oxygen minimum at mid-depth, populated by anaerobic denitrifiers. This modeling approach should ultimately allow for the emergence of bacterial biogeography from competition of metabolisms and for the incorporation of microbial feedbacks to the climate system.