Microbial Cells and Aerobic Respiration from Seafloor to Basement in the South Pacific Gyre
Abstract:The seafloor is broadly divided into two regions (Emerson et al., 1985): one where sedimentary microbial respiration is high and oxygen (O2) penetrates only millimeters to centimeters into the sediment (Revsbech et al., 1980), and another where sedimentary respiration is low and O2 penetrates much deeper (Murray& Grundmanis, 1980; D’Hondt et al., 2011; Røy et al, 2012; Orcutt et al., 2013). Active anaerobic microbial communities persist for hundreds of meters or more in subseafloor sediment of the high-respiration region. In the low-respiration region, the existence of microbial communities is previously unknown throughout most of the sedimentary sequence (Morita & Zobell, 1955; D’Hondt et al., 2009; Røy et al., 2012). Here we show that microbial cells and aerobic respiration persist through the entire sediment sequence (to depths of at least 75 m below seafloor) throughout the vast expanse of the oligotrophic South Pacific Gyre. This sediment and underlying basalt may be continuously exposed to O2 for its entire history (up to 120 myrs at our sites). Redfield stoichiometry of dissolved O2 and nitrate indicates that net sedimentary O2 reduction is coupled to oxidation of marine organic matter. Oxygen and aerobic communities may occur throughout the entire sediment sequence in 15-44% of the Pacific and 9-37% of the global ocean. This result has major implications for the nature and distribution of subseafloor life. It may ultimately affect the chemical evolution of Earth’s mantle and subduction-related volcanic systems.
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