Alteration of rare earth element distribution as a result of microbial activity and empirical methane injection
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
As a result of warming, methane is being released into the marine environment in areas that have not historically experienced methane input. While methane is a potent greenhouse gas, microbial oxidation of methane within the sediment greatly limits the role of marine methane sources on atmospheric forcing. However, in these areas of new methane release, consumption of methane prior to its release into the atmosphere is a result of the response of the microbial community to this new input of methane. Further, rare earth elements (REEs) are not currently thought to be involved with microbial activity, but this assumption has not been rigorously tested. Here we test that: (1) microbial communities will rapidly respond to the onset of methane emission, and (2) the microbial response to this methane input will impact the distribution of REEs within the sediment. Undisturbed cores sampled from a tidal flat at Yaquina Bay, OR, were brought back to a lab and injected with anoxic seawater (as a control) or anoxic sea water saturated with methane gas for a total of 2 weeks. Aerobic methanotrophs proliferated over this short time period, becoming an abundant member of the microbial community as identified using fatty acid biomarkers. Excitingly, the experimental injection of methane also shifted the distribution of REEs within the sediment, a trend that appeared to follow the microbial response and that was different from the control cores. Further, the lightest REEs appeared to be used more than the heavier ones, supporting that the REEs are being actively used by the microbes. While we focused on identifying the response of those microbes responsible in methane-cycling, we also identified how the entire microbial community shifts as a result of methane input, and correlating with shifts in REE distribution. Here we have empirically demonstrated the rapid response of methanotrophs to the onset of methane emission and that REE distribution within the sediment is likely impacted by microbial activity, including that involved with methane cycling. This has broad implications to identifying the role of novel methane seeps in global carbon cycles and our understanding of REE distributions within marine sediments.