Skip to comments.Research Finds Life 1000 Feet Beneath Ocean Floor
Posted on 01/03/2003 9:00:10 AM PST by RightWhale
Research Finds Life 1000 Feet Beneath Ocean Floor
CORVALLIS, Ore. A new study has discovered an abundance of microbial life deep beneath the ocean floor in ancient basalt that forms part of the Earth's crust, in research that once more expands the realm of seemingly hostile or remote environments in which living organisms can apparently thrive.
The research was done off the coast of Oregon near a sea-floor spreading center on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, by scientists from Oregon State University and several other institutions. It will be published Friday in the journal Science.
In 3.5 million-year-old crust almost 1,000 feet beneath the bottom of the ocean, researchers found moderately hot water moving through the heavily-fractured basalt. The water was depleted in sulfate and greatly enriched with ammonium, suggesting biological activity in a high-pressure, undersea location far from the types of carbon or energy sources upon which most life on Earth is based.It was one of the most precise biological samplings ever taken from deep under the ocean floor, scientists say.
"This is one of the best views we've ever had of this difficult-to-reach location in the Earth's crust and the life forms that live in it," said Michael Rappe, a research associate at OSU. "Until now we knew practically nothing about the biology of areas such as this, but we found about the same amount of bacteria in that water as you might find in surrounding seawater in the ocean. It was abundant."
According to Steve Giovannoni, an OSU professor of microbiology and one of the co-authors of the publication, the work represented a highly complicated "plumbing job," among other things. It took advantage of an existing hole and pipe casing that had been drilled previously in that area by the Ocean Drilling Program, through about 825 feet of sedimentary deposits on the ocean floor and another 175 feet of basalt, or hardened lava about 3.5 million years old.
Using the existing casing, scientists were able to fit an experimental seal and deliver to the seafloor, for testing and characterization, the crustal fluids from far below. "People have wondered for a long time what types of organisms might live within Earth's crust," Giovannoni said. "This has given us one of the best looks we've ever had at that environment."
The researchers found organisms growing without the need to consume organic molecules, as does most life on Earth. Instead, they processed carbon dioxide and inorganic molecules such as sulfide or hydrogen. DNA analysis of these microbes suggested they are closely related to known sulfate and nitrate "reducers" that are common in other environments. The level of biological activity was sufficiently high that ammonia levels in the subsurface samples were 142 times higher than those in nearby seawater.
"As more research such as this is done, we'll probably continue to be surprised at just how far down we can find life within the Earth, and the many different environments under which it's able to exist," Rappe said.
The deep ocean crust, the researchers said, is an immense biosphere in its own right that covers most of the Earth.
Since Gould is dead, it would take some *really* controversial things to get him "invited on radio interviews". ;-)
It appears so. An illness took him early. An evolutionist crusader. Did the microbes in the earth's crust under the seabed evolve from the same hypoothetical original living thing that we did?
Correct, of course.
The rate of renewal versus the rate of usage might be a question, and perhaps these can be brought into balance by increasing production artificially and reducing usage by going to other energy sources.
Then again, "perhaps" not.
I've heard a lot of people get all excited about that prospect, but most likely the "renewal" rate is glacierly slow compared to the rate we're consuming it. For example, if it takes a "mere" ten million years for a reservoir to form, that means that we're using it up roughly a million times faster than it can be renewed. Even if we could speed up the natural process by a factor of ten-thousand-fold, it would only increase our actual pumping yield by a whopping 1%...
Achieving that balance will also be more expensive than now. Oil and natural gas are about the cheapest commodities there are.
The other catch is that it's likely that speeding up the natural process would necessarily involve our *adding* energy to the system -- at least as much (and probably more) than we'd get from subsequently using the resulting "fast oil". There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, energy-wise.
For your answer, reread the original article: "DNA analysis of these microbes suggested they are closely related to known sulfate and nitrate "reducers" that are common in other environments."
Short form: "Yes".
Maybe we can use nuclear power for that... :)
Ummm. Actually I was thinking of the ridiculous idea of using nuclear power to take CO2 and water to make gasoline and asphalt. Nuclear power is the way to go for high-density electrical production. ...but the greenies oppose it religiously.
Or 5,000 Rat votes, depending on the paperwork involved. :-)
But we have our own problems. We're not going into space [ISS is a non-starter,] we're not building nuke plants, and we have embarrasing neighbors. China isn't worried about us, and we shouldn't worry about China.
[This ping list for the evolution -- not creationism -- side of evolution threads, and sometimes for other science topics. To be included, or dropped, let me know via freepmail.]
This was taken a few years before his illness.