Metal-Eating Microbes Who Breathe Methane

Featured Image: Murky pond in Alaska with “rusty” iron-filled sediments. Image courtesy Jessica Buser. Used with permission.

Paper:  Sulfate- and iron-dependent anaerobic methane oxidation occurring side-by-side in freshwater lake sediment

Authors: Alina Mostovaya, Michael Wind-Hansen, Paul Rousteau, Laura A. Bristow, Bo Thamdrup

The table has been set and the food is all prepared. But this is no ordinary dinner party, it’s a microbe party! The guests sit down and proceed to dig into the main course; sulfur, rusty iron, and methane. Curiously, the guests are feeding each other, not themselves! This image seems pretty weird to us humans, but it’s a delight to these microbes. This collaborative method of eating occurs in pond and lake mud all around the world. In a new study, Mostovaya and colleagues describe one such feast in Danish Lake Ørn, that is not only collaborative but may mitigate climate change.

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Highway Maintenance “Drives” Carbon Release in Forests

Featured Image: Forest and highway between Trójmiasto and Gdynia, Northern Poland. Image courtesy Robin Hammam.

Paper: The proximity of a highway increases CO2 respiration in forest soil and decreases the stability of soil organic matter

Authors: Dawid Kupka, Mateusz Kania, Piotr Gruba

There has been a lot of talk about transportation as of late with America’s “Build Back Better Act”.  While these political decisions are partially informed by scientific research around climate change, particularly in the United States (where 30% of greenhouse gas emissions result from transportation by road, rail, and air each year), the negative impacts of transportation infrastructure on the climate and local ecosystems are often lost in political discussions.  In a new study in Scientific Reports, Kupka and colleagues discuss the broader impacts of highway maintenance on nearby forest soil ecosystems, finding that roadways themselves can increase carbon dioxide emissions by disrupting local carbon cycles.

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Ancient trees tell the story of modern climate change

Featured Image: Larch trees.  Image courtesy North Cascades National Park, used with permission.

Paper: Spring arctic oscillation as a trigger of summer drought in Siberian subarctic over the past 1494 years

Authors: Olga V. Churakova Sidorova, Rolf T. W. Siegwolf, Marina V. Fonti, Eugene A. Vaganov, Matthias Saurer

Seemingly straight out of a fairytale, ancient trees are able to convey details about Earth’s complex history to the scientists willing and able to listen.  Deep in the Siberian Arctic lie the secrets of past weather events, ocean currents, and droughts that occurred thousands of years ago, locked away in petrified wood and in the oldest living larch trees.  We often hear in the news how the Siberian forest is victim to extreme drought and fire—something that is new as of the recent century.  But how “new” are these events, and what exactly is perpetuating this new cycle? 

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Mercury on the Move

Featured image: Gravel and rocks crushed by the Greenland Ice Sheet.  Image courtesy PennStateNews, used with permission.

Paper: Large subglacial source of mercury from the southwestern margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Authors: Jon R. Hawkings, Benjamin S. Linhoff, Jemma L. Wadham, Marek Stibal, Carl H. Lamborg, Gregory T. Carling, Guillaume Lamarche-Gagnon, Tyler J. Kohler, Rachael Ward, Katharine R. Hendry, Lukáš Falteisek, Anne M. Kellerman, Karen A. Cameron, Jade E. Hatton, Sarah Tingey, Amy D. Holt, Petra Vinšová, Stefan Hofer, Marie Bulínová, Tomáš Větrovský, Lorenz Meire, Robert G. M. Spencer

The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting at an astounding rate as our planet continues to warm.  Mercury levels in the glacial meltwater traveling into the ocean are the highest levels ever measured in natural systems and rival heavily polluted rivers in Asia.  By measuring and tracing mercury in the meltwater, Hawkings and coworkers estimated that the Greenland Ice Sheet contributes up to 10% of all mercury found in Earth’s Oceans today.  Where is this mercury coming from within the Greenland Ice Sheet?  It is not actually coming from the ice itself, but rather the rocks that have been crushed under the immense weight of the Ice Sheet over thousands of years.

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Antarctic seafloor oxygen is diminishing–and glaciers may be to blame

Featured Image: Iceberg floating through thin sea ice. Image courtesy NASA ICE, used with permission.

Paper: Glacial melt disturbance shifts community metabolism of an Antarctic seafloor ecosystem from net autotrophy to heterotrophy

Authors: Ulrike Braeckman, Francesca Pasotti, Ralf Hoffmann, Susana Vázquez, Angela Wulff, Irene R. Schloss, Ulrike Falk, Dolores Deregibus, Nene Lefaible, Anders Torstensson, Adil Al-Handal, Frank Wenzhöfer, Ann Vanreusel

Nothing compares to the ethereal beauty of a clear lake. Looking down, you can see a whole world flourishing below: plants, fish, and critters. Compare that to a cloudy, or turbid, lake and suddenly you may feel very small, worried about what’s lurking beneath you. New research shows that the Antarctic ocean is transitioning from clear to turbid water, with big implications for ocean ecosystems.

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Rust to the Rescue?

Featured Image: Shewanella putrefaciens CN-32 (a microbe capable of eating iron) on hematite (a rock containing iron). Image courtesy Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL). Used with permission.

Paper: Organic matter mineralization in modern and ancient ferruginous sediments

Authors: André Friese, Kohen Bauer, Clemens Glombitza, Luis Ordoñez, Daniel Ariztegui Verena B. Heuer, Aurèle Vuillemin, Cynthia Henny, Sulung Nomosatryo, Rachel Simister Dirk Wagner, Satria Bijaksana, Hendrik Vogel, Martin Melles, James M. Russell, Sean A. Crowe, Jens Kallmeyer

Just as a crow may use a rock to crack a nut, certain microbes can use solid iron to crack open methane.  This consumption limits the amount of methane lost from lakes into the atmosphere, making it a crucial process in mitigating production of greenhouse gasses.  These microbes are abundant in freshwater sediments, and their specialized mechanism for cracking open methane is most likely one of the oldest metabolisms on Earth, providing a modern-day window into the past.

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Prehistoric Microbial Meals Found in the Australian Outback

Featured Image: Rock fracture from the Dresser Formation, Australia. Fluid inclusions are trapped in the white stripes. Image courtesy Ser Amantio di Nicolao, used with permission.

Paper: Ingredients for microbial life preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old fluid inclusions

Authors: Helge Mißbach, Jan-Peter Duda, Alfons M. van den Kerkhof, Volker Lüders, Andreas Pack, Joachim Reitner, Volker Thiel

Just a few weeks ago NASA made a historic landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars.  This rover symbolizes our human drive for exploration and the need to find the origins of life to answer the big question—are we alone in the universe?  In addition to extraterrestrial investigation and research, we can address this fundamental question here on our own planet by digging into extreme environments that are analogs for ancient Earth or other planets.  These unusual environments, such as hydrothermal vents in our deepest oceans, boiling hot springs in Yellowstone, and prehistoric lakes in South America, can give us glimpses of ancient information and clues about to the ingredients of life.  By discovering our own origins of life, we can begin to understand how it may evolve on other planets.

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Mosaics of Life Along a River

Featured Image: Small headwater stream in Oregon’s Mountains. Image courtesy Jessica Buser-Young, used with permission.

Paper: The River Continuum Concept

Authors: Robin L. Vannote, G. Wayne Minshall, Kenneth W. Cummins, James R. Sedell, Colbert E. Cushing

Perhaps last time you went for a hike, you stumbled upon a burbling spring pushing its way up through the leaf litter after a heavy rainfall, creating a tiny rivulet of water crisscrossing over your path before plunging back into the forest. What a find! Excitedly, you squatted down and gently uncovered the spring to notice gnats lazily floating away, some nearby fruiting mushrooms, and great clumps of decomposing twigs and leaves which you assume harbor uncountable numbers of microorganisms. This unique little ecosystem is profiting from the nutrients and water being pushed from the ground, using the opportunity to have a feast. But what happens to the nutrients and carbon that gets past these plants and animals?

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Unveiling the Mysterious Patterns of Arctic Cobalt

Featured Image: Fractured sea ice. Image courtesy Pink Floyd 88 a, accessed through Wikimedia Commons GNU Free Documentation License

Paper: Elevated sources of cobalt in the Arctic Ocean

Authors: Randelle Bundy, Alessandro Tagliabue, Nicholas Hawco, Peter Morton, Benjamin Twining, Mariko Hatta, Abigail Noble, Mattia Cape, Seth John, Jay Cullen, Mak Saito

Imagine navigating the Beaufort Sea to the North Pole, crossing icy and treacherous waters through the untamed North, all to chase a metal that is so rare that you have a better chance of finding 5 grains of sand in an Olympic swimming pool*. This is exactly what Bundy et al. accomplished in their work identifying cobalt amounts in the Arctic Ocean and how these amounts vary based on ocean depth, distance from land, and over a time period of 6 years.

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