Tiny organisms’ race to the bottom of the ocean

Paper: Microbial dynamics of elevated carbon flux in the open ocean’s abyss

Authors: Kirsten Poff, Andy Leu, John Eppley, David Karl and Edward DeLong

Cells from blooms of phytoplankton, or tiny plants, can enhance carbon flux all the way down to the deepest parts of the ocean. The authors of this recent study measured the amount of carbon in sinking particles deep in the ocean at a station near Hawaii. Over the course of three years, scientists identified three time periods of unusually high carbon flux, or transport, at this depth, and found that the organisms that made up the sinking particles were significantly different between high flux events and the rest of the time period. The data showed higher abundances of surface-dwelling microorganisms, including phytoplankton, contributing to these particles during high-flux events.

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Deep Sea Bacteria have Thrived for Millions of Years

Image of the ocean floor

Featured Image courtesy Yannis Papanastasopoulos, Unsplash.

Paper: Atribacteria reproducing over millions of years in the Atlantic abyssal subseafloor

Authors: Aurèle Vuillemin, Sergio Vargas, Ömer K. Coskun, Robert Pockalny, Richard W. Murray, David C. Smith, Steven D’Hondt, William D. Orsi

If you, like me, imagine the seafloor to be inhabited by strange, mysterious creatures like vampire squids and goblin sharks, think again: bacteria continue to surprise us with their resilience in the oddest of environments. Scientists have detected microbes living in the mud and rocks on the seafloor, but we don’t know much about them. Are they alive? How do they get energy in such a nutrient-poor environment? Given the inhospitable conditions in the sub-seafloor, scientists have thought that most of these microbes were close to the energy limit for life, which is an estimate of the minimum amount of energy required to sustain life as we know it. For this reason, we’ve assumed that subseafloor microbes die faster than they grow because there simply isn’t enough energy in the deep sea to sustain life long-term. 

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