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Geophysical Monograph Series

 

Keywords

  • Deep-sea ecology—Congresses
  • Mid-ocean ridges—Congresses

Article

GEOPHYSICAL MONOGRAPH SERIES, VOL. 144, PP. 355-367, 2004

Unifying principles of the deep terrestrial and deep marine biospheres

F. S. Colwell and R. P. Smith

Recent estimates of the amount of microbial biomass in the combined marine and terrestrial subsurface boost this portion of the biosphere to a level which needs to be considered when integrating where life exists on our planet. Additionally, the subsurface serves practical needs associated with groundwater, waste disposal, and resource recovery. Although our view of this isolated ecosystem is restricted by technologies used to access samples, we are learning more about places where life thrives in the subsurface and where life is severely repressed. Until studies of hyperthermophiles provide different information, a thermal boundary to life exists at the 120°C isotherm. Other locations in the subsurface are barren where they are impoverished by low fluid flux to supply electron donors and acceptors or by limited pore space in which microorganisms can reside. Examples of such locations include deep vadose zones and igneous rock masses with limited fractures. In contrast, subsurface locations that show evidence of gaseous or liquid flux are the most likely to yield higher numbers of microorganisms. Locations that have marine and terrestrial hydrothermal convection cells, active methane venting, solid-liquid-gas phase changes, as well as zones of salinity and porosity contrasts are all examples of demonstrated or potential subsurface oases. Our ability to conceptualize and quantify the subsurface biosphere will be accelerated by new sampling tools and molecular characterization methods for microbes. The merging of disparate disciplines such as microbiology, geophysics, and tectonic research will extend our ability to fully comprehend the deep biosphere.

Citation: Colwell, F. S., and R. P. Smith (2004), Unifying principles of the deep terrestrial and deep marine biospheres, in The Subseafloor Biosphere at Mid-Ocean Ridges, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 144, edited by W. S. Wilcock et al., pp. 355–367, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/144GM22.

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