New Bugs Belching Sulphate in Sea

January 29th, 2015

New Bugs Belching Sulphate in Sea

Ocean researchers have discovered new microbes over 2 miles below the surface of the ocean that breathe sulfate. These microbes thrive in undersea aquifers which are networks or channels within porous rock found beneath the ocean.

Sulfate is a compound of sulfur and oxygen. It occurs naturally in seawater. Sulphate is used for car batteries, bath salts and much more. The problem is that it can become aerosolized by the burning of fossil fuels which increases the acidity of the atmosphere. Microbes that actually breathe sulfate are believed to be some of the oldest organisms on Earth.

According to Alberto Robador, of USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, “It was surprising to find new bugs, but when we go to warmer, relatively old and isolated fluids, we find a unique microbial community.” Robador, who led the study, is encouraged because ‘This is the first direct account of microbial activity in these type of environments… [it] shows the potential of these organisms to respire organic carbon.”

Studying how these microbes operate is a crucial step toward gaining a more accurate and measureable picture of the global carbon cycle. This is the natural cycling of carbon through the environment. Carbons is naturally consumed by plants, exhaled by animals and enters the ocean through the atmosphere.

University of Southern California and the University of Hawaii researchers acquired their samples from the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a tectonic spreading center located off the coasts of the state of Washington in the United States and the province of British Columbia in Canada. Prior to their arrival teams placed underwater laboratories in the ridge by drilling them into the ocean floor. The drill was lowered through two miles of ocean and the bored dug through several hundred feet of sediment and finally into the rock where the aquifer flows.


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