National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2019

Fluid geochemistry, local hydrology, and metabolic activity define methanogen community size and composition in deep-sea hydrothermal vents

Stewart, L.C., C.K. Algar, C.S. Fortunato, B.I. Larson, J. Vallino, J.A. Huber, D.A. Butterfield, and J.F. Holden

ISME J., 13, 1711–1721, doi: 10.1038/s41396-019-0382-3, View online (2019)

The size and biogeochemical impact of the subseafloor biosphere in oceanic crust remain largely unknown due to sampling limitations. We used reactive transport modeling to estimate the size of the subseafloor methanogen population, volume of crust occupied, fluid residence time, and nature of the subsurface mixing zone for two low-temperature hydrothermal vents at Axial Seamount. Monod CH4 production kinetics based on chemostat H2 availability and batch-culture Arrhenius growth kinetics for the hyperthermophile Methanocaldococcus jannaschii and thermophile Methanothermococcus thermolithotrophicus were used to develop and parameterize a reactive transport model, which was constrained by field measurements of H2, CH4, and metagenome methanogen concentration estimates in 20–40 °C hydrothermal fluids. Model results showed that hyperthermophilic methanogens dominate in systems where a narrow flow path geometry is maintained, while thermophilic methanogens dominate in systems where the flow geometry expands. At Axial Seamount, the residence time of fluid below the surface was 29–33 h. Only 1011 methanogenic cells occupying 1.8–18 m3 of ocean crust per m2 of vent seafloor area were needed to produce the observed CH4 anomalies. We show that variations in local geology at diffuse vents can create fluid flow paths that are stable over space and time, harboring persistent and distinct microbial communities.

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