Primary productivity below the seafloor at deep-sea hot springs

The existence of a chemosynthetic subseafloor biosphere was immediately recognized when deep-sea hot springs were discovered in 1977. However, quantifying how much new carbon is fixed in this environment has remained elusive. In this study, we incubated natural subseafloor communities under in situ pressure/temperature and measured their chemosynthetic growth efficiency and metabolic rates. Combining these data with fluid flux and in situ chemical measurements, we derived empirical constraints on chemosynthetic activity in the natural environment. Our study shows subseafloor microorganisms are highly productive (up to 1.4 Tg C produced yearly), fast-growing (turning over every 17–41 hours), and physiologically diverse. These estimates place deep-sea hot springs in a quantitative framework and allow us to assess their importance for global biogeochemical cycles.

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