Microbes Found In Deepest Oceanic Trench On Earth

By Staff Reporter on March 18, 2013 8:11 AM EDT

UNH ocean scientists shed new light on Mariana Trench
Mariana Trench (Photo: flickr.com/Mudkipz_KGM)

Researchers have found that the deepest oceanic trench on the Earth - the Mariana Trench - is thriving with microbes.

The Mariana Trench lies about 7 miles down in the Pacific Ocean. It was earlier thought that the site was inhospitable for life to exist. But researchers have now found that a highly active bacteria community is thriving in the sediment of the trench, under extreme pressure that is 1,000 times higher than at the sea level.

Scientists sent an unmanned underwater robot to the site so as to collect sediments from the sea floor in 2010. Using ultrathin sensors equipped with the robot, the research team measured the levels of oxygen distributed into these trench sediments. Based on their analysis, they found that large number of microbes is thriving in that area.

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"If we retrieve samples from the seabed to investigate them in the laboratory, many of the microorganisms that have adapted to life at these extreme conditions will die, due to the changes in temperature and pressure. Therefore, we have developed instruments that can autonomously perform preprogrammed measuring routines directly on the seabed at the extreme pressure of the Marianas Trench," Ronnie Glud, from Nordic Center for Earth Evolution at the University of Southern Denmark, said in a press release.

He also added that the videos made from the bottom of the Mariana Trench confirm that the region is dominated by microbes. Glud and his research team found that the trench sediments housed almost 10 times more bacteria than they were at a much shallower water depth of 4 miles.

The microbes were feeding on dead animals, algae and other creatures that had drifted down from the sea surface. "The amount of food down there and also the relative freshness of the material is surprisingly high - it seems to be surprisingly nutritious," Dr Robert Turnewitsch, one of the authors of the paper from the Scottish Association for Marine Science, told BBC.

Even though deep sea trenches like the Mariana Trench occupy just about two percent of the World Ocean area, they have a relatively large impact on the marine carbon balance as well as on the global carbon cycle, Glud said.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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