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Scientists identify vast underground ecosystem containing billions of micro-organisms

Feb 8, 2018
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Global team of scientists find ecosystem below earth that is twice the size of world’s oceans



The Earth is far more alive than previously thought, according to “deep life” studies that reveal a rich ecosystem beneath our feet that is almost twice the size of all the world’s oceans.
Despite extreme heat, no light, minuscule nutrition and intense pressure, scientists estimate this subterranean biosphere is teeming with between 15bn and 23bn tonnes of micro-organisms, hundreds of times the combined weight of every human on the planet.

Researchers at the Deep Carbon Observatory say the diversity of underworld species bears comparison to the Amazon or the Galápagos Islands, but unlike those places the environment is still largely pristine because people have yet to probe most of the subsurface.
“It’s like finding a whole new reservoir of life on Earth,” said Karen Lloyd, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “We are discovering new types of life all the time. So much of life is within the Earth rather than on top of it.”

The team combines 1,200 scientists from 52 countries in disciplines ranging from geology and microbiology to chemistry and physics. A year before the conclusion of their 10-year study, they will present an amalgamation of findings to date before the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting opens this week.

Samples were taken from boreholes more than 5km deep and undersea drilling sites to construct models of the ecosystem and estimate how much living carbon it might contain.



The results suggest 70% of Earth’s bacteria and archaea exist in the subsurface, including barbedAltiarchaeales that live in sulphuric springs and Geogemma barossii, a single-celled organism found at 121C hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea.
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One organism found 2.5km below the surface has been buried for millions of years and may not rely at all on energy from the sun. Instead, the methanogen has found a way to create methane in this low energy environment, which it may not use to reproduce or divide, but to replace or repair broken parts.
Lloyd said: “The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.”
Rick Colwell, a microbial ecologist at Oregon State University, said the timescales of subterranean life were completely different. Some microorganisms have been alive for thousands of years, barely moving except with shifts in the tectonic plates, earthquakes or eruptions.
“We humans orientate towards relatively rapid processes – diurnal cycles based on the sun, or lunar cycles based on the moon – but these organisms are part of slow, persistent cycles on geological timescales.”
Underworld biospheres vary depending on geology and geography. Their combined size is estimated to be more than 2bn cubic kilometres, but this could be expanded further in the future.
The researchers said their discoveries were made possible by two technical advances: drills that can penetrate far deeper below the Earth’s crust, and improvements in microscopes that allow life to be detected at increasingly minute levels.
The scientists have been trying to find a lower limit beyond which life cannot exist, but the deeper they dig the more life they find. There is a temperature maximum – currently 122C – but the researchers believe this record will be broken if they keep exploring and developing more sophisticated instruments.
Mysteries remain, including whether life colonises up from the depths or down from the surface, how the microbes interact with chemical processes, and what this might reveal about how life and the Earth co-evolved.
The scientists say some findings enter the realm of philosophy and exobiology – the study of extraterrestrial life.
Robert Hazen, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said: “We must ask ourselves: if life on Earth can be this different from what experience has led us to expect, then what strangeness might await as we probe for life on other worlds?”


Source https://www.theguardian.com/science...e-you-tread-on-23bn-tonnes-of-micro-organisms


The amount of life below us is insane and they survive for millenia or more. Other planets seem a lot more interesting to me now and the fact that life can exist so far beneath the surface (makes sense as its closer to heat) is encouraging but disturbing.


Didn't see a thread, lock if old or Bury.
 

DunDunDunpachi

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Apr 18, 2018
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The fact that life is down there is cool. But the long-dormant nature of these critters and the immense amount of them makes it all the more interesting. I'm gleefully awaiting more news. Thanks, scientists!
 

Dark Star

Member
Jan 14, 2018
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the largest organisms of the underworld are probably fungi/mushrooms. They spread and spread large, vast areas underneath forests and other damp areas. Some species of trees also spread their roots for what seems like football fields. it's all fascinating knowing the largest organisms on earth are right beneath our feet.
 

Catphish

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Jan 13, 2017
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Global team of scientists find ecosystem below earth that is twice the size of world’s oceans



The Earth is far more alive than previously thought, according to “deep life” studies that reveal a rich ecosystem beneath our feet that is almost twice the size of all the world’s oceans.
Despite extreme heat, no light, minuscule nutrition and intense pressure, scientists estimate this subterranean biosphere is teeming with between 15bn and 23bn tonnes of micro-organisms, hundreds of times the combined weight of every human on the planet.

Researchers at the Deep Carbon Observatory say the diversity of underworld species bears comparison to the Amazon or the Galápagos Islands, but unlike those places the environment is still largely pristine because people have yet to probe most of the subsurface.
“It’s like finding a whole new reservoir of life on Earth,” said Karen Lloyd, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “We are discovering new types of life all the time. So much of life is within the Earth rather than on top of it.”

The team combines 1,200 scientists from 52 countries in disciplines ranging from geology and microbiology to chemistry and physics. A year before the conclusion of their 10-year study, they will present an amalgamation of findings to date before the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting opens this week.

Samples were taken from boreholes more than 5km deep and undersea drilling sites to construct models of the ecosystem and estimate how much living carbon it might contain.



The results suggest 70% of Earth’s bacteria and archaea exist in the subsurface, including barbedAltiarchaeales that live in sulphuric springs and Geogemma barossii, a single-celled organism found at 121C hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea.
Advertisement

One organism found 2.5km below the surface has been buried for millions of years and may not rely at all on energy from the sun. Instead, the methanogen has found a way to create methane in this low energy environment, which it may not use to reproduce or divide, but to replace or repair broken parts.
Lloyd said: “The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.”
Rick Colwell, a microbial ecologist at Oregon State University, said the timescales of subterranean life were completely different. Some microorganisms have been alive for thousands of years, barely moving except with shifts in the tectonic plates, earthquakes or eruptions.
“We humans orientate towards relatively rapid processes – diurnal cycles based on the sun, or lunar cycles based on the moon – but these organisms are part of slow, persistent cycles on geological timescales.”
Underworld biospheres vary depending on geology and geography. Their combined size is estimated to be more than 2bn cubic kilometres, but this could be expanded further in the future.
The researchers said their discoveries were made possible by two technical advances: drills that can penetrate far deeper below the Earth’s crust, and improvements in microscopes that allow life to be detected at increasingly minute levels.
The scientists have been trying to find a lower limit beyond which life cannot exist, but the deeper they dig the more life they find. There is a temperature maximum – currently 122C – but the researchers believe this record will be broken if they keep exploring and developing more sophisticated instruments.
Mysteries remain, including whether life colonises up from the depths or down from the surface, how the microbes interact with chemical processes, and what this might reveal about how life and the Earth co-evolved.
The scientists say some findings enter the realm of philosophy and exobiology – the study of extraterrestrial life.
Robert Hazen, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said: “We must ask ourselves: if life on Earth can be this different from what experience has led us to expect, then what strangeness might await as we probe for life on other worlds?”


Source https://www.theguardian.com/science...e-you-tread-on-23bn-tonnes-of-micro-organisms


The amount of life below us is insane and they survive for millenia or more. Other planets seem a lot more interesting to me now and the fact that life can exist so far beneath the surface (makes sense as its closer to heat) is encouraging but disturbing.


Didn't see a thread, lock if old or Bury.
This is fascinating. Thank you for posting it. 👍
 

DunDunDunpachi

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Apr 18, 2018
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Doubtful. Isn’t oil much closer to the surface? It was from all the trees that didn’t get burned etc from hundreds and thousands of years
My understanding is that the origin of oil continues to puzzle scientists. We figure it comes from dead plants, animals, and microorganisms, but the total volume of dead animals doesn't seem to match how much oil we've gotten. Originally, oil was just "dead dinosaurs" and this "fact" is part of what led people to believe it was running out. When it became obvious it wasn't running out, we expanded that to "dead dinosaurs but also trees and ferns".

That assumption also got debunked (same rationale: all that dead life still didn't account for how much oil is in the ground), and now the standing assumption is that dead ocean plankton, microorganisms, trees, animals, and plants are all responsible for crude oil.

So if there's this big repository of life "twice the size of the world's oceans" deep in the crust, it would make sense that this biomass may get compressed, pushed upward, and form oil deposits.

I could also be completely wrong.
 

davepoobond

you can't put a price on sparks
Apr 26, 2006
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My understanding is that the origin of oil continues to puzzle scientists. We figure it comes from dead plants, animals, and microorganisms, but the total volume of dead animals doesn't seem to match how much oil we've gotten. Originally, oil was just "dead dinosaurs" and this "fact" is part of what led people to believe it was running out. When it became obvious it wasn't running out, we expanded that to "dead dinosaurs but also trees and ferns".

That assumption also got debunked (same rationale: all that dead life still didn't account for how much oil is in the ground), and now the standing assumption is that dead ocean plankton, microorganisms, trees, animals, and plants are all responsible for crude oil.

So if there's this big repository of life "twice the size of the world's oceans" deep in the crust, it would make sense that this biomass may get compressed, pushed upward, and form oil deposits.

I could also be completely wrong.

I suppose anything is possible. It could also come from the mantle from some unknown process and never run out.
 

PengTiki

Member
Apr 17, 2018
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Despite extreme heat, no light, minuscule nutrition and intense pressure, scientists estimate this subterranean biosphere is teeming with between 15bn and 23bn tonnes of micro-organisms, hundreds of times the combined weight of every human on the planet.
Yes, yes, but what do they taste like?
 

Insane Metal

Gold Member
Mar 11, 2006
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Life finds a way. Literally.

Incredible news. This is also VERY significant for astrobiology.
 
H

hariseldon

Unconfirmed Member
A question for the philosophy majors: what makes these things life rather than just chemicals that have reactions to their surroundings?