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Mineralization of organic matter in the sea bed—the role of sulphate reduction

Nature volume 296, pages 643645 (15 April 1982) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The bacterial reduction of sulphate to sulphide at the sea bed is a key process in the oceanic sulphur cycle, and is responsible for the oxidation of organic matter which becomes buried below the oxic and sub-oxic zones of the sea bed. The oxic surface layer of the sea bed varies in thickness from a few millimetres in sheltered coastal areas to 1 m in pelagic sediments1,2. Below this layer, organic matter is mineralized mainly by fermenting, denitrifying, sulphate-reducing and methane-producing bacteria. Sulphate reduction is the predominant terminal step in the mineralization processes of sulphate-rich shelf sediments where the sulphate reducers inhibit the methanogens by competing with them for common substrates3–5. Sulphate reduction may therefore have a quantitatively important role in the overall oxidation of organic matter in the sea bed. Recently, concurrent measurements of oxygen uptake and sulphate reduction in a coastal sediment6 have demonstrated the importance of the sulphate-reducing bacteria in the mineralization of organic carbon. I present here the first comparative survey of aerobic and anaerobic mineralization in the sea bed based on direct rate measurements of the two processes. The results demonstrate a surprisingly high contribution from the sulphate-reducers. In coastal sediments, this specialized group of bacteria oxidized as much organic matter to CO2 as did all the aerobic organisms. Their relative contribution decreased three fold over the continental shelf from the shore to a depth of 200 m.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. Institute of Ecology and Genetics, University of Aarhus, Ny Munkegade, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

    • Bo Barker Jørgensen

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/296643a0

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