Microbes control the decomposition of organic matter inmarine sediments. Decomposition, in turn, contributes to oceanic nutrient regeneration and influences the preservation of organic carbon1. Generally, rates of benthic decomposition decline with increasing water depth, although given the vast extent of the abyss, deep-sea sediments are quantitatively important for the global carbon cycle2,3. However, the deepest regions of the ocean have remained virtually unexplored4. Here, we present observations of microbial activity in sediments at Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the central west Pacific, which at almost 11,000 m depth represents the deepest oceanic site on Earth. We used an autonomous micro-profiling system to assess benthic oxygen consumption rates. We show that although the presence of macrofauna is restricted at Challenger Deep, rates of biological consumption of oxygen are high, exceeding rates at a nearby 6,000-m-deep site by a factor of two. Consistently, analyses of sediments collected from the two sites reveal higher concentrations of microbial cells at Challenger Deep. Furthermore, analyses of sediment 210Pb profiles reveal relatively high sediment deposition in the trench. We conclude that the elevated deposition of organic matter at Challenger Deep maintains intensified microbial activity at the extreme pressures that characterize this environment.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Canfield, D. E. in Interactions Of C,N,P, And S Biogeochemical Cycles And Global Change (eds Wollast, R., F., Mackenzie, T. & Chou, L.) 333–363 (Springer, 1993).
Glud, R. N. Oxygen dynamics of marine sediments. Mar. Biol. Res. 4, 243–289 (2008).
Burdige, D. J. Geochemistry of Marine Sediments (Princeton Univ. Press,.
Jamieson, A. J. Ecology of deep oceans: Hadal trenches eLS http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470015902.a0023606 (Wiley, 2011).
Taira, K., Kitagawa, S., Yamashiro, T. & Yanagimoto, D. Deep and bottom currents in the challenger deep, measured with super-deep current meters. J. Oceanogr. 60, 919–926 (2004).
Somero, G. N. Adaptations to high hydrostatic pressure. Annul. Rev. Physiol. 54, 557–577 (1992).
DeLong, E. F., Franks, D. G. & Yayanos, A. A. Evolutionary relationships of cultivated psychrophilic and barophilic deep-sea bacteria. Appl. Environ. Microb. 63, 2105–2108 (1997).
Todo, Y., Kitazato, H., Hashimoto, J. & Gooday, A. J. Simple Foraminifera flourish at the oceans deepest point. Science 307, 689–690 (2005).
Honjo, S., Manganini, S. J., Krishfield, R. A. & Francois, R. Particulate organic carbon fluxes to the ocean interior and factors controlling the biological pump: A synthesis of global sediment trap programs since 1983. Prog. Oceanogr. 76, 217–285 (2008).
Jørgensen, B. B. & Boetius, A. Feast and famine—microbial life in the deep sea bed. Nature Rev. 5, 770–781 (2007).
Fabiano, M. et al. Fluxes of phytopigments and labile organic matter to the deep ocean in the NE Atlantic Ocean. Prog. Oceanogr. 50, 89–104 (2001).
Danovaro, R., Croce, N. D., Dell’Anno, A. & Pusceddu, A. A depocenter of organic matter at 7800 m depth in the SE Pacific Ocean. Deep-Sea Res. I 50, 1411–1420 (2003).
Jumars, P. A. & Hessler, R. R. Hadal community structure: Implications from the Aleutian Trench. J. Mar. Res. 34, 547–560 (1976).
Glud, R. N., Gundersen, J. K. & Holby, O. Benthic in situ respiration in the upwelling area off central Chile. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 186, 9–18 (1999).
Hall, P. O. J. et al. Dissolved organic matter in abyssal sediments; core recovery artefacts. Limnol. Oceanogr. 52, 19–31 (2007).
Glud, R. N. et al. In situ microscale variation in distribution and consumption of O2: A case study from a deep ocean margin sediment. Limnol. Oceanogr. 54, 1–12 (2009).
Murashima, T. et al. 11,000 m class Free Fall Mooring System. Oceans 2009-Europe, 1–5 (2009).
Reimers, C. E. An in situ microprofiling instrument for measuring interfacial pore water gradients: Methods and oxygen profiles from the North Pacific Ocean. Deep-Sea Res. 34, 2019–2035 (1987).
Stephens, M. P., Kadko, D. C., Smith, C. R. & Latasa, M. Chlorophyll a and pheopigments as tracers of labile organic carbon at the central equatorial Pacific seafloor. Geochim. Comochim. Acta. 61, 4606–4619 (1997).
Wei, C. L. & Rowe, G. T. et al. Global patterns and predictions of seafloor biomass using random forests. PLoS One 5, 1–15 (2010).
Itou, M., Matsumura, I. & Noriki, S. A large flux of particulate matter in the deep Japan Trench observed just after the 1994 Sanriku-Oki earthquake. Deep-Sea Res. I 47, 1987–1998 (2000).
Andersson, H. J. et al. Respiration patterns in the deep ocean. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L03304 (2004).
Revsbech, N. P. An oxygen microelectrode with a guard cathode. Limnol. Oceanogr. 34, 474–478 (1989).
Ullmann, W. J. & Aller, R. C. Diffusion coefficients in near shore marine sediments. Limnol. Oceanogr. 27, 552–557 (1982).
Verardo, D. F., Froelich, P. N. & McIntyre, A. Determination of organic carbon and nitrogen in marine sediments using the Carlo Erba NA-1500 Analyzer. Deep-Sea Res. 37, 157–165 (1990).
Shuman, F. R. & Lorenzen, C. F. Quantitative degradation of chlorophyll by a marine herbivore. Limnol. Oceanogr. 20, 580–586 (1975).
Danovaro, R. & Middelboe, M. in Manual Of Aquatic Viral Ecology (eds Wilhelm, S. W., Weinbauer, M. G. & Suttle, C. A.) 74–81 (ASLO, 2010).
Marie, D., Partensky, F., Jacquet, S. & Vaulot, D. Enumeration and cell cycle analysis of natural populations of marine picoplankton by flow cytometry using the nucleoid acid stain SYBR Green I. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 63, 186–193 (1997).
We thank A. Glud, R. Abell, T. Brand, B. Christensen, J. P. Meyer, J. Hansen, M. Alisch and T. Sakamoto for excellent technical assistance as well as T. Toyofuku for administrative organization. Further, we wish to thank the Captain and crew of R/V Yokosuka (YK10-16). The study was financially supported by JAMSTEC, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, NE/F018612/1; NE/F0122991/1, NE/G006415/1), the commission for Scientific Research in Greenland (KVUG; GCRC6507), ERC through an Advanced Grant (ERC-2010-AdG20100224), the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF53), The Max Planck Society, The Danish Council for Independent Research (FNU-09-072829), The DFG Research Center MARUM, and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (21244079) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. E. Epping and J. Kallmeyer provided constructive comments that helped improve the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Glud, R., Wenzhöfer, F., Middelboe, M. et al. High rates of microbial carbon turnover in sediments in the deepest oceanic trench on Earth. Nature Geosci 6, 284–288 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1773
Spatial heterogeneity of organic carbon cycling in sediments of the northern Yap Trench: Implications for organic carbon burial
Marine Chemistry (2020)
Journal of Oceanology and Limnology (2020)
Frontiers in Microbiology (2020)
Intact Ether Lipids in Trench Sediments Related to Archaeal Community and Environmental Conditions in the Deepest Ocean
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences (2020)
Diversity of culturable heterotrophic bacteria from the Mariana Trench and their ability to degrade macromolecules
Marine Life Science & Technology (2020)