08 October 2008

Carbon Dynamics in the Deep Oceans Surprising

Cloaked by darkness, microbes of the deep ocean function at high pressures and temperatures to convert simple carbons to more complex hydrocarbons, calcium carbonates, and other carbon compounds. Land-borne science is largely ignorant of important processes occurring over large areas of the planet's seafloor. Current models are based upon uninformed theories, and are worse than worthless. Time for science to get its hands dirty and jump in the muck to find out what is happening.
Miles below us, deep within Earth's crust, life is astir. Organisms there are not the large creatures typically envisioned when thinking of life. Instead, thriving there are microbes, the smallest and oldest form of life on Earth. Although the biological diversity of these deep biosphere microorganisms may surpass that of the more familiar surface biosphere, much about them is still unknown, including the origin of the organic compounds they consume. Arizona State University researchers are using a novel approach that integrates physical organic chemistry with organic geochemistry and biogeochemistry to uncover the source of these organic compounds.

Carbon, the building block of organic matter, is one of the most dynamic elements on the planet; it responds to biological, physical and chemical processes in many ways and on many timescales. Understanding how carbon is formed, where it comes from, and how much of it exists, is important for a more detailed and coherent picture of the global carbon cycle. Yet a complete understanding of how carbon is produced and consumed in the environment still evades researchers because much of what is known is based on processes that act on short time-scales and at Earth's surface.

...Theoretical biogeochemist Everett Shock, a professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, leads an interdisciplinary group of researchers who are investigating how this geochemical transformation from recalcitrant matter to usable organic compounds occurs deep in Earth's crust.

"The secret appears to lie in how temperature and pressure affect the reactivity of organic compounds, and, maybe more importantly, how the properties of water change deep in sediments and sedimentary rocks," says Shock. "The transformation in how water behaves is so enormous that we would hardly recognize it as the same stuff that comes out of our kitchen taps."

Most organic reactions at the Earth's surface do not work very well in water; either they need an organism that has evolved the mechanisms to promote organic reactions in water or they need an organic solvent, hexane or benzene, for example. The very deep Earth, below where microbial life has been shown to exist, has lots of rocks but no organic solvents. It does, however, have very hot water.

Hilairy Hartnett, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and ASU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is part of Shock's interdisciplinary group examining the mechanisms of the sub-surface carbon cycle. The team hypothesizes that conditions deep in the Earth might be good for complex organic reactions.

"Evidence suggests that hot water at high pressures - conditions we'd find in the subsurface - is actually a very good solvent for organic reactions," Hartnett says. "It might be possible for these reactions to occur without biology if the conditions are right." She explains, "Biological processes can promote reactions to generate complex organic molecules even at unfavorable low temperatures and pressures - the difference for the deep Earth is the high-temperature and pressure." _PO
This research is long overdue. Politicians are prepared to complete their slaughter of the world economy, based upon obsolete models of climate change. The models are worse than worthless, because they are based upon false assumptions, poorly thought out theories, and missing data. The death of economies is what happens with psychological neoteny in charge of governments, politicised quasi-scientific agencies such as the IPCC, politicised funding agencies and academic departments, and a populace that is too stupid to know when it is being taken for fools.

Much more is happening in the oceans than politicians and politicised scientists are willing to admit. Time for the citizens to inform themselves, before the next narcissist-in-chief finishes the slaughter of the innocents.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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