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Methane devourer discovered in the Arctic

Niemann and Tina Lsekann found a new group of methane-consuming Archaea that live in symbiosis with bacteria. This community does not use oxygen but sulphate to oxidize methane. This process is called the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) and is investigated in the research project MUMM. To their surprise, the scientists discovered that the majority of methane is consumed in the tubeworm habitat and not in the centre.

Why methane escapes the microbial filter

With their measurements, the scientists were able to show that only 40% of the rising methane is consumed by microorganisms. This is less than in most methane-rich habitats. Until now, scientists assumed that higher fluxes of methane lead to greater numbers of methane consuming microorganisms. At Haakon Mosby, very little methane is consumed in the gassy centre of the mud volcano.

The marine biologist Helge Niemann explains this phenomenon: "The methane consuming microorganisms need oxygen or sulphate from the seawater to oxidise methane. In the mud volcano water that flows upwards through the ocean floor both compounds are missing. Since the flow velocity of this water is so high, very little oxygen and sulphate from the seawater can penetrate the ocean floor and therefore the microorganisms in the centre and bacteria mat zone just don't get enough energy.

At the rim of the volcano, the situation is very different: Tubeworms grow about 60 cm deep into the seafloor and actively pump seawater into deeper layers. Microorganisms living at the roots of the worms profit from this situation. Here, Helge Niemann and Tina Lsekann found the highest consumption rates of methane indicating an efficient biological filter against the potential greenhouse gas methane.

Helge Niemann and Tina Lsekann were supported by a German-French research team who mapped the volcano with sonar and video systems and analysed geochemical processes. The utilisation of the deep-water r
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Contact: Dr. Helge Niemann
hniemann@mpi-bremen.de
49-421-202-8653
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
19-Oct-2006


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