IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - In the Absence of Light: The Rock Bottom of the Food Chain
It has recently been recognized that the Earth’s crust hosts a substantial, but energy-limited, subsurface microbial biosphere in the complete absence of light. This biosphere is poorly understood in terms of the energy supporting its biomass production and its impact on geochemical cycles and food webs at the Earth’s surface. How much biomass is produced from energy derived from the inorganic local environment rather than from introduced or plant-derived organic matter? Does this biomass have any impact on processes at the Earth’s surface? Dark oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) volcanic ecosystems (DOVEs) are highly relevant to these questions as they are poor in organic matter, rich in chemical reactants and well-known for chemical exchange with Earth’s surface systems. Ice caves near the summit of Mt. Erebus (Antarctica) and deep-sea seamounts will be described as natural laboratories for exploring fundamental processes that could be involved in carbon, energy and nutrient acquisition for organisms living in the subsurface biosphere. This presentation will introduce some of the fundamental questions concerning life in the absence of light and how crustal materials may provide energy and nutrients to support novel microbial ecosystems.
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This lecture is free to attend and open to all.
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