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Microbial methane consumption in contrasting ocean environments: effects of elevated seepage and geochemical boundary conditions

Applicant Niemann Helge
Number 138057
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Umweltgeowissenschaften Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.04.2012 - 31.03.2015
Approved amount 183'802.00
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All Disciplines (5)

Discipline
Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Organic Chemistry
Other disciplines of Earth Sciences
Oceanography
Geology

Keywords (12)

organic geochemistry; anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM); gas hydrate; spitsbergen; global change; brine; Mediterranean Sea; cold seep; biomarker; biogeochemistry; stable isotope; aerobic oxidation of methane (MOx)

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Large quantities of the green house gas methane (CH4) are stored in sediments of continental margins, most importantly in the form of clathrate hydrate, which forms naturally when CH4 and water are subjected to low temperature (T) and high pressure (p). Typically, these conditions are met below 300 to 600 m water depth. An increase in bottom water T thus shifts the upper P/T boundary at which CH4 hydrates are stable towards greater water depth. Consequently, hydrate layers could then be exposed to P/T conditions where they become unstable. This leads to a liberation of CH4 into surface sediments, the overlying water column and, potentially, into the atmosphere where it further contributes to global warming. However, microbial CH4 oxidation may counteract this development. At present, most methane is retained in anoxic ocean sediments because it is oxidised by specialised archaea in consortium with sulphate reducing bacteria. In addition, aerobic bacteria in the water column consume CH4 that has by passed the benthic, microbial filter. Nevertheless, at so-called cold seeps where large quantities of CH4 are transported into surface sediments, significant amounts of CH4 may escape both, the sedimentary as well as the water column part of the microbial filter and are then released into the atmosphere. Yet, the efficiency of the microbial filter is not well constrained as are environmental factors controlling abundance and activity of methanotrophs, or selecting for specific phylogenetic groups. To close this knowledge gap, we will investigate microbial activity, abundance and identity at different types of cold seeps. We plan to determine limits of anaerobic and aerobic methanotrophy and to identify key environmental factors controlling activity, abundance and identity of the methanotrophic community. The study sites will be sampled within the frame work of international, seagoing expeditions.


Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Name Institute

Publications

Publication
Toxic effects of butyl elastomers on aerobic methane oxidation
Niemann Helge, Steinle Lea, Blees Jan H, Krause Sefan, Bussmann Ingeborg, Treude Tina, Lehmann Moritz F (2015), Toxic effects of butyl elastomers on aerobic methane oxidation, in Limnolog and Oceanography: Methods, 13, 40-52.
Water column methanotrophy controlled by a rapid oceanographic switch
Steinle Lea, Graves Carolyn A, Treude Tina, Ferre Benedicte, Biastoch Arne, Bussmann Ingeborg, Berndt Christian, Krastel Sebastian, James Rachael H, Behrens Erik, Boning Claus W, Greinert Jens, Sapart Celia-Julia, Scheinert Markus, Sommer Stefan, Lehmann Moritz F, Niemann Helge (2015), Water column methanotrophy controlled by a rapid oceanographic switch, in Nature Geoscience, advanced online publication, 1-5.
Temporal Constraints on Hydrate-Controlled Methane Seepage off Svalbard
Berndt C. T. Feseker T. Treude S. Krastel V. Liebetrau H. Niemann V.J. Bertics I. Dumke K. (2014), Temporal Constraints on Hydrate-Controlled Methane Seepage off Svalbard, in Science, 343, 284-287.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Meeresströmungen beeinflussen Methanabbau http://www.klimanavigator.de German-speaking Switzerland 2015

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
159878 Microbes and biogeochemical processes associated to methane oxidation at deep sea brines and highly active cold seep systems 01.04.2015 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

Large quantities of the green house gas methane (CH4) are stored in sediments of continental margins, most importantly in the form of clathrate hydrate, which forms naturally when CH4 and water are subjected to low temperature (T) and high pressure (p). Typically, these conditions are met below 300 to 600 m water depth. An increase in bottom water T thus shifts the upper P/T boundary at which CH4 hydrates are stable towards greater water depth. As a consequence, formerly stable hydrate layers could be exposed to P/T conditions where they become unstable. Instability would finally lead to a liberation of CH4 into surface sediments, the overlying water column and, potentially, into the atmosphere where it further contributes to global warming. However, microbial CH4 oxidation may counteract this development. At present, most methane is retained in anoxic ocean sediments because it is oxidised by specialised archaea in consortium with sulphate-reducing bacteria. In addition, aerobic bacteria in the water column consume CH4 that has bypassed the benthic, microbial filter. Never the less, at so-called cold seeps where large quantities of CH4 are transported into surface sediments, significant amounts of CH4 may escape both, the sedimentary as well as the water column part of the microbial filter and are then released into the atmosphere. Yet, the efficiency of the microbial filter is not well constrained as are environmental factors controlling abundance and activity of methanotrophs, or selecting for specific phylogenetic groups. To close this knowledge gap, we propose to investigate microbial activity, abundance and identity at two contrasting cold seep settings. (i) The recently discovered seeps on the West Spitsbergen margin emit CH4 into the water column and potentially into the atmosphere. These seeps are putatively driven by recent hydrate melting. This study site offers the unique possibility to investigate the benthic and water column part of the microbial CH4 filter at a potentially newly created seep habitat in a temperature sensitive environment. (ii) Deep sea basins in the eastern Mediterranean Sea feature anoxic, CH4-rich brine lakes. The different environmental conditions associated with the brine lakes such as ion composition and CH4 contents will allow us to investigate limits of anaerobic and aerobic methanotrophy and could permit to identify key environmental factors controlling activity, abundance and identity of the methanotrophic community. The study sites will be sampled within the frame work of sea-going expeditions that have already been approved and funded. The data gained during the proposed project (mainly microbial activity, abundance and identity) will be integrated with geochemical and geochronological investigations as well as model approaches carried out by our colleagues. We will measure microbial activity in the sediment, the water column and in brines with radio-isotope techniques. High resolution activity measurements will be interpolated to determine CH4 budgets, which, in combination with emission estimates, will be used to assess the efficiency of the microbial CH4 filter. Additionally, microbial activities will be traced indirectly by investigating stable isotope signatures of the substrate and product pools involved in CH4 oxidation. The known as well as potentially novel methanotrophic communities will be identified and quantified using lipid biomarker assays in combination with molecular approaches (FISH, clone libraries). Together with activity measurements and geochemical parameters, these will be used to determine key environmental factors that control methanotrophy and select for specific groups of methanotrophs.
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