Limitations of microbial hydrocarbon degradation at the Amon mud volcano (Nile deep-sea fan)
- 1Helmholtz – Max Planck Research Group for Deep Sea Ecology and Technology, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research and Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany
- 2MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University Bremen, Germany
- 3Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany
- 4Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
- *present address: National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton Waterfront Campus, Southampton, UK
Abstract. The Amon mud volcano (MV), located at 1250 m water depth on the Nile deep-sea fan, is known for its active emission of methane and non-methane hydrocarbons into the hydrosphere. Previous investigations showed a low efficiency of hydrocarbon-degrading anaerobic microbial communities inhabiting the Amon MV center in the presence of sulfate and hydrocarbons in the seeping subsurface fluids. By comparing spatial and temporal patterns of in situ biogeochemical fluxes, temperature gradients, pore water composition, and microbial activities over 3 yr, we investigated why the activity of anaerobic hydrocarbon degraders can be low despite high energy supplies. We found that the central dome of the Amon MV, as well as a lateral mud flow at its base, showed signs of recent exposure of hot subsurface muds lacking active hydrocarbon degrading communities. In these highly disturbed areas, anaerobic degradation of methane was less than 2% of the methane flux. Rather high oxygen consumption rates compared to low sulfide production suggest a faster development of more rapidly growing aerobic hydrocarbon degraders in highly disturbed areas. In contrast, the more stabilized muds surrounding the central gas and fluid conduits hosted active anaerobic hydrocarbon-degrading microbial communities. The low microbial activity in the hydrocarbon-vented areas of Amon MV is thus a consequence of kinetic limitations by heat and mud expulsion, whereas most of the outer MV area is limited by hydrocarbon transport.