Saturated CO2 inhibits microbial processes in CO2-vented deep-sea sediments
Abstract. This study focused on biogeochemical processes and microbial activity in sediments of a natural deep-sea CO2 seepage area (Yonaguni Knoll IV hydrothermal system, Japan). The aim was to assess the influence of the geochemical conditions occurring in highly acidic and CO2 saturated sediments on sulfate reduction (SR) and anaerobic methane oxidation (AOM). Porewater chemistry was investigated from retrieved sediment cores and in situ by microsensor profiling. The sites sampled around a sediment-hosted hydrothermal CO2 vent were very heterogeneous in porewater chemistry, indicating a complex leakage pattern. Near the vents, droplets of liquid CO2 were observed emanating from the sediments, and the pH reached approximately 4.5 in a sediment depth > 6 cm, as determined in situ by microsensors. Methane and sulfate co-occurred in most sediment samples from the vicinity of the vents down to a depth of 3 m. However, SR and AOM were restricted to the upper 7–15 cm below seafloor, although neither temperature, low pH, nor the availability of methane and sulfate could be limiting microbial activity. We argue that the extremely high subsurface concentrations of dissolved CO2 (1000–1700 mM), which disrupt the cellular pH homeostasis, and lead to end-product inhibition. This limits life to the surface sediment horizons above the liquid CO2 phase, where less extreme conditions prevail. Our results may have to be taken into consideration in assessing the consequences of deep-sea CO2 sequestration on benthic element cycling and on the local ecosystem state.