Articles | Volume 6, issue 5
18 May 2009
 | 18 May 2009

An experimental study on short-term changes in the anaerobic oxidation of methane in response to varying methane and sulfate fluxes

G. Wegener and A. Boetius

Abstract. A major role in regulation of global methane fluxes has been attributed to the process of anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM), which is performed by consortia of methanotrophic archaea and sulfate reducing bacteria. An important question remains how these energy limited, slow growing microorganisms with generation times of 3–7 months respond to rapid natural variations in methane fluxes at cold seeps. We used an experimental flow-through column system filled with cold seep sediments naturally enriched in methanotrophic communities, to test their responses to short-term variations in methane and sulfate fluxes. At stable methane and sulfate concentrations of ~2 mM and 28 mM, respectively, we measured constant rates of AOM and sulfate reduction (SR) for up to 160 days of incubation. When percolated with methane-free medium, the anaerobic methanotrophs ceased to produce sulfide. After a starvation phase of 40 days, the addition of methane restored former AOM and SR rates immediately. At methane concentrations between 0–2.3 mM we measured a linear correlation between methane availability, AOM and SR. At constant fluid flow velocities of 30 m yr−1, ca. 50% of the methane was consumed by the anaerobic methanotrophic (ANME) population at all concentrations tested. Reducing the sulfate concentration from 28 to 1 mM, a decrease in AOM and SR by 50% was observed, and 45% of the methane was consumed. Hence, the marine anaerobic methanotrophs (ANME) are capable of oxidizing substantial amounts of methane over a wide and variable range of fluxes of the reaction educts.

Final-revised paper