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Impact Disruption and Recovery of the Deep Subsurface Biosphere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Charles S. Cockell
  • Mary A. Voytek
  • Aaron L. Gronstal
  • Kai Finster
  • Julie D. Kirshtein
  • Kieren Howard
  • Joachim Reitner
  • Gregory S. Gohn
  • Ward E. Sanford
  • J. Wright Horton
  • Jens Kallmeyer
  • Laura Kelly
  • David S. Powars

Related Edinburgh Organisations

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-246
Number of pages16
JournalAstrobiology
Volume12
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012

Abstract

Although a large fraction of the world's biomass resides in the subsurface, there has been no study of the effects of catastrophic disturbance on the deep biosphere and the rate of its subsequent recovery. We carried out an investigation of the microbiology of a 1.76 km drill core obtained from the similar to 35 million-year-old Chesapeake Bay impact structure, USA, with robust contamination control. Microbial enumerations displayed a logarithmic downward decline, but the different gradient, when compared to previously studied sites, and the scatter of the data are consistent with a rnicrobiota influenced by the geological disturbances caused by the impact. Microbial abundance is low in buried crater-fill, ocean-resurge, and avalanche deposits despite the presence of redox couples for growth. Coupled with the low hydraulic conductivity, the data suggest the microbial community has not yet recovered from the impact similar to 35 million years ago. Microbial enumerations, molecular analysis of microbial enrichment cultures, and geochemical analysis showed recolonization of a deep region of impact-fractured rock that was heated to above the upper temperature limit for life at the time of impact. These results show how, by fracturing subsurface rocks, impacts can extend the depth of the biosphere. This phenomenon would have provided deep refugia for life on the more heavily bombarded early Earth, and it shows that the deeply fractured regions of impact craters are promising targets to study the past and present habitability of Mars.

    Research areas

  • Asteroid, Impacts, Subsurface biosphere, Subterranean environment, Geobiology, CHESAPEAKE BAY IMPACT, 16S RIBOSOMAL-RNA, SULFATE-REDUCING BACTERIA, POLYMERASE-CHAIN-REACTION, TERRESTRIAL SUBSURFACE, PACIFIC-OCEAN, PHYSIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, SUBSEAFLOOR SEDIMENTS, HYDROTHERMAL ACTIVITY, METEOR CRATER

ID: 25222053