Authors: Helen M. Baulch: School of Environment and Sustainability and the Global Institute for Water Security, National Hydrology Research Centre, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada;
Peter J. Dillon: Department of Environmental and Resource Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada;
Roxane Maranger: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada;
Sherry L. Schiff: Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
3. Waste recycling primary source of energy in deep ocean
In the dark reaches of the deep ocean, far from the photosynthesizing plants and plankton that fuel life in the surface waters, ecosystems survive on chemical energy. Decades of research on the life that clusters around deep-sea hydrothermal vents has hinted at the importance of light-free food webs, but a recent analysis by Middelburg suggests that another system-waste recycling-could be the dominant pillar of life on the abyssal plains.
The realization was a result of the author's attempt to calculate the importance of chemoautotrophy to the carbon cycles of different ocean regions. Chemoautotrophs are single-celled creatures that consume carbon dioxide and other inorganic materials and convert them to forms that can then be used by other organisms-a process known as carbon fixation. The author specifically focused on chemoautotrophs that feed on biological waste, finding it to be, for the deep ocean, the largest source of new organic carbon.
However, the author's investigation was not limited to the deep ocean. He finds
that for the global ocean, chemoautotrophy of inorganic waste could account for
the production of 0.77 petagrams (Pg) of carbon per year. The
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American Geophysical Union