(The Oceanography Society, 2012-03)
Holden, James F.; Breier, John A.; Rogers, Karyn L.; Schulte, Mitchell D.; Toner, Brandy M.
Hydrothermal vents are among the most biologically active regions of the deep ocean. However, our understanding of the limits of life in this extreme environment, the extent of biogeochemical transformation that occurs in the crust and overlying ocean, and the impact of vent life on regional and global ocean chemistry is in its infancy. Recently, scientific studies have expanded our view of how vent microbes gain metabolic energy at vents through their use of dissolved chemicals and minerals contained in ocean basalts, seafloor sulfide deposits, and hydrothermal plumes and, in turn, how they catalyze chemical and mineral transformations. The scale of vent environments and the difficulties inherent in the study of life above, on, and below the deep seafloor have led to the development of geochemical and bioenergetic models. These models predict habitability and biological activity based on the chemical composition of hydrothermal fluids, seawater, and the surrounding rock, balanced by the physiological energy demand of cells. This modeling, coupled with field sampling for ground truth and discovery, has led to a better understanding of how hydrothermal vents affect the ocean and global geochemical cycles, and how they influence our views of life on the early Earth and the search for life beyond our own planet.