Science

Scientists Discover Massive Underground Ecosystem Of Microbes

Massive Underground Ecosystem Of Microbes
Image courtesy of Gaetan Borgonie (Extreme Life Isyensya, Belgium).

It’s no secret there’s life that thrives beneath Earth’s surface, residing even at huge depths of the ocean. Scientists, however, didn’t know the quantity of life that resides down there. A new detailed study discovers a massive underground ecosystem of microbes located deep in our planet’s crust.

The team behind this discovery comes from the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) – a group consisting of more than 1,000 scientists around the world who have been working on a ten-year-long mission which studies carbon that lies under the surface of the Earth. Carbon can be found absolutely everywhere, starting from living organisms to organic materials like fossil fuels.

The research has been going on for ten years and will officially end in October of next year. Earlier this week, the team announced their discoveries, one of which the massive underground ecosystem is a part. As the team reported in a news release, their discovery of an underground ecosystem is twice as large by volume compared to the world’s oceans. Additionally, the knowledge this study offers could greatly benefit researchers on their journey of searching for alien life.

“Ten years ago, we knew far less about the physiologies of the bacteria and microbes that dominate the subsurface biosphere,” Karen Lloyd, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said in a news release. “Today, we know that, in many places, they invest most of their energy to simply maintaining their existence and little into growth, which is a fascinating way to live.

For the purpose of their study, the DCO teams took samples from boreholes from all over the Earth’s surface and researched the sites. Based on the samples they collected and measurements they made, they found that the size of the deep biosphere measured around 470 to 550 million cubic miles. Moreover, the team found that the mass of all the carbon located in the massive underground ecosystem measured between 16.5 and 25.3 billion tons.

The DCO teams discovered much more than this life-thriving ecosystem. Their discoveries can be found in the report and include various findings on life’s diversity underground. They found that the life beneath us could even exceed the life found on Earth’s surface. That raises a question that the scientists have tried to answer for decades – where did the life begin? On Earth’s surface or beneath it?

“Our studies of deep biosphere microbes have produced much new knowledge, but also a realization and far greater appreciation of how much we have yet to learn about subsurface life,” Rick Colwell, Oregon State University, said in a statement. “For example, scientists do not yet know all the ways in which deep subsurface life affects surface life and vice versa.

“Expanding our knowledge of deep life will inspire new insights into planetary habitability,” DCO researcher Fumio Inagaki noted in the comments section, “leading us to understand why life emerged on our planet and whether life persists in the Martian subsurface and other celestial bodies.”

Further research includes finding out more about how we could use that world to our advantage. Perhaps, one day, it could help us inhabit other planets, or even help us find alien life.