The stable carbon isotope biogeochemistry of acetate and other dissolved carbon species in deep subseafloor sediments at the northern Cascadia Margin

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
By: , and 



Ocean drilling has revealed the existence of vast microbial populations in the deep subseafloor, but to date little is known about their metabolic activities. To better understand the biogeochemical processes in the deep biosphere, we investigate the stable carbon isotope chemistry of acetate and other carbon-bearing metabolites in sediment pore-waters. Acetate is a key metabolite in the cycling of carbon in anoxic sediments. Its stable carbon isotopic composition provides information on the metabolic processes dominating acetate turnover in situ. This study reports our findings for a methane-rich site at the northern Cascadia Margin (NE Pacific) where Expedition 311 of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) sampled the upper 190 m of sediment. At Site U1329, δ13C values of acetate span a wide range from −46.0‰ to −11.0‰ vs. VPDB and change systematically with sediment depth. In contrast, δ13C values of both the bulk dissolved organic carbon (DOC) (−21.6 ± 1.3‰ vs. VPDB) and the low-molecular-weight compound lactate (−20.9 ± 1.8‰ vs. VPDB) show little variability. These species are interpreted to represent the carbon isotopic composition of fermentation products. Relative to DOC, acetate is up to 23.1‰ depleted and up to 9.1‰ enriched in 13C. Broadly, 13C-depletions of acetate relative to DOC indicate flux of carbon from acetogenesis into the acetate pool while 13C-enrichments of pore-water acetate relative to DOC suggest consumption of acetate by acetoclastic methanogenesis. Isotopic relationships between acetate and lactate or DOC provide new information on the carbon flow and the presence and activity of specific functional microbial communities in distinct biogeochemical horizons of the sediment. In particular, they suggest that acetogenic CO2-reduction can coexist with methanogenic CO2-reduction, a notion contrary to the hypothesis that hydrogen levels are controlled by the thermodynamically most favorable electron-accepting process. Further, the isotopic relationship suggests a relative increase in acetate flow to acetoclastic methanogenesis with depth although its contribution to total methanogenesis is probably small. Our study demonstrates how the stable carbon isotope biogeochemistry of acetate can be used to identify pathways of microbial carbon turnover in subsurface environments. Our observations also raise new questions regarding the factors controlling acetate turnover in marine sediments.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The stable carbon isotope biogeochemistry of acetate and other dissolved carbon species in deep subseafloor sediments at the northern Cascadia Margin
Series title Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
DOI 10.1016/j.gca.2009.03.001
Volume 73
Issue 11
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 3323
Last page 3336
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