Article open access publication

Presence of oxygen and aerobic communities from sea floor to basement in deep-sea sediments

Nature Geoscience, Springer Nature, ISSN 1752-0908

Volume 8, 4, 2015

DOI:10.1038/ngeo2387, Dimensions: pub.1006433137,



  1. (1) University of Rhode Island, grid.20431.34
  2. (2) Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expedition 329 Shipboard Scientific Party
  3. (3) Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, grid.410588.0
  4. (4) Texas A&M University, grid.264756.4
  5. (5) University of North Carolina Wilmington, grid.217197.b
  6. (6) Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, grid.418656.8
  7. (7) Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, grid.5560.6
  8. (8) Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, grid.419529.2
  9. (9) Aarhus University, grid.7048.b, AU
  10. (10) College of Earth, Oceanic, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 COAS Admin Building Corvallis, Oregon 97331-5503, USA
  11. (11) Department of Chemistry and Geology, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Ford Hall 241, Mankato Minnesota 56001, USA
  12. (12) Hanyang University, grid.49606.3d
  13. (13) Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, grid.23731.34
  14. (14) Yonsei University, grid.15444.30
  15. (15) University of Melbourne, grid.1008.9
  16. (16) Institute for Environmental Sciences, Shizuoka University, 52-1 Yada Suruuga-ku, Shizuoka 422-8526, Japan
  17. (17) Boston University, grid.189504.1
  18. (18) University of Tsukuba, grid.20515.33
  19. (19) Hiroshima University, grid.257022.0
  20. (20) National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, European Way Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK
  21. (21) University of Bergen, grid.7914.b
  22. (22) University of Tokyo, grid.26999.3d
  23. (23) Dublin City University, grid.15596.3e
  24. (24) French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, grid.4825.b
  25. (25) South China Sea Institute Of Oceanology, grid.458498.c
  26. (26) Ocean University of China, grid.4422.0
  27. (27) University of Southern California, grid.42505.36


The depth of oxygen penetration and microbial activity in marine sediments varies by region. Sediment cores from the South Pacific Gyre host oxygen and aerobic microbial communities to at least 75 metres below the sea floor. The depth of oxygen penetration into marine sediments differs considerably from one region to another1,2. In areas with high rates of microbial respiration, O2 penetrates only millimetres to centimetres into the sediments3, but active anaerobic microbial communities are present in sediments hundreds of metres or more below the sea floor4,5,6,7. In areas with low sedimentary respiration, O2 penetrates much deeper8,9,10,11,12 but the depth to which microbial communities persist was previously unknown9,10,13. The sediments underlying the South Pacific Gyre exhibit extremely low areal rates of respiration9. Here we show that, in this region, microbial cells and aerobic respiration persist through the entire sediment sequence to depths of at least 75 metres below sea floor. Based on the Redfield stoichiometry of dissolved O2 and nitrate, we suggest that net aerobic respiration in these sediments is coupled to oxidation of marine organic matter. We identify a relationship of O2 penetration depth to sedimentation rate and sediment thickness. Extrapolating this relationship, we suggest that oxygen and aerobic communities may occur throughout the entire sediment sequence in 15–44% of the Pacific and 9–37% of the global sea floor. Subduction of the sediment and basalt from these regions is a source of oxidized material to the mantle.


Research Categories

Main Subject Area

Links & Metrics

NORA University Profiles

Aarhus University

Dimensions Citation Indicators

Times Cited: 104

Field Citation Ratio (FCR): 16.75

Open Access Info

Green, Published