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Guaymas Basin, a Hydrothermal Hydrocarbon Seep Ecosystem

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Abstract

The hydrothermal sediments of Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California combine several microbial ecosystems. Since Guaymas Basin is an active hydrothermal spreading center, it sustains chemosynthetic microbial communities with inorganic electron donors such as sulfide, hydrogen, ammonia, and reduced metals within steep thermal gradients of hydrothermal sediments and chimneys. At the same time, Guaymas Basin is an organic-rich continental margin site, where high sedimentation rates resulting from high phytoplankton productivity and terrestrial runoff produce organic-rich sediments that support abundant heterotrophic microbial populations. Most interesting in the context of hydrocarbon seepage, hydrothermal heating of organic-rich sediments creates hot hydrocarbon seeps in Guaymas Basin. Aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons are generated under high temperature and pressure in the subsurface, and migrate to the sediment surface where they are assimilated and oxidized by hydrocarbon-oxidizing bacteria and archaea. This complex habitat mosaic results in unusually diverse microbial communities with new phylogenetic lineages and surprising physiological capabilities. This chapter provides some background and highlights recent microbial discoveries in Guaymas Basin.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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