Interest in extracting mineral resources from the seafloor through deep‐sea mining has accelerated in the past decade, driven by consumer demand for various metals like zinc, cobalt, and rare earth elements. While there are ongoing studies evaluating potential environmental impacts of deep‐sea mining activities, these focus primarily on impacts to animal biodiversity. The microscopic spectrum of seafloor life and the services that this life provides in the deep sea are rarely considered explicitly. In April 2018, scientists met to define the microbial ecosystem services that should be considered when assessing potential impacts of deep‐sea mining, and to provide recommendations for how to evaluate and safeguard these services. Here, we indicate that the potential impacts of mining on microbial ecosystem services in the deep sea vary substantially, from minimal expected impact to loss of services that cannot be remedied by protected area offsets. For example, we (1) describe potential major losses of microbial ecosystem services at active hydrothermal vent habitats impacted by mining, (2) speculate that there could be major ecosystem service degradation at inactive massive sulfide deposits without extensive mitigation efforts, (3) suggest minor impacts to carbon sequestration within manganese nodule fields coupled with potentially important impacts to primary production capacity, and (4) surmise that assessment of impacts to microbial ecosystem services at seamounts with ferromanganese crusts is too poorly understood to be definitive. We conclude by recommending that baseline assessments of microbial diversity, biomass, and, importantly, biogeochemical function need to be considered in environmental impact assessments of deep‐sea mining.
Earth’s subsurface is often isolated from phototrophic energy sources and characterized by chemotrophic modes of life. These environments are often oligotrophic and limited in electron donors or electron acceptors, and include continental crust, subseafloor oceanic crust, and marine sediment as well as subglacial lakes and the subsurface of polar desert soils. These low energy subsurface environments are therefore uniquely positioned for examining minimum energetic requirements and adaptations for chemotrophic life. Current targets for astrobiology investigations of extant life are planetary bodies with largely inhospitable surfaces, such as Mars, Europa, and Enceladus. Subsurface environments on Earth thus serve as analogs to explore possibilities of subsurface life on extraterrestrial bodies. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of subsurface environments as potential analogs, and the features of microbial communities existing in these low energy environments, with particular emphasis on how they inform the study of energetic limits required for life. The thermodynamic energetic calculations presented here suggest that free energy yields of reactions and energy density of some metabolic redox reactions on Mars, Europa, Enceladus, and Titan could be comparable to analog environments in Earth’s low energy subsurface habitats.