Two ∼6 m long sediment cores were collected along the ∼300 m isobath on the Alaskan Beaufort Sea continental margin. Both cores showed distinct sulfate-methane transition zones (SMTZ) at 105 and 120 cm below seafloor (cmbsf). Sulfate was not completely depleted below the SMTZ but remained between 30 and 500 μM. Sulfate reduction and anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) determined by radiotracer incubations were active throughout the methanogenic zone. Although a mass balance could not explain the source of sulfate below the SMTZ, geochemical profiles and correlation network analyses of biotic and abiotic data suggest a cryptic sulfur cycle involving iron, manganese and barite. Inhibition experiments with molybdate and 2-bromoethanesulfonate (BES) indicated decoupling of sulfate reduction and AOM and competition between sulfate reducers and methanogens for substrates. While correlation network analyses predicted coupling of AOM to iron reduction, the addition of manganese or iron did not stimulate AOM. Since none of the classical archaeal anaerobic methanotrophs (ANME) were abundant, the involvement of unknown or unconventional phylotypes in AOM is conceivable. The resistance of AOM activity to inhibitors implies deviation from conventional enzymatic pathways. This work suggests that the classical redox cascade of electron acceptor utilization based on Gibbs energy yields does not always hold in diffusion-dominated systems, and instead biotic processes may be more strongly coupled to mineralogy.
Prokaryote communities were investigated on the seasonally stratified Alaska Beaufort Shelf (ABS). Water and sediment directly underlying water with origin in the Arctic, Pacific or Atlantic oceans were analyzed by pyrosequencing and length heterogeneity-PCR in conjunction with physicochemical and geographic distance data to determine what features structure ABS microbiomes. Distinct bacterial communities were evident in all water masses. Alphaproteobacteria explained similarity in Arctic surface water and Pacific derived water. Deltaproteobacteria were abundant in Atlantic origin water and drove similarity among samples. Most archaeal sequences in water were related to unclassified marine Euryarchaeota. Sediment communities influenced by Pacific and Atlantic water were distinct from each other and pelagic communities. Firmicutes and Chloroflexi were abundant in sediment, although their distribution varied in Atlantic and Pacific influenced sites. Thermoprotei dominated archaea in Pacific influenced sediments and Methanomicrobia dominated in methane-containing Atlantic influenced sediments. Length heterogeneity-PCR data from this study were analyzed with data from methane-containing sediments in other regions. Pacific influenced ABS sediments clustered with Pacific sites from New Zealand and Chilean coastal margins. Atlantic influenced ABS sediments formed another distinct cluster. Density and salinity were significant structuring features on pelagic communities. Porosity co-varied with benthic community structure across sites and methane did not. This study indicates that the origin of water overlying sediments shapes benthic communities locally and globally and that hydrography exerts greater influence on microbial community structure than the availability of methane.