A team of researchers from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and their collaborators have revealed that the abundant microbes living in ancient sediment below the seafloor are sustained primarily by chemicals created by the natural irradiation of water molecules. The team discovered that the creation of these chemicals is amplified significantly by minerals in marine sediment. In contrast to the conventional view that life in sediment is fueled by products of photosynthesis, an ecosystem fueled by irradiation of water begins just meters below the seafloor in much of the open ocean. This radiation-fueled world is one of Earth’s volumetrically largest ecosystems. The research was published today in the journal Nature Communications.