Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Published: September 1, 2015
C-DEBI Contribution Number: 262


The oceanic basaltic basement contains the largest aquifer on Earth and potentially plays an important role in the global carbon cycle as a net sink for dissolved organic carbon (DOC). However, few details of the organic matter cycling in the subsurface are known because great water depths and thick sediments typically hinder direct access to this environment. In an effort to examine the role of water–rock–microorganism interaction on organic matter cycling in the oceanic basaltic crust, basement fluid samples collected from three borehole observatories installed on the eastern flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge were analyzed for dissolved amino acids. Our data show that dissolved free amino acids (1–13 nM) and dissolved hydrolyzable amino acids (43–89 nM) are present in the basement. The amino acid concentrations in the ridge-flank basement fluids are at the low end of all submarine hydrothermal fluids reported in the literature and are similar to those in deep seawater. Amino acids in recharging deep seawater, in situ amino acid production, and diffusional input from overlying sediments are potential sources of amino acids in the basement fluids. Thermodynamic modeling shows that amino acid synthesis in the basement can be sustained by energy supplied from inorganic substrates via chemolithotrophic metabolisms. Furthermore, an analysis of amino acid concentrations and compositions in basement fluids support the notion that heterotrophic activity is ongoing. Similarly, the enrichment of acidic amino acids and depletion of hydrophobic ones relative to sedimentary particulate organic matter suggests that surface sorption and desorption also alters amino acids in the basaltic basement. In summary, although the oceanic basement aquifer is a net sink for deep seawater DOC, similar amino acid concentrations in basement aquifer and deep seawater suggest that DOC is preferentially removed in the basement over dissolved amino acids. Our data also suggest that organic carbon cycling occurs in the oceanic basaltic basement, where an active subsurface biosphere is likely responsible for amino acid synthesis and degradation.