Physical and chemical controls on habitats for life in the deep subsurface beneath continents and ice

TitlePhysical and chemical controls on habitats for life in the deep subsurface beneath continents and ice
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsParnell J, McMahon S
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society a-Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences
Date PublishedJan 28
ISBN Number1364-503X
Accession NumberWOS:000367471500004
KeywordsOil and Gas Degradation
AbstractThe distribution of life in the continental subsurface is likely controlled by a range of physical and chemical factors. The fundamental requirements are for space to live, carbon for biomass and energy for metabolic activity. These are inter-related, such that adequate permeability is required to maintain a supply of nutrients, and facies interfaces invite colonization by juxtaposing porous habitats with nutrient-rich mudrocks. Viable communities extend to several kilometres depth, diminishing downwards with decreasing porosity. Carbon is contributed by recycling of organic matter originally fixed by photosynthesis, and chemoautotrophy using crustal carbon dioxide and methane. In the shallow crust, the recycled component predominates, as processed kerogen or hydrocarbons, but abiotic carbon sources may be significant in deeper, metamorphosed crust. Hydrogen to fuel chemosynthesis is available from radiolysis, mechanical deformation and mineral alteration. Activity in the subcontinental deep biosphere can be traced through the geological record back to the Precambrian. Before the colonization of the Earth's surface by land plants, a geologically recent event, subsurface life probably dominated the planet's biomass. In regions of thick ice sheets the base of the ice sheet, where liquid water is stable and a sediment layer is created by glacial erosion, can be regarded as a deep biosphere habitat. This environment may be rich in dissolved organic carbon and nutrients accumulated from dissolving ice, and from weathering of the bedrock and the sediment layer.