Scientists are exploring deep-sea leaks (methane coming out of the ocean floor) that has changed our understanding of these mysterious ecosystems,media Tthe Verge reported. They found that two tubular worms can actually capture methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, through an unprecedented symbiotic relationship between worms and methane-eating bacteria.
By mapping the seafloor near Costa Rica with autonomous submersibles, the scientists also found that the worms spread farther than other organisms where methane leaks, up to 300 meters. Their findings, published Friday in the journal Science Advances, could support the argument that the boundaries used to protect the surrounding ecosystems around methane leakage from deep-sea drilling and mining could be supported.
“These ecosystems are really important to the health of the planet. Literally, every time we use submersibles and collect things in the deep ocean, we find a new species,” said Shana Goffredi, a biologist at the Western Institute and lead author of the study. “There’s a lot of things down there that we don’t know yet, and it would be a shame to lose them.” “
Goffredi said the first thing that caught the researchers’ attention was that the tubular worm at this particular location — a methane seepage called Jaco Scar — had a “more fluffy appearance.” Goffredi explains that sometimes animals appear “hairy” when they bind to the bacteria that live in them. Never before has it been found that these methane-infestational bacteria have been found to live on the bodies of worm-like marine invertebrates. She and her colleagues brought the worms to their boat and found that the two species had “managed” to source the bacteria that lived on them.
“It’s like having a photosynthesis of its own, but instead of using light energy, they use methane as a source of energy,” said study co-author Victoria Orphan, a geobiologist at the California Institute of Technology. This process breaks down methane so that it does not eventually rise into the atmosphere. “For animals in these environments, working with microbes is a very smart strategy because they are really the champion chemists in these habitats,” she said. Orphan and Goffredi believe similar worms around methane leaks around the world are likely to be doing the same thing.
Some estimate that the organisms around these leaks can capture up to 90 percent of methane leaking from the ocean floor. It is not clear how much these worms play, compared to known free-living bacteria, to prevent most of the greenhouse gases from escaping from the ocean. But the researchers stress that the destruction of these ecosystems through deep-sea mining and drilling could have far-reaching consequences before they are fully understood.
“A lot of these systems, like the Amazon, do, and we don’t know them well, and we’re learning about the value of these resources. Our scientists need to establish at least one baseline in this competition to better inform conservation efforts,” Orphan said. “Even though (the ecosystem) is far away, that doesn’t mean we’re not connected to us. “