May 5, 2024 at 9:28 am

This Living Ecosystem That Exists Below The Earth’s Surface Has A Carbon Mass Of 15 To 23 Billion Tons

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

For everything we’ve learned about the world (and universe) around us in the past hundred years, there are still plenty of mysteries waiting to be solved.

One of those is what the world looks like beneath the surface of our own.

Recently, a huge team of international scientists learned that billions and billions of microorganisms are thriving there.

They calculate the size of this mysterious ecosystem contains 15 to 23 billion tons of carbon – that’s hundreds of times larger than the carbon mass of all humans on the surface.

Source: Shutterstock

According to their research, around 70% of all microbes live underground.

Not only that, but the genetic diversity is impressive. Scientists have dubbed it a “subterranean Galapagos.”

Even so, there are no giant tortoises. Instead they say we’ll find bacteria and the related archaea, along with a eukarya – and even a new kind of nematode that was seen 0.8 miles down a South African gold mine.

Karen Lloyd, one of the authors of the study, made a statement back in 2018.

“Ten years ago, we had sampled only a few sites – the kinds of places we’d expect to find life. Now, thanks to ultra-deep sampling, we know we can find them pretty much everywhere, albeit the sampling has obviously reached only an infinitesimally tiny part of the deep biosphere.”

To find all of this, the team scoured dozens of previous studies and analyzed samples brought in from drilling projects that went between 1.55 to 3.1 miles deep.

These samples came from inland mines and those that went through the seafloor. One discovery was that the subsurface deep biosphere is almost twice the volume of all the oceans on the surface.

Researchers were a little surprised to find such biodiversity in an environment characterized by intense heat, crushing pressures, no light, and minimal nutrients.

Source: Shutterstock

Scientists like Rick Colwell, a microbial ecologist, believe this answers a few questions about what life actually needs to thrive.

“Our studies of deep biosphere microbes have produced much new knowledge, but also a realization and far greater appreciation of how much we have yet to learn about subsurface life.”

It’s really a reminder about how amazing nature really is.

“For example, scientists do not yet know all the ways in which deep subsurface life affects surface life and vice versa. And, for now, we can only marvel at the nature of the metabolisms that allow life to survive under the extremely impoverished and forbidding conditions for life in deep Earth.”

It’s wild to think about what’s living underneath our feet.

I mean, far, far underneath, but still.

If you think that’s impressive, check out this story about a “goldmine” of lithium that was found in the U.S. that could completely change the EV battery game.