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Geochim Cosmochim Acta. 1993 Jul;57(14):3219-30.

Deep-sea smokers: windows to a subsurface biosphere?

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School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.


Since the discovery of hyperthermophilic microbial activity in hydrothermal fluids recovered from "smoker" vents on the East Pacific Rise, the widely accepted upper temperature limit for life (based on pure culture data) has risen from below the boiling point of water at atmospheric pressure to approximately 115 degrees C. Many microbiologists seem willing to speculate that the maximum may be closer to 150 degrees C. We have postulated not only higher temperatures than these (under deep-sea hydrostatic pressures), but also the existence of a biosphere subsurface to accessible seafloor vents. New geochemical information from the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge indicative of subsurface organic material caused us to re-examine both the literature on hyperthermophilic microorganisms cultured from deep-sea smoker environments and recent results of microbial sampling efforts at actively discharging smokers on the Endeavour Segment. Here we offer the case for a subsurface biosphere based on an interdisciplinary view of microbial and geochemical analyses of Endeavour smoker fluids, a case in keeping with rapidly evolving geophysical understanding of organic stability under deep-sea hydrothermal conditions.

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