September 1, 2006
Scientists from the University of Bremen in Germany and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and have found microorganisms in buried sediment on the ocean floor producing abundant supplies of the gases propane and ethane. In a report published online this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the international team of scientists reported findings from an Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) cruise in the equatorial Pacific off the coast of Peru. ODP was the precursor to the current Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and operated from 1983 to 2003 from the research drilling ship JOIDES Resolution. Sediments recovered from 400 meters (more than 1,300 feet) befow the surface of the seafloor, many dating back millions of years, contained unusually high concentrations of the gases. The samples were not collected near any reservoirs of oil and natural gas, and the researchers believe the gases were produced by microbes in the deep biosphere eating the remnants of plants and animals and forming the gases in the process.