The Lost City hydrothermal field is a dramatic example of the biological potential of serpentinization. Microbial life is prevalent throughout the Lost City chimneys, powered by the hydrogen gas and organic molecules produced by serpentinization and its associated geochemical reactions. Microbial life in the serpentinite subsurface below the Lost City chimneys, however, is unlikely to be as dense or active. The marine serpentinite subsurface poses serious challenges for microbial activity, including low porosities, the combination of stressors of elevated temperature, high pH and a lack of bioavailable ∑CO2. A better understanding of the biological opportunities and challenges in serpentinizing systems would provide important insights into the total habitable volume of Earth's crust and for the potential of the origin and persistence of life in Earth's subsurface environments. Furthermore, the limitations to life in serpentinizing subsurface environments on Earth have significant implications for the habitability of subsurface environments on ocean worlds such as Europa and Enceladus. Here, we review the requirements and limitations of life in serpentinizing systems, informed by our research at the Lost City and the underwater mountain on which it resides, the Atlantis Massif.
This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Serpentinite in the Earth System’.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Volume 378, Issue 2165, 2019.
© 2020 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/ by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Lang, S., & Brazelton, W. (2020). Habitability of the marine serpentinite subsurface: a case study of the Lost City hydrothermal field. Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical And Engineering Sciences, 378(2165). doi: 10.1098/rsta.2018.0429