We studied the concurrence of methanogenesis and sulfate reduction in surface sediments (0-25 cm below sea floor, cmbsf) at six stations (70, 145, 253, 407, 770 and 1024 m) along the Peruvian margin (12° S). This oceanographic region is characterized by high carbon export to the seafloor, creating an extensive oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) on the shelf, both factors that could favor surface methanogenesis. Sediments sampled along the depth transect traversed areas of anoxic and oxic conditions in the bottom-near water. Net methane production (batch incubations) and sulfate reduction (35S-sulfate radiotracer incubation) were determined in the upper 0-25 cmbsf of multicorer cores from all stations, while deep hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis (〉 30 cmbsf, 14C-bicarbonate radiotracer incubation) was determined in two gravity cores at selected sites (78 and 407 m). Furthermore, stimulation (methanol addition) and inhibition (molybdate addition) experiments were carried out to investigate the relationship between sulfate reduction and methanogenesis.
Highest rates of methanogenesis and sulfate reduction in the surface sediments, integrated over 0-25 cmbsf, were observed on the shelf (70-253 m, 0.06-0.1 and 0.5-4.7 mmol m-2 d-1, respectively), while lowest rates were discovered at the deepest site (1024 m, 0.03 and 0.2 mmol m-2 d-1, respectively). The addition of methanol resulted in significantly higher surface methanogenesis activity, suggesting that the process was mostly based on non-competitive substrates, i.e., substrates not used by sulfate reducers. In the deeper sediment horizons, where competition was probably relieved due to the decline of sulfate, the usage of competitive substrates was confirmed by the detection of hydrogenotrophic activity in the sulfate-depleted zone at the shallow shelf station (70 m).
Surface methanogenesis appeared to be correlated to the availability of labile organic matter (C / N ratio) and organic carbon degradation (DIC production), both of which support the supply of methanogenic substrates. A negative correlation of methanogenesis rates with dissolved oxygen in the bottom-near water was not obvious, however, anoxic conditions within the OMZ might be advantageous for methanogenic organisms at the sediment-water interface.
Our results revealed a high relevance of surface methanogenesis on the shelf, where the ratio between surface to deep (below sulfate penetration) methanogenic activity ranged between 0.13 and 105. In addition, methane concentration profiles indicate a partial release of surface methane into the water column as well as a partial consumption of methane by anaerobic methane oxidation (AOM) in the surface sediment. The present study suggests that surface methanogenesis might play a greater role in benthic methane budgeting than previously thought, especially for fueling AOM above the sulfate-methane transition zone.
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