Abiotic hydrogen (H2) sources and sinks near the Mid-Ocean Ridge (MOR) with implications for the subseafloor biosphere

Stacey L. Worman, Lincoln F. Pratson, Jeffrey A. Karson, William H. Schlesinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Free hydrogen (H2) is a basal energy source underlying chemosynthetic activity within igneous ocean crust. In an attempt to systematically account for all H2 within young oceanic lithosphere (<10 Ma) near the Mid-Ocean Ridge (MOR), we construct a box model of this environment. Within this control volume, we assess abiotic H2 sources (∼6 × 1012 mol H2/y) and sinks (∼4 × 1012 mol H2/y) and then attribute the net difference (∼2 × 1012 mol H2/y) to microbial consumption in order to balance the H2 budget. Despite poorly constrained details and large uncertainties, our analytical framework allows us to synthesize a vast body of pertinent but currently disparate information in order to propose an initial global estimate for microbial H2 consumption within young ocean crust that is tractable and can be iteratively improved upon as new data and studies become available. Our preliminary investigation suggests that microbes beneath the MOR may be consuming a sizeable portion (at least ∼30%) of all produced H2, supporting the widely held notion that subseafloor microbes voraciously consume H2 and play a fundamental role in the geochemistry of Earth's ocean-atmosphere system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13283-13293
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - Jun 16 2020


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Hydrogen
  • Microbes
  • Mid-Ocean Ridge
  • Origins of life

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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