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Thriving microbial life found at Mariana Trench

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Widely acknowledged as the lowest place on earth, researchers have found thriving microbial life at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, seven miles below sea level in the Pacific Ocean. Previously the trench was considered a cold, dark, desolate environment long thought too harsh for life to exist.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - It's been discovered that organisms can thrive at this incredible depth. Sediment tested in the deep ocean trench revealed that it contains almost 10 times more bacteria than the sediments at a shallower, nearby site approximately four miles deep.

It was presumed that the farther down you go, the less food you expect to find. The microbes have been show to survive on the remains of dead animals, algae and other microbes that float down the trench slopes, making it a surprisingly rich place for organic matter, scientists have learned.

Researchers used an unmanned robot to measure the distribution of oxygen in trench sediment in 2010. Sensors were inserted directly into the seabed since samples can't be brought back to the surface. The microorganisms are thought to die due to extreme changes in temperature and pressure.

"Titanic" and "Avatar" director James Cameron became the first person in 2012 to visit the bottom of the trench in more than 50 years. Footage from the deep-sea dive showed a few new species, but it's still a rather barren environment.

Videos from the bottom of the Mariana Trench now confirm that "there are very few large animals at these depths," lead researcher Ronnie Glud from the University of Southern Denmark said in a statement. "Rather, we find a world dominated by microbes that are adapted to function effectively under conditions too inhospitable for most higher organisms."

Like other oceanic trenches, the Mariana Trench has been proposed as a site for nuclear waste disposal, in the hope that tectonic plate subduction occurring at the site might eventually push the nuclear waste deep into the Earth's mantle. However, ocean dumping of nuclear waste is prohibited by international law. Furthermore, plate subduction zones are associated with very large megathrust earthquakes, the effects of which are unpredictable and possibly adverse to the safety of long-term disposal.

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