Compared to its age, we still know very little about Earth; and the more we learn, the more mysterious our planet becomes. Take, for example, a recent discovery about Earth’s interior. An international group of scientists has recently released a report that suggests there are between 16.5 and 25 billion tons of microorganisms beneath the surface of the Earth.
This collaborative international network of more than 1,000 biologists, chemists, geologists, and physicists is known as the Deep Carbon Observatory. The organization has been working for ten years to uncover the deepest evidence of life buried within the earth. They are actually looking for how carbon stored deep in the Earth affects life on the planet’s surface. And this group is now saying these discoveries will redefine what we consider to be a habitable environment.
Sure enough, the collaboration seems to have revealed that life far beneath the planet’s surface rests in a vast ecosystem that scientists are calling “the deep biosphere.” This biosphere, they say, is quite the diverse mix of environments that encompass quite a vast volume of space that is actually twice the size of all the oceans combined. Also, the DCO says that in addition to the 15 to 23 billion metric tonnes of carbon hiding just below the Earth’s surface, we could find nearly 400 times as much carbon biomass in this new biosphere.
What is even more surprising than its size, however, is that life is actually flourishing in this biosphere.
So far, the deepest-known record of life is only 3 miles below the continental subsurface, and only 6.5 miles below the ocean’s surface. But, you see, under this much water, the extreme pressure should make life impossible. For example, the pressure at only 1,300 feet (about a quarter mile) is nearly 400 times that at sea level. Also, Earth’s hottest organisms somehow manage to replicate in hydrothermal vents at 250 degrees F, which of course, is higher than the boiling point of water.
All in all, scientist say that approximately 70 percent of the bacteria in the world—as well as the single-celled cousins of bacteria, the archaea—live in this deep biosphere. Appreciating the extreme pressure and heat of the deep biosphere will indeed redefine what we understand about the way organisms survive on Earth, and perhaps expand our ideas about sustainability and survival.