Potential effects of gas hydrate on human welfare.
For almost 30 years. serious interest has been directed toward natural gas hydrate, a crystalline solid composed of water and methane, as a potential (i) energy resource, (ii) factor in global climate change, and (iii) submarine geohazard. Although each of these issues can affect human welfare, only (iii) is considered to be of immediate importance. Assessments of gas hydrate as an energy resource have often been overly optimistic, based in part on its very high methane content and on its worldwide occurrence in continental margins. Although these attributes are attractive, geologic settings, reservoir properties, and phase-equilibria considerations diminish the energy resource potential of natural gas hydrate. The possible role of gas hydrate in global climate change has been often overstated. Although methane is a "greenhouse" gas in the atmosphere, much methane from dissociated gas hydrate may never reach the atmosphere, but rather may be converted to carbon dioxide and sequestered by the hydrosphere/biosphere before reaching the atmosphere. Thus, methane from gas hydrate may have little opportunity to affect global climate change. However, submarine geohazards (such as sediment instabilities and slope failures on local and regional scales, leading to debris flows, slumps, slides, and possible tsunamis) caused by gas-hydrate dissociation are of immediate and increasing importance as humankind moves to exploit seabed resources in ever-deepening waters of coastal oceans. The vulnerability of gas hydrate to temperature and sea level changes enhances the instability of deep-water oceanic sediments, and thus human activities and installations in this setting can be affected. (+info)
Biochemical evolution III: polymerization on organophilic silica-rich surfaces, crystal-chemical modeling, formation of first cells, and geological clues.
Catalysis at organophilic silica-rich surfaces of zeolites and feldspars might generate replicating biopolymers from simple chemicals supplied by meteorites, volcanic gases, and other geological sources. Crystal-chemical modeling yielded packings for amino acids neatly encapsulated in 10-ring channels of the molecular sieve silicalite-ZSM-5-(mutinaite). Calculation of binding and activation energies for catalytic assembly into polymers is progressing for a chemical composition with one catalytic Al-OH site per 25 neutral Si tetrahedral sites. Internal channel intersections and external terminations provide special stereochemical features suitable for complex organic species. Polymer migration along nano/micrometer channels of ancient weathered feldspars, plus exploitation of phosphorus and various transition metals in entrapped apatite and other microminerals, might have generated complexes of replicating catalytic biomolecules, leading to primitive cellular organisms. The first cell wall might have been an internal mineral surface, from which the cell developed a protective biological cap emerging into a nutrient-rich "soup." Ultimately, the biological cap might have expanded into a complete cell wall, allowing mobility and colonization of energy-rich challenging environments. Electron microscopy of honeycomb channels inside weathered feldspars of the Shap granite (northwest England) has revealed modern bacteria, perhaps indicative of Archean ones. All known early rocks were metamorphosed too highly during geologic time to permit simple survival of large-pore zeolites, honeycombed feldspar, and encapsulated species. Possible microscopic clues to the proposed mineral adsorbents/catalysts are discussed for planning of systematic study of black cherts from weakly metamorphosed Archaean sediments. (+info)
Replicated evolution of trophic specializations in an endemic cichlid fish lineage from Lake Tanganyika.
The current phylogenetic hypothesis for the endemic Lake Tanganyika cichlid fishes of the tribe Eretmodini is based solely on morphology and suggests that more complex trophic morphologies derived only once from a less specialized ancestral condition. A molecular phylogeny of eretmodine cichlids based on partial mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b and control-region sequences was used to reconstruct the evolutionary sequence of trophic adaptations and to test alternative models of morphological divergence. The six mitochondrial lineages found disagree with the current taxonomy and the morphology-based phylogeny. Mitochondrial lineages with similar trophic morphologies are not grouped monophyletically but are typically more closely related to lineages with different trophic phenotypes currently assigned to other genera. Our results indicate multiple independent origins of similar trophic specializations in these cichlids. A pattern of repeated divergent morphological evolution becomes apparent when the phylogeography of the mitochondrial haplotypes is analyzed in the context of the geological and paleoclimatological history of Lake Tanganyika. In more than one instance within Lake Tanganyika, similar morphological divergence of dentitional traits occurred in sympatric species pairs. Possibly, resource-based divergent selective regimes led to resource partitioning and brought about similar trophic morphologies independently and repeatedly. (+info)
Climate change as a regulator of tectonics on Venus.
Tectonics, volcanism, and climate on Venus may be strongly coupled. Large excursions in surface temperature predicted to follow a global or near-global volcanic event diffuse into the interior and introduce thermal stresses of a magnitude sufficient to influence widespread tectonic deformation. This sequence of events accounts for the timing and many of the characteristics of deformation in the ridged plains of Venus, the most widely preserved volcanic terrain on the planet. (+info)
Life: past, present and future.
Molecular methods of taxonomy and phylogeny have changed the way in which life on earth is viewed; they have allowed us to transition from a eukaryote-centric (five-kingdoms) view of the planet to one that is peculiarly prokarote-centric, containing three kingdoms, two of which are prokaryotic unicells. These prokaryotes are distinguished from their eukaryotic counterparts by their toughness, tenacity and metabolic diversity. Realization of these features has, in many ways, changed the way we feel about life on earth, about the nature of life past and about the possibility of finding life elsewhere. In essence, the limits of life on this planet have expanded to such a degree that our thoughts of both past and future life have been altered. The abilities of prokaryotes to withstand many extreme conditions has led to the term extremophiles, used to describe the organisms that thrive under conditions thought just a few years ago, to be inconsistent with life. Perhaps the most extensive adaptation to extreme conditions, however, is represented by the ability of many bacteria to survive nutrient conditions not compatible with eukaryotic life. Prokaryotes have evolved to use nearly every redox couple that is in abundance on earth, filling the metabolic niches left behind by the oxygen-using, carbon-eating eukaryotes. This metabolic plasticity leads to a common feature in physically stratified environments of layered microbial communities, chemical indicators of the metabolic diversity of the prokaryotes. Such 'metabolic extremophily' forms a backdrop by which we can view the energy flow of life on this planet, think about what the evolutionary past of the planet might have been, and plan ways to look for life elsewhere, using the knowledge of energy flow on earth. (+info)
Reduction of Fe(III), Mn(IV), and toxic metals at 100 degrees C by Pyrobaculum islandicum.
It has recently been noted that a diversity of hyperthermophilic microorganisms have the ability to reduce Fe(III) with hydrogen as the electron donor, but the reduction of Fe(III) or other metals by these organisms has not been previously examined in detail. When Pyrobaculum islandicum was grown at 100 degrees C in a medium with hydrogen as the electron donor and Fe(III)-citrate as the electron acceptor, the increase in cell numbers of P. islandicum per mole of Fe(III) reduced was found to be ca. 10-fold higher than previously reported. Poorly crystalline Fe(III) oxide could also serve as the electron acceptor for growth on hydrogen. The stoichiometry of hydrogen uptake and Fe(III) oxide reduction was consistent with the oxidation of 1 mol of hydrogen resulting in the reduction of 2 mol of Fe(III). The poorly crystalline Fe(III) oxide was reduced to extracellular magnetite. P. islandicum could not effectively reduce the crystalline Fe(III) oxide minerals goethite and hematite. In addition to using hydrogen as an electron donor for Fe(III) reduction, P. islandicum grew via Fe(III) reduction in media in which peptone and yeast extract served as potential electron donors. The closely related species P. aerophilum grew via Fe(III) reduction in a similar complex medium. Cell suspensions of P. islandicum reduced the following metals with hydrogen as the electron donor: U(VI), Tc(VII), Cr(VI), Co(III), and Mn(IV). The reduction of these metals was dependent upon the presence of cells and hydrogen. The metalloids arsenate and selenate were not reduced. U(VI) was reduced to the insoluble U(IV) mineral uraninite, which was extracellular. Tc(VII) was reduced to insoluble Tc(IV) or Tc(V). Cr(VI) was reduced to the less toxic, less soluble Cr(III). Co(III) was reduced to Co(II). Mn(IV) was reduced to Mn(II) with the formation of manganese carbonate. These results demonstrate that biological reduction may contribute to the speciation of metals in hydrothermal environments and could account for such phenomena as magnetite accumulation and the formation of uranium deposits at ca. 100 degrees C. Reduction of toxic metals with hyperthermophilic microorganisms or their enzymes might be applied to the remediation of metal-contaminated waters or waste streams. (+info)
Shapes of river networks and leaves: are they statistically similar?
The structure of river networks is compared with the vein structure of leaves. The two structures are visually similar at the smaller scales. The statistics of branching and side branching are nearly identical. The branching structure of diffusion-limited aggregation clusters is also similar and can provide an explanation for the structure of river networks. The origin of the self-similar branching and side branching of the vein structure in leaves is not clear but it appears to be an optimal network in terms of transporting nutrients to all parts of the leaf with the least total resistance. (+info)
Rapid transition in the structure of a coral reef community: the effects of coral bleaching and physical disturbance.
Coral reef communities are in a state of change throughout their geographical range. Factors contributing to this change include bleaching (the loss of algal symbionts), storm damage, disease, and increasing abundance of macroalgae. An additional factor for Caribbean reefs is the aftereffects of the epizootic that reduced the abundance of the herbivorous sea urchin, Diadema antillarum. Although coral reef communities have undergone phase shifts, there are few studies that document the details of such transitions. We report the results of a 40-month study that documents changes in a Caribbean reef community affected by bleaching, hurricane damage, and an increasing abundance of macroalgae. The study site was in a relatively pristine area of the reef surrounding the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. Ten transects were sampled every 3-9 months from November 1994 to February 1998. During this period, the corals experienced a massive bleaching event resulting in a significant decline in coral abundance. Algae, especially macroalgae, increased in abundance until they effectively dominated the substrate. The direct impact of Hurricane Lili in October 1996 did not alter the developing community structure and may have facilitated increasing algal abundance. The results of this study document the rapid transition of this reef community from one in which corals and algae were codominant to a community dominated by macroalgae. The relatively brief time period required for this transition illustrates the dynamic nature of reef communities. (+info)