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Keywords:

  • Iron oxidizing bacteria;
  • Ferrihydrite;
  • Hydrated;
  • Hydrothermal vent;
  • Axial Volcano

Abstract

Iron oxides from the caldera of Axial Volcano, a site of hydrothermal vent activity along the Juan de Fuca Ridge, were found to consist predominantly of microbial structures in hydrated whole mounts examined using an environmental scanning electron microscope. Novel observations were made of the iron oxides revealing the spatial relationships of the bacteria within to be more consistent with microbial mats than mineral precipitates. The bacterial structures are attributed to the sheaths of Leptothrix ochracea, the stalks of Gallionella ferruginea, and the filaments of a novel iron oxidizing PV-1 strain, based on the distinctive morphological characteristics of these three bacteria. Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy revealed the presence and distribution of Fe, Si, and Cl on the bacterial sheaths, stalks and filaments. The iron oxides were identified by X-ray diffraction to be two-line ferrihydrite, a poorly ordered iron oxyhydroxide. Adsorption of Si in particular to two-line ferrihydrite likely contributes to its stability on the seafloor, and might also be a preservation mechanism creating microfossils of the bacterial structures encrusted with ferrihydrite. Presumptive evidence of the sub-seafloor presence of L. ochracea, G. ferruginea and PV-1 at Axial Volcano was obtained from the presence of these bacteria on a trap that had been placed within an active vent, and also in a vent fluid sample. If indeed these bacteria are present in the sub-seafloor, it may be an indication that the surface expression of iron oxide deposits at Axial Volcano is minimal in comparison to what exists beneath the seafloor.