Micro-organisms living in rocks in the deep ocean breathe methane and could be a factor in the climate change puzzle, a US study has found.
These microbes remove methane from both oxygenated and low oxygen conditions in the ocean on a global scale.
Methane is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases.
Victoria Orphan of of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, and colleagues investigated carbonate rocks in the deep sea.
They looked at three different areas where methane and other hydrocarbon-rich fluid seepage occurs naturally.
Carbonate rocks in these areas were previously thought to be passive recorders of methane oxidation over time.
However, the scientists found that micro-organisms living within the rocks are actively utilising methane and consuming it.
This is a previously unrecognised ecological niche is reported in a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
The carbonate rocks hosting the microbial communities are difficult to sample, being at water depths of more than 500 metres.
But the scientists think it is likely that similar communities exist in many other parts of the ocean and may be a significant sink for methane globally.
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