Ultra-diffuse hydrothermal venting supports Fe-oxidizing bacteria and massive umber deposition at 5000 m off Hawaii

Katrina J. Edwards, B. T. Glazer, O. J. Rouxel, W. Bach, D. Emerson, R. E. Davis, B. M. Toner, C. S. Chan, B. M. Tebo, H. Staudigel, C. L. Moyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


A novel hydrothermal field has been discovered at the base of Lihi Seamount, Hawaii, at 5000 mbsl. Geochemical analyses demonstrate that FeMO Deep, while only 0.2 °C above ambient seawater temperature, derives from a distal, ultra-diffuse hydrothermal source. FeMO Deep is expressed as regional seafloor seepage of gelatinous iron-and silica-rich deposits, pooling between and over basalt pillows, in places over a meter thick. The system is capped by mm to cm thick hydrothermally derived iron-oxyhydroxide-and manganese-oxide- layered crusts. We use molecular analyses (16S rDNA-based) of extant communities combined with fluorescent in situ hybridizations to demonstrate that FeMO Deep deposits contain living iron-oxidizing Zetaproteobacteria related to the recently isolated strain Mariprofundus ferroxydans. Bioenergetic calculations, based on in-situ electrochemical measurements and cell counts, indicate that reactions between iron and oxygen are important in supporting chemosynthesis in the mats, which we infer forms a trophic base of the mat ecosystem. We suggest that the biogenic FeMO Deep hydrothermal deposit represents a modern analog for one class of geological iron deposits known as umbers (for example, Troodos ophilolites, Cyprus) because of striking similarities in size, setting and internal structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1748-1758
Number of pages11
JournalISME Journal
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the captains, crews and pilots that served on the FeMO cruises. Funding has been provided by the NSF Microbial Observatories Program (KJE, DE, BT, HS and CM), by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (KJE), the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences at the University of Southern California (KJE) and by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (KJE, DE). Advanced Light Source analyses at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab are supported by the Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Science of the United States Department of Energy (DE-AC02-05CH11231).


  • deep biosphere
  • geomicrobiology
  • hydrothermal
  • iron bacteria
  • iron oxidation


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