The Nano Carbon Cycle

We live in a world of wee beasties. Microbes here, microbes there, microbes in every breath we take, microbes on every bite we eat. They digest the food in our bellies, they create our food and drink. They make us sick.

The oceans are full of them too.


Meet Prochlorococcus, one of the reasons there is Oxygen in our atmosphere.


Meet SAR 11, part of the reason (besides us) that there is less Oxygen and more CO2 in the atmosphere.

Wee beasties comprise half of the biomass of the planet. The oceans cover 70% of the surface and in the wee beastie soup at the ocean surface massive amounts of Carbon and Oxygen are cycled between photosynthesizing and respirating beasties without ever leaving the water, and our new friends above are major players. This exchange takes place over distances of microns and nearly instantaneously.

Call it the nano Carbon Cycle.

Update 10-2015

The following from the abstract of Lea-Smith et al 2015:

Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus, produce and accumulate hydrocarbons, predominantly C15 and C17 alkanes, between 0.022 and 0.368% of dry cell weight. Based on global population sizes and turnover rates, we estimate that these species have the capacity to produce 2–540 pg alkanes per mL per day, which translates into a global ocean yield of 308–771 million tons of hydrocarbons annually. We also demonstrate that both obligate and facultative marine hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria can consume cyanobacterial alkanes, which likely prevents these hydrocarbons from accumulating in the environment. Our findings implicate cyanobacteria and hydrocarbon degraders as key players in a notable internal hydrocarbon cycle within the upper ocean, where alkanes are continually produced and subsequently consumed within days. 

This entry was posted in Carbon Cycle, Climate, Geography, Geology, Oceanography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Nano Carbon Cycle

  1. gymnosperm says:

    Forgot to mention we did not even know about these critters until the late 1990’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.