Earth’s mysterious ‘deep biosphere’ Is home to millions of subterranean ‘zombie’ lifeforms

Life on Earth takes billions of shapes, but to see most of them you'll have to dig deep below the planet's surface. For the past 10 years, that's what the scientists of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) have been doing. Composed of more than 1,000 scientists from 52 countries around the world, this group of … Continue reading “Earth’s mysterious ‘deep biosphere’ Is home to millions of subterranean ‘zombie’ lifeforms”

Life on Earth takes billions of shapes, but to see most of them you'll have to dig deep below the planet's surface.

For the past 10 years, that's what the scientists of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) have been doing. Composed of more than 1,000 scientists from 52 countries around the world, this group of scientists maps the weird, wild life of Earth's "deep biosphere" — the mysterious patchwork of underground ecosystems that exists between Earth's surface and its core. It might sound like an unglamorous world of dirt, darkness and daunting pressure but, according to new research from the DCO, harsh conditions haven't stopped millions of undiscovered species of microbial life from evolving there since the planet's birth. [Extreme Life on Earth: 8 Bizarre Creatures]

In a statement that dubs Earth's deep biosphere a "subterranean Galapagos" waiting to be studied, DCO scientists estimate that the sheer biomass of carbon-based life lurking below our feet utterly dwarfs the amount of life roaming the Earth's surface. With about 17 billion to 25 billion tons of carbon (15 to 23 billion metric tonnes) under the planet's surface, DCO researchers estimate there is nearly 300 to 400 times as much carbon biomass underground (most of it still undiscovered) as there is in all the humans on Earth.

"Even in dark and energetically challenging conditions, intraterrestrial ecosystems have uniquely evolved and persisted over millions of years," Fumio Inagaki, a geomicrobiologist at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and DCO member, said in the statement. "Expanding our knowledge of deep life will inspire new insights into planetary habitability, leading us to understand why life emerged on our planet and whether life persists in the Martian subsurface and other celestial bodies."

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  • Indeed, studying Earth's deep microbial life has already pushed the understanding of the conditions under which life can thrive. Researchers have drilled miles into the seafloor and sampled the microbiomes from mines and boreholes at hundreds of sites around the world. Data from these sites suggest that the world's deep biosphere spans roughly 500 million cubic miles (2.3 billion cubic kilometers) — about twice the volume of all the Earth's oceans — and houses about 70 percent of all the planet's bacteria and single-cell archaea.

    Some of these species make their homes among the world's hottest, deepest niches. A frontrunner for Earth's hottest organism in nature is the single-celled Geogemma barossii, according to the statement. Living in hydrothermal vents on the seafloor, this microscopic spherical lifeform grows and replicates at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius), well above the boiling point of water at 212 degrees F (100 degrees C).

    Meanwhile, the record for deepest-known life so far is about 3 miles (5 km) below the continental subsurface and 6.5 miles (10.5 km) below the ocean's surface. Under this much water, extreme pressure becomes an unavoidable fact of life; at about 1,300 feet (400 meters) depth, the pressure is about 400 times greater than at sea level, the researchers wrote.

    Expanding what we know about the limits of life on Earth could potentially give scientists new criteria for searching for life on other planets. If there are potentially millions of undiscovered organisms growing, thriving and evolving in the dark of our planet's crust, then our studies of biodiversity on Earth so far have, literally, only scratched the surface.

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    Originally published on Live Science.

    This strange hum circled the whole world. But nobody heard it.

    There was a hum that nobody could hear. It was a seismic event, one that originated off the coast of Mayotte on Nov. 11, a tiny island in the waters between Madagascar and Mozambique.

    From there, it circled the entire world, though it was unusual enough (un-earthquake-ish enough) that almost no one noticed, as Maya Wei-Haas reported for National Geographic. A few people paid attention though, and that sparked a hunt for the source of the hum that, she reported, still hasn't been resolved.

    The hum, National Geographic reported, was strange for a number of reasons. First, it rang at just a single ultra-low frequency, like a well-tuned bell. Seismic waves usually involve lots of different frequencies. Second, the wave emerged and circled the planet without the usual signs of an earthquake; no one in the area felt any shaking, and the "p-waves" and "s-waves" associated with the hum, the sort of waves that you actually feel during an earthquake, were so faint as to be nearly undetectable. And yet, a Nov. 12 report from the French government found that Mayotte had slid 2.4 inches (6 centimeters) to the east and 1.2 inches (3 cm) to the south. [The 10 Biggest Earthquakes in History]

    Scientists have proposed a number of possible explanations for the strange seismic event near Mayotte, Wei-Haas reported. But none is yet anywhere near confirmed. Perhaps a "slow earthquake" struck the area, the sort that doesn't cause much intense shaking because it occurs over a much longer period of time. Perhaps a bubble of magma squeezed past below the surface, or sloshed around in a big hole in the crust in a way that interacted with the local geology to produce the resonant ringing. Researchers even speculated about a meteor strike, though that seems unlikely. For now, the exact cause remains a mystery.

    For more on the unusual seismic event, read the full report at National Geographic.

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    Originally published on Live Science.

    Epic time-lapse shot from space is longest ever, shows two trips around Earth

    Two trips around the Earth in only 15 minutes?

    That incredibly fast journey is possible thanks to a time-lapse video from the International Space Station released last week by the European Space Agency.

    The stunning footage, which allows viewers to see certain landforms (such as Italy), masses of swirling storm clouds and brightly-lit urban centers glowing from the darkness of space, is comprised of 21,375 images of Earth captured by ESA astronaut and International Space Station commander Alexander Gerst.

    The video travels from Tunisia across Beijing and through Australia, showing the planet pass from day to night twice, zooming far above deep-blue oceans and clouds that look like paintings.

    The 15-minute clip has been sped up to 12.5 times faster than the actual velocity of the observatory, according to Geek.com.

    Christopher Carbone covers technology and science for Fox News Digital. Tips or story leads: christopher.carbone@foxnews.com. Follow @christocarbone.

    Epic time-lapse shot from space is longest ever, shows two trips around Earth

    Two trips around the Earth in only 15 minutes?

    That incredibly fast journey is possible thanks to a time-lapse video from the International Space Station released last week by the European Space Agency.

    The stunning footage, which allows viewers to see certain landforms (such as Italy), masses of swirling storm clouds and brightly-lit urban centers glowing from the darkness of space, is comprised of 21,375 images of Earth captured by ESA astronaut and International Space Station commander Alexander Gerst.

    The video travels from Tunisia across Beijing and through Australia, showing the planet pass from day to night twice, zooming far above deep-blue oceans and clouds that look like paintings.

    The 15-minute clip has been sped up to 12.5 times faster than the actual velocity of the observatory, according to Geek.com.

    Christopher Carbone covers technology and science for Fox News Digital. Tips or story leads: christopher.carbone@foxnews.com. Follow @christocarbone.

    Alaskan city loses daylight, descends into 65-day period of ‘constant darkness’

    Residents of Utqiagvik, Alaska — formerly known as Barrow — soaked in their last sunset Sunday before the "polar night," a 65-day period of "constant darkness," officially kicked in.

    Locals will have to wait until Jan. 23 at 1:04 p.m. (AKST) to once again see daylight in their hometown, which has a population around 4,400, The Weather Channel reports.

    Polar nights occur in parts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Russia and Sweden, according to Time and Date. Since Utqiagvik is the United States' northernmost city — located north of the Arctic Circle, it's not surprising the sun would disappear for a brief period during the winter. At this time, the Sun never rises above the horizon.

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    "The farther you travel toward the north pole, the longer the days are in summer and the shorter they are in winter," the State of Alaska explains on its website.

    However, the small city will see hints of light peaking through during periods of civil twilight when the Sun's disk is about 6 degrees below the horizon. Civil twilights last around six hours, but that number decreases to about three during the "heart of the polar night," The Weather Channel says.

    Temperatures can dip to around -10 degrees during this time period, forecasts show.

    Alaskans are used to the change. Many in the area even celebrated the beginning of the polar night last week.

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    "We haven't seen the sun in 4 days, and another cloudy day today kept us from waving goodbye, but this fun snow mound photo-op proved that it's spirit is still with us!" resident Kristen Alburg wrote on Instagram. "Here's to another dark and wonderful winter at the top."

    "Flight to Barrow/Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Sea ice, the border between sunrise and 2 months of polar night," Instagram user Matt Hemmer posted Thursday.

    Instagrammer Olivia Kennedy captured one of the city's final sunsets of the year.

    Jennifer Earl is an SEO editor for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @jenearlyspeakin.

    Half of the year’s rain falls on Earth in just 12 days

    It takes less than two weeks for half of the planet's annual precipitation to fall.

    That is, 50 percent of Earth's rain, snow and ice each year falls in the 12 wettest days, according to a new study. The deluges are likely to become even more concentrated by the end of the century, researchers reported Oct. 19 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Researchers already know that climate change will likely lead to an overall increase in precipitation, study leader Angeline Pendergrass, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. The new study suggests that this extra rain will fall in the least helpful way possible.

    "What we found is that the expected increases happen when it's already the wettest — the rainiest days get rainier," Pendergrass said. [The 10 Driest Places on Earth]

    Increasing extremes

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    Quantifying the expected increase is harder, Pendergrass and her colleagues wrote in their new paper. It's particularly hard, they added, to describe the changes in an accessible, intuitive way. That's why the team decided to couch their findings in the number of days it takes to account for half of the world's annual precipitation. [Hurricane Sandy: Photos of a Frankenstorm]

    The team used data from a series of weather stations in the Global Climate Observing System Surface Network; these stations are placed worldwide (though most are in North America, Eurasia and Australia, with Africa and South America less well-represented). These stations collect precipitation totals at particular spots. To expand the data regionally, the researchers also used satellite data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. These sources gave the investigators overlapping data between 1999 and 2014.

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    Already, the researchers found, most of the water that falls from the sky does so in a mind-bogglingly short period of time. It takes just 12 days to account for half the world's yearly annual precipitation, the researchers reported.

    "I would have guessed the number would be larger — perhaps a month," Pendergrass said.

    The scientists found, instead, that a whopping 75 percent of the world's precipitation falls in approximately a month's time (the wettest 30 days, spread across the year). Twelve and a half percent of annual precipitation falls in just two days. And the wettest single day of the year accounts for 8.3 percent of the year's total.

    Regionally, this tendency for a lot of wetness in only a short period of time is most obvious in dry, desert environments, the researchers found. China and southeastern Russia are right in the middle, and "wet" places like the northeastern United States show the most even distribution of precipitation.

    Globally, the wettest day of summer accounts for 5.2 percent of the year's precipitation, while the wettest day of winter is a little drier, at 3.4 percent of the annual precipitation budget.

    The researchers also modeled how this precipitation distribution will likely change as the globe warms. In a "business-as-usual" climate scenario, in which there is no attempt to reign in carbon emissions, half of the additional predicted precipitation would fall in the six wettest days of the year by 2100. And 50 percent of all precipitation would be crammed into 11 days, the researchers estimated. Precipitation would remain uneven in a "best-case" scenario, in which emissions begin to decline after 2020, the researchers found, but the difference from current conditions would not be not so extreme.

    One key question, the researchers wrote, is when during the year these extreme precipitation events are likely to occur. The answer will have major implications for the impact of the changes, the scientists added: A deluge right before the growing season might be fine for plants and crops. A drought during the growing season followed by a downpour would spell nothing but trouble. Flooding could also become a more serious threat, Pendergrass added.

    "We need to take this into account," she said, "when we think about how to prepare for the future."

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    Originally published on Live Science.