Abiotic and biotic methane dynamics in relation to the origin of life

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University

Abstract: Methane (CH4) plays an important role in regulating Earth’s climate. Its atmospheric concentrations are related to both biotic and abiotic processes. The biotic one can be formed either by chemoautotrophic or heterotrophic pathways by methanogens. Abiotic CH4 formation can occur from several sequential reactions starting with H2 production by serpentinization of Fe-bearing minerals followed by Fischer-Tropsch Type reactions or thermogenic reactions from hydrocarbons. In the presence of suitable electron acceptors, microbial oxidation utilizes CH4 and contributes to regulating its emission.  From the perspectives of astrobiology and Earth climate regulation, this thesis focuses on: (1) Dynamics of CH4 formation and oxidation in lake sediments (Paper I), (2) Constructing an automatic flux chamber to facilitate its emission measurements (Paper II), (3) dynamics of both abiotic and biotic CH4 formation processes related to olivine water interaction in temperature range 30 - 70°C (Paper III and IV).Paper I showed that potential CH4 oxidation strongly correlated to in situ its formation rates across a wide variety of lake sediments. This means that the oxidation rates could be enhanced in environments having the high formation rates. Thereby, the oxidation would likely be able to keep up with potentially increasing the formation rates, as a result diffusive CH4 release from freshwater sediments might not necessarily increase due to global warming. Paper II presented a new automated approach to assess temporal variability of its aquatic fluxes. Paper III and IV together revealed that H2 can be formed via olivine-water interaction. Abiotic CH4 formation was formed likely by Fischer-Tropsch Type reactions at low inorganic carbon concentration but by thermogenic processes at high inorganic carbon concentration. Paper IV showed that biotic methanogenic metabolism could harvest H2 and produce CH4. The dynamics of these processes seemed strongly affected by carbonate chemistry.