Weighing the deep continental biosphere

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2014 Jan;87(1):113-20. doi: 10.1111/1574-6941.12196. Epub 2013 Sep 19.


There is abundant evidence for widespread microbial activity in deep continental fractures and aquifers, with important implications for biogeochemical cycling on Earth and the habitability of other planetary bodies. Whitman et al. (P Natl Acad Sci USA, 95, 1998, 6578) estimated a continental subsurface biomass on the order of 10(16) -10(17) g C. We reassess this value in the light of more recent data including over 100 microbial population density measurements from groundwater around the world. Making conservative assumptions about cell carbon content and the ratio of attached and free-living microorganisms, we find that the evidence continues to support a deep continental biomass estimate of 10(16) -10(17) g C, or 2-19% of Earth's total biomass.

Keywords: aquifer; biomass; groundwater; subsurface.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biomass
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Earth, Planet
  • Environment
  • Groundwater / microbiology*


  • Carbon