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No. 20: Mar-Apr 1982

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Subterranean petroleum factories?

Sediment samples dredged up from the bottom of the Gulf of California near some hydrothermal vents contain petroleum similar in some ways to commercial petroleum. Apparently organic matter in the vicinity of the vent is thermally converted into oil, or at least something that, like wine, matures into something useful.

(Simoneit, Bernd R.T., and Lonsdale, Peter F.; "Hydrothermal Petroleum in Mineralized Mounds at the Seabed of Guayman Basin," Nature, 295:198, 1982.)

Comment. The recently discovered hydrothermal vents are only the external manifestations of what must be extensive chemical factories beneath the crust. The rich assemblages of thermosynthetic life (not photosynthetic life) around the vents makes one speculate about what might be transpiring chemically and biologically in the hot, fluid-saturated crevices and pores of the earth's crust. Carbon dating of petroleum sometimes yields absurdly young ages. Could it be that all the natural gas and petroleum we could ever need is now being manufactured for us subterraneanly ? The Gaia hypothesis would lead us to expect just such a process. After all, humankind requires abundant fuel if it is to carry earth life out into the reaches of space!

From Science Frontiers #20, MAR-APR 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss